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Mays v. Tennessee Valley Auth.

ELR Citation: 40 ELR 20103
Nos. Nos. 3:09-CV-6 et al., (E.D. Tenn., 03/26/2010)

A district court allowed negligence claims against the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to continue in seven lawsuits stemming from a coal-ash spill, but it held that the TVA is not subject to punitive damages. Plaintiffs filed four class action complaints and four non-class action complaints seeking damages from the failure of a dike wall that resulted in the release of 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash sludge from a TVA facility. Although the TVA is considered a federal agency, 16 U.S.C. §831c(b) provides that the TVA may “sue and be sued,” which waives its governmental immunity when it performs functions that are not wholly governmental. Here, Congress authorized the TVA to engage in electricity production, which provides immunity for the decisions to build and operate the dike as well as for the TVA’s actions in responding to the spill. But allegations of neglect of the facilities and of routine maintenance, as well as of failure to implement policies or to follow existing policies surrounding the dike, defeat the TVA’s governmental immunity. In addition, the TVA’s request to strike inverse condemnation claims cannot be granted because plaintiffs have sufficiently identified the properties at issue and stated claims for relief. Finally, because Congress did not expressly abrogate the TVA’s immunity on the topics, the TVA is not subject to either punitive damages or jury trial.