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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. Such things are no more elections than those in the late, unlamented Soviet Union.

  2. It appears the police and prosecutors are allowed to change the rules halfway through the game to suit themselves. I am surprised that the congress has not yet eliminated the right to a trial in cases involving any type of forensic evidence. That would suit their foolish law and order police state views. I say we eliminate the statute of limitations for crimes committed by members of congress and other government employees. Of course they would never do that. They are all corrupt cowards!!!

  3. Poor Judge Brown probably thought that by slavishly serving the godz of the age her violations of 18th century concepts like due process and the rule of law would be overlooked. Mayhaps she was merely a Judge ahead of her time?

  4. in a lawyer discipline case Judge Brown, now removed, was presiding over a hearing about a lawyer accused of the supposedly heinous ethical violation of saying the words "Illegal immigrant." (IN re Barker) http://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/order-discipline-2013-55S00-1008-DI-429.pdf .... I wonder if when we compare the egregious violations of due process by Judge Brown, to her chiding of another lawyer for politically incorrectness, if there are any conclusions to be drawn about what kind of person, what kind of judge, what kind of apparatchik, is busy implementing the agenda of political correctness and making off-limits legit advocacy about an adverse party in a suit whose illegal alien status is relevant? I am just asking the question, the reader can make own conclsuion. Oh wait-- did I use the wrong adjective-- let me rephrase that, um undocumented alien?

  5. of course the bigger questions of whether or not the people want to pay for ANY bussing is off limits, due to the Supreme Court protecting the people from DEMOCRACY. Several decades hence from desegregation and bussing plans and we STILL need to be taking all this taxpayer money to combat mostly-imagined "discrimination" in the most obviously failed social program of the postwar period.

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