California Appellate Court Rules Chemicals Added to Drinking Water Does Not Give Rise to an Inverse Condemnation Action in Class Action by Consumers

Fortin Law Group

Published: August 24, 2018

The Fourth District Appellate Court recently affirmed a ruling in favor of three Water Districts that chemicals added to drinking water do not give rise to an inverse condemnation cause of action under the California Constitution. (Williams v. Moulton Niguel Water District (2018) 22 Cal.App.5th 1198).

The Plaintiffs alleged that residential water pipes had been damaged by the added chemicals, constituting compensable damage under the "takings" clause of the California Constitution. (Id. at 1207). The trial court held that the Plaintiffs could not establish inverse condemnation on the merits. (Id. at 1201). On appeal, the Plaintiffs again asserted damage to their residential pipes and attempted a creative argument based on the broader language of the California takings clause1, which allows compensation when private property is "taken or damaged for a public use." (Id. at 1208) (Emphasis added).

The appellate court affirmed the trial court's ruling, finding that the Plaintiffs' theory of recovery was for "tort liability under the guise of inverse condemnation." (Id. at 1211). The purpose of the takings clause is to protect property owners from bearing costs that should be borne by the public at large. Plaintiffs claimed that the Water Districts placed an undue burden on them that should be borne by the whole public. However, each Water District customer, of which there are millions, receives the same treatment and delivery of water. (Id. at 1210). Any alleged burden is already borne by the public. (Id. at 1211).

Further, the takings clause "had never been applied to require a public entity to compensate a property owner for alleged property damage resulting from the treatment and delivery of drinking water that is fully compliant with all state and federal clean drinking water standards." (Id. at 1208). Holding otherwise would expand the takings clause outside the realm of eminent domain. The Fourth District was unwilling to be the first court to make such a broad expansion of governmental liability. (Id. at 1211).

1 In contrast, the U.S. Constitution takings clause allows for compensation only when property is taken, making it difficult to recover when there is damage to property, but no physical invasion.

This article was provided by Fortin Law Group, Costa Mesa, California. This article is intended to provide the reader with general information regarding current legal issues. It is not construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for the need to seek competent legal advice on specific legal matters.

Tags: 2018, Inverse Condemnation

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