Coyote Creek flood lawsuit continues against San Jose, water district
Cars are underwater in San Jose after Coyote Creek jumped its banks and flooded three neighborhood. (Courtesy of Roberto Araujo)

A judge recently handed flood victims some wins and some losses in the ongoing Coyote Creek flood litigation.

More than 150 families of flood victims in 2017 sued San Jose, Santa Clara County, the Santa Clara Valley Water District and California’s Division of Safety of Dams in Santa Clara County Superior Court, citing claims of negligence and failure to perform mandatory duties.

All four public agencies have insisted that state laws are on their side and claimed no liability for the displacement of residents or the $100 million in damages caused by the Feb. 2017 flooding.

At a Jan. 11 court hearing, the four defendants argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed based on immunity and because the plaintiffs’ claims are insufficient.

“They’re saying the claims in the complaint are inadequate, what we did, and therefore should be dismissed,” said Ted Smith, a legal assistant working with the plaintiffs. “If you make a claim that they created a nuisance, plaintiffs must assert certain elements to spell out what that means.”

Judge Peter J. Kirwan ruled that no immunities apply against San Jose and the water district, but sided with the state Division of Safety of Dams and the county on the same issue of the nuisance claim.

But the judge allowed the flood victims another 60 days to amend their allegations against the county and state, which Smith called “a good sign.”

“It’s a complicated situation and the judge seemed to understand this reasonably well, and I think put a lot of time into trying to come up with a good result, so we’re happy about that,” he added. “We can keep going against the water district and city. It means we’re past one of the big first hurdles.”

Despite the judge’s decision that the flood victims’ claims against San Jose are valid, city attorney Rick Doyle said in an interview that he’s satisfied with the outcome.

“On the issues of did we have a legal obligation to provide provision of adequate police and fire response, emergency housing, I think the court agrees with us,” Doyle said.

Doyle said the city’s “approach is to whittle down as narrowly as possible” which factors of the case become the main focus.

“The design of the storm drain systems may still be in play,” Doyle said. “And the design of the Rock Springs Park and any possible claim for inverse condemnation damage resulting from those designs, I think that may still be in play.”

Smith said his clients were “gratified” that the judge understood their plight but were frustrated with how long the legal process has taken.

The next hearing in the case is set for Feb. 22.

Contact Julia Baum at [email protected] or follow her @jbaum_news on Twitter.

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