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County Not Liable For Flooding In Subdivision Adjacent to County Park

Richardson v. County of Mobile; Phelps v. County of Mobile, [Ms. 1190468; 1190469, Nov. 25, 2020], ___ So. 3d ___ (Ala. 2020). The Court (Sellers, J.; Parker, C.J., and Bolin, Wise, Mendheim, Stewart, and Mitchell, JJ., concur; Sellers, J., concurs specially; Shaw and Bryan, JJ., concur in the result in part and dissent in part) affirms in part and reverses in part a summary judgment in favor of Mobile County dismissing claims by homeowners in Cottage Park subdivision. The plaintiffs alleged that the County had a duty to maintain an adequate drainage system in nearby Cottage Park and the County’s breach of that duty caused their properties to flood. In affirming the summary judgment dismissing the negligence, nuisance and trespass claims, the Court notes that “the County accepted dedication of the Cottage Park drainage system only ‘as it affects’ the roads in Cottage Park. [Consequently] unlike Jefferson County in Long [v. Jefferson County, 623 So. 2d 1130 (Ala. 1993)], the County ‘has never operated any [drainage] system for the benefit of the surrounding landowners.’” Ms. *10. The Court also rejects the landowners’ alternative argument that the County breached duties to them in approving the plans for the nearby O’Fallon subdivision whose faulty drainage system also caused their properties to flood. The Court explains that a County’s duty in approving subdivisions “runs to the public in general, not to individual citizens, and therefore cannot support a cause of action against the County for the flooding of private property.” Ms. *24, citing Rich v. City of Mobile, 410 So. 2d 385 (Ala. 1982).

The Court notes that the complaint asserts “that the flooded roadways in Cottage Park create a dangerous condition and requests an injunction directing the County to alleviate the flooding in the neighborhood.” Ms. *30. The Court reverses the summary judgment on the injunction claim and notes that “[a] county can be held liable for injuries suffered by people using roads that are in an unsafe condition. [Macon County Commission v.] Sanders, [555 So. 2d 1054 (Ala. 1990)]. We have not been presented with a persuasive argument that a county cannot be enjoined from refusing to remediate the unsafe condition of a road.” Ms. *35.

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