Was City Liable to Homeowner for Resulting Loss?
A “catch basin” maintains proper drainage and traps debris to prevent pipes downstream from becoming clogged. Solid waste settles to the bottom. And water drains out of the pipe. But was there liability when a city-maintained catch basin overflowed onto neighboring property?
Irene Klostermeier sued the City of Port Jervis to recover damages for trespassing and nuisance caused by water runoff onto her property. The complaint alleged that a storm drain on Klostermeier’s property, that the City of Port Jervis replaced in 2015, failed to properly drain storm water, causing water to pool at a catch basin at the end of her driveway and seep onto her property. The complaint also alleged that, while work on the storm drain was in progress, the City parked heavy machinery on Klostermeier’s driveway, which damaged the driveway.
The City moved to dismiss so much of the complaint as was predicated upon allegations of water intrusion attributable to the storm drain and catch basin for failure to state a cause of action. And to dismiss as time-barred so much of the complaint as alleged that the City caused damage to Klostermeir’s by parking heavy machinery on it. Supreme Court granted the City’s motion. Klostermeier appealed.
Supreme Court properly granted that branch of the City’s motion to dismiss as much of the complaint as was predicated upon allegations of water intrusion attributable to the storm drain and catch basin.
Generally, a landowner will not be liable for damages to abutting property caused by the flow of surface water due to improvements to his or her land provided that the improvements were made in good faith to make the property fit for some rational use, and that the water was not drained onto the other property by artificial means, such as pipes and ditches.
Here, the complaint failed to allege that the City’s improvements to the storm drain were not made in good faith, or that the water which had since pooled and seeped onto Klostermeier’s property was diverted by artificial means. In addition, the parties’ evidentiary submissions established that the City’s improvements to the storm drain were made in good faith and did not divert water onto the Klostermeier’s property.
And Supreme Court also properly granted that branch of the City’s motion to dismiss as time-barred so much of the complaint as alleged that the City caused damage to Klostermeier’s driveway. An action against a municipality for damage to real property must be commenced within one year and 90 days. A cause of action for property damage accrues when the damage is apparent. Here, the affidavit of Klostermeier’s own expert demonstrated that the alleged damage to her property caused by the City’s machinery was apparent in September 2015, when the expert was first hired to inspect that damage. The action, however, was not commenced until four years later, in December 2019.