A federal court in Alabama has dismissed a lawsuit claiming that Lincoln, Alabama, had contaminated a 239-acre farm with runoff from an area on nearby property that the city “cleared and grubbed.” Woods Knoll LLC v. City of Lincoln, Ala., No. 1:09-cv-01219, N.D. Ala. 10/29/12).
Plaintiff Woods Knoll and the city own adjacent properties of 239 and 160 acres, respectively, fronting a road along which a drainage ditch flowed. In 2007, the city cleared and grubbed a portion of its property, not immediately adjacent to the plaintiff’s property. Plaintiff asserted that, starting 14 months later, it experienced greater flooding on its site than it had before the city performed its work. Plaintiff filed a citizen suit against the city under the Clean Water Act (CWA), alleging that the clearing and grubbing resulted in point source discharges without a permit. Plaintiff also alleged that the clearing and grubbing increased flooding on plaintiff’s property and that the increased flooding constituted a taking of its property. Asserting inverse condemnation, plaintiff sought more than $1 million in damages.
After trial, the court concluded that to support a citizen’s suit under the CWA a plaintiff must show that the defendant has caused a discharge from a point source in violation of the CWA. The court ruled that, because the city did not collect or channel storm water, whatever runoff occurred from the cleared and grubbed portion of the property was not a discharge from a point source. Thus, the court ruled in favor of the city on the CWA citizen’s suit claim. The court also found that the evidence did not show that flooding of plaintiff’s property increased due to the clearing and grubbing on city property and thus ruled in the city’s favor on the inverse condemnation count.