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For-profit Veolia Water not entitled to common law sovereign immunity

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The Indiana Supreme Court held Thursday that for-profit, private company Veolia Water is not entitled to common law sovereign immunity from liability for damages resulting from a fire that destroyed an Indianapolis Texas Roadhouse restaurant in 2010.

When Indianapolis firefighters arrived at the restaurant, they were delayed in fighting the fire because of several frozen hydrants. As a result, the restaurant was a total loss. At the time of the fire, Veolia Water Indianapolis LLC was responsible for operating the city’s water utility pursuant to an agreement with the city. The restaurant’s insurers brought this lawsuit, alleging the hydrants froze because the private companies to whom Veolia licensed access failed to properly close the hydrants.

The trial court held that the city is not entitled to common law sovereign immunity or statutory sovereign immunity under the Indiana Tort Claims Act regarding the water supply and that Veolia is not entitled to common law sovereign immunity on the matter. The Court of Appeals reversed and held that the two entities are entitled to common law sovereign immunity.

The COA urged the Supreme Court to take this case to rule on the growing use and complexity of public-private contracts. The justices relied on Metal Working Lubricants Co. v. Indianapolis Water Co., 746 N.E.2d 352 (Ind. Ct. App. 2001), and a test outlined by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to affirm the trial court’s decision that Veolia isn’t entitled to sovereign immunity.

“Despite the arguments that the City and Veolia advance, we are persuaded by the Insurers’ claim that the profit motive of Veolia — a for-profit, private company operating a public water utility under contract with a governmental unit — precludes extension of the common law sovereign immunity to which the City is entitled. Therefore, Veolia is not entitled to common law sovereign immunity on the Insurers’ claims that it failed to provide an adequate supply of water from which to fight the fire. The case against Veolia may proceed; although the Insurers’ case may not be successful on its merits, or even reach the merits, their case survives Veolia’s Rule 12 motion,” Justice Steven David wrote in Veolia Water Indianapolis, LLC, City of Indianapolis, Department of Waterworks, and City of Indianapolis v. National Trust Insurance Company and FCCI Insurance Company a/s/o Ultra Steak, Inc., et al., 49S04-1301-PL-8.

David encouraged trial courts to look to the 5th Circuit test for guidance when these kinds of issues arise in court.

The justices also affirmed that the city is not entitled to statutory sovereign immunity from liability regarding the inadequate water supply, but found the city is entitled to common law sovereign immunity.
 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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