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Central Green Co. v. United States

ELR Citation: 31 ELR 20450
Nos. 99-859, 531 U.S. 425/(U.S., 02/21/2001)

The U.S. Supreme Court holds that in determining whether §702c of the Flood Control Act grants the federal government immunity from Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) claims, courts should consider the character of the waters that cause the relevant damage and the purposes behind their release rather than the relation between that damage and a flood control project. The case arose after the owner of a pistachio orchid sued the federal government under the FTCA for property damage caused by a federally owned canal that flows through the owner's property. Because the canal is part of the Central Valley Project, and because flood control is one of the purposes served by the project, a district court held that §702c of the Flood Control Act granted the federal government immunity from the owner's suit. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the decision.

The Court first holds that the text of the Flood Control Act dictates courts to determine the scope of immunity conferred not by the character of the federal project or the purposes it serves but by the character of the waters that cause the relevant damage and the purposes behind their release. To characterize every drop of water that flows through a flood control project as "flood water" simply because flood control is among the purposes served by the project unnecessarily dilutes the language of the statute. The text of the Act's immunity provision does not include the words "flood control project," but, rather, states that immunity attaches to "any damage from or by floods or flood waters." Further, neither the statute nor prior case law supports the federal government's argument that §702c immunity must attach to all water that flows through the canal. The Court, therefore, disavows a portion of prior Court dicta that would support such a conclusion, reverses, and remands the case for further proceedings.

Justice Stevens delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Timothy Jones
Sagaser, Franson & Jones
2445 Capitol St., 2d Fl., Fresno CA 93717
(559) 233-4800

Counsel for Defendants
Constance A. Wynn
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Stevens, J.: