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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. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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