Harris County Attorney Ryan Wins Major Case On Government Liability

     Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan has won a victory in a case that had far-reaching negative implications for Texas’ governmental entities.
     The Texas Supreme Court announced today that it has dismissed a lawsuit filed against Harris County and the county Flood Control District by over 400 homeowners who claimed that their homes suffered flood damage because the county allowed upstream development.
The County Attorney argued and the Court agreed that the County was not responsible for damages homeowners suffered from flooding that occurred in 1998, 2001, and 2002. The justices said there was no way officials would have known that particular properties downstream would flood.
     “The record is clear that the County never harbored a desire to cause flooding anywhere,” the Court stated in its opinion. “Its motive was the opposite: it desired to prevent flooding and undertook extensive efforts over many years to accomplish this goal.”
     The Court also agreed with the County Attorney’s arguments that if the lawsuit had been successful, it would discourage governments on all levels from taking actions that could result in liability claims.
     “I am pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision,” said County Attorney Ryan. “This will allow the Flood Control District to move forward with solutions to flooding issues without the fear of possible liability claims.”
     The Supreme Court had ruled last year that the case, known as the Kerr case, should go to a jury. But the County Attorney’s Office filed a motion for re-hearing, which the court granted in February. Ryan requested and then received over 40 “friend of the court” briefs from governmental entities around the state which expressed their concern that governments would be reluctant to take any number of actions for the good of their residents if they knew they could face liability claims. The court’s opinion cited these briefs, saying “The homeowners’ theory of takings liability would vastly and unwisely expand the liability of governmental entities.”
     “I want to thank everyone who filed a friend of the court brief,” said County Attorney Ryan.        “These briefs helped a great deal in a case that could have had enormous consequences for governments and taxpayers across the state.”

You can read the Texas Supreme Court decision here.