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First impression case tackles wetlands issue

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In a case of first impression, the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded that a landowner who raises the subterranean water table on his land and creates a federally regulated wetland may not invoke the common enemy doctrine of water diversion and be shielded from liability to adjoining landowners whose properties as a result become federally regulated wetlands.

In B & B, LLC v. Lake Erie Land Company, No. 45A04-1002-PL-183, the appellate judges reversed the grant of judgment in favor of Lake Erie Land Company on B&B LLC’s claims against it for trespass, nuisance, and negligence. B&B argued that the defense of the common enemy doctrine wasn’t properly raised and presented at trial by LEL and that the trial court improperly implied it in this case. It also argued the trial court erred in finding LEL didn’t commit trespass as a matter of law and that LEL clearly breached a duty that it owed to B&B.

B&B and LEL purchased portions of land near each other that once were swampy and unusable but became usable after a ditch was built to drain the land. B&B intended to operate a concrete crushing and recycling facility on its land. Just south of this property were two mitigation bank parcels that LEL owned. LEL made modifications to the land to create wetlands, which caused the water table of the land to rise. These modifications caused a wetland to be formed on B&B’s property, leading to the Army Corps of Engineers to order B&B to cease and desist from bringing in any more concrete to the property. That’s when B&B sued LEL for lost profits, clean-up costs, and the lost value of its land.

The Court of Appeals first rejected B&B’s arguments for reversal on the basis that LEL didn’t raise the defense of the common enemy doctrine at trial. B&B offered evidence at trial that related to surface water issues and it failed to object to any pretrial evidence that LEL submitted on those issues. The record demonstrates that the issues relating to the common enemy doctrine and surface waters were tried by the parties’ consent, wrote Judge John Baker.

The judges then analyzed the common enemy doctrine and noted that because the water in question in the case was groundwater, it’s not governed by the common enemy doctrine. They also noted that they were unable to find any cases that cite any authority that allows a party to stop the free flow of subterranean waters in order to raise the water table not only upon its land but on adjoining lands to create a federally regulated wetland.

“In our view, neither the principles applicable to subterranean waters nor the common enemy doctrine would permit a defendant to stop the free flow of underground waters so that adjoining properties become flooded,” wrote Judge Baker.

Also, LEL knew that raising the water table on its land past a certain elevation could potentially flood neighboring properties and that the mitigation bank would likely inundate B&B’s land. As such, LEL undertook a duty and breached that duty by not stopping the propagation of wetland species that culminated in the establishment of wetlands on B&B’s parcel of land. The judges also held that B&B presented evidence of trespass.

The judges reversed the trial court and remanded for further proceedings.

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  1. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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