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Ridge Line, Inc. v. United States

ELR Citation: 34 ELR 20003
Nos. No. 03-5015, (Fed. Cir., 10/10/2003)

The court vacates and remands a trial court holding that increased stormwater drainage from the construction of a U.S. Postal Service facility in West Virginia did not constitute a taking of a neighboring mall owner's property. The trial court held that no taking occurred because the owner failed to show that its property was effectively destroyed or suffered a permanent and exclusive government occupation. However, the trial court did not address the owner's valid claim for inverse condemnation of the flowage easement on its property. Intermittent flooding of private land can constitute a taking of an easement. Further, the trial court erred in stating that the owner suffered no loss because most of the area eroded by government runoff was later filled and altered. Reclaiming land does not disentitle an owner from receiving compensation for the original government taking. Moreover, the trial court erred in holding that damages could not be demonstrated because the owner did not provide appraisals of land value before and after the erosion from the stormwater overflow. On remand, the trial court must determine if the government's construction of the facility predictably led to the owner's sufficiently substantial economic injury. If the alleged inverse condemnation is considered a potential taking, the trial court must address whether the government's stormwater retention activities and the amount of stormwater that invaded the owner's property were reasonable under state law, including an assessment of the Postal Service's relative advantage and the owner's disadvantage in view of the increased stormwater runoff and the relative social utility of the Postal Service facility.

Counsel for Plaintiff
William C. Porth
Robinson & McElwee
500 Virginia St. E., Charleston WV 25326
(304) 344-5800

Counsel for Defendant
Mark R. Haag
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000