Thousands of homeowners are filing lawsuits against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies over the Corps’ decision to release floodwaters from the Addicks and Barker reservoirs during Hurricane Harvey. Tens of thousands of other homeowners in Houston’s west side neighborhoods may also join in class-action lawsuits against the federal government.
The volume of lawsuits is attracting attorneys from all over the country. The number of pending cases is also requiring two federal judges to preside over hearings regarding these suits. Many of these cases are expected to be combined into class-action lawsuits, in which one case is used to evaluate all other cases that stem from similar circumstances.
The homeowners filing suit claim the high volume and rapid flow of the waters caused thousands of dollars in damages to their homes, many of which are beyond repair. An attorney representing some of the homeowners cites the “takings” clause of the Fifth Amendment, which states the government is not allowed to take private property for public use “without just compensation.”
The Corps of Engineers, as well as city and state officials, claim they had to release the waters or run the risk of a catastrophic failure of the dams. Without the controlled releases, the water could have either overflowed or broken through the dams, causing much more extensive damage and serious loss of life.
U.S. Court of Federal Claims Chief Judge Susan Braden presided over the numerous lawsuits stemming from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. She is also presiding over many of the cases stemming from Hurricane Harvey. Judge Braden, along with Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal, will vet the attorneys to determine which ones are qualified to present the class-action cases.