Gordon v. Texas
Citation: 29 ELR 20134
No. 97-40864, 154 F.3d 190/(5th Cir., 08/25/1998)
The court holds that the political question doctrine does not bar a federal court from resolving landowners' suits alleging that a statemanaged fish pass significantly contributed to beach erosion on their property. The court first holds that the landowners' claims for injunctive relief and damages are not barred by the political question doctrine at this early stage of the litigation. The potential for a clash between a federal court and other branches of the federal government, which is fundamental to the existence of the political question doctrine, does not exist in this case. A simple conflict between a federal court and state agencies does not implicate the doctrine. Furthermore, the property owners have not requested that action be taken by any unit of the federal government. Rather, their claims have been directed solely at the conduct of state or private entities.
The court next holds that the landowners' claims for injunctive relief would not require the district court to abrogate any significant federal policies. Any federal involvement in the fish pass has been, at best, secondary. It is also unclear that acting to halt the erosion caused by the fish pass would necessarily conflict with the current policy of the federal government. The landowners could obtain the injunctive relief they request with little federal involvement, apart perhaps from the issuance of a permit by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The court also holds that the owners' claims for monetary relief are justiciable. The request for monetary damages are not inextricably intertwined with the request for injunctive relief. The district court need only to determine the existence of liability and, if necessary, the extent of damages. If the landowners' have misstated or overinflated their damages, the district court could grant leave to amend their pleadings to state more appropriate damages. Last, the court holds that the district court's opinion on defendants' defenses such as the Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity and statute of limitations are not a formal disposition of the owners' claims. The district court did not address the merits of these defenses so the discussion of them is cursory at best. The court therefore remands the case to the district court to give it the opportunity to consider in full the invocation of these various defenses.
Counsel for Plaintiffs
Law Offices of J.M. Green
3415 Laurel St., Beaumont TX 77707
Counsel for Defendants
Liz Bills, Ass't Attorney General
Attorney General's Office
P.O. Box 12548, Austin TX 78711
Before Reynaldo Garza and Emilio Garza, JJ.