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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. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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