A federal judge has dismissed a pair of lawsuits claiming the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was responsible for flood damage in 2010 to the Grand Ole Opry, Gibson Guitar and other Nashville-area businesses.
The companies claimed corps officials acted negligently in April 2010 by not lowering water levels at the Old Hickory Dam ahead of heavy rains predicted by the National Weather Service. When the corps finally did open the gates to prevent floodwater from overtopping the dam, the Cumberland River rose above the 100-year flood plain in Nashville.
The flooding left 26 people dead, including 11 in Nashville, and caused an estimated $2 billion worth of damage in the capital city alone after a record 17 inches of rain fell over a single weekend.
The corps has said that the flooding would have been worse if the water had overtopped the dam and flowed uncontrolled toward Nashville.
Gaylord Entertainment Co., which now is Ryman Hospitality Properties, said it sustained $250 million in damage to the Opry and its hotel and convention center after the river rose above the levees surrounding the property. The hotel had to be evacuated and was closed for several months for renovations.
Other companies involved in the two lawsuits include Nissan North America, Verizon Communications and several insurance companies.
Justice Department attorney Stephen Handler argued in a court hearing two weeks ago that the case should be dismissed because the corps was immune from prosecution under the Flood Control Act of 1928.
The act, quoted in U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell’s decision, states, “No liability of any kind shall attach to or rest upon the United States for any damage from or by floods or flood waters at any place.”
Attorney Robert Echols, who represented 14 plaintiffs including Gibson and Nissan, said he was disappointed.
“We knew we were fighting an uphill battle because the law grants broad immunity to the government,” he said, noting that the judge did not conclude that the corps’ actions were appropriate, only that they were immune from prosecution.
“I think it’s hard to interpret the facts and not come to the conclusion that they sort of fell asleep at the wheel,” he said of the corps.
Echols did not know immediately whether his clients will appeal the ruling.
The corps office in Nashville did not immediately have a comment.
A third suit brought by a Nashville attorney whose home was flooded also was dismissed. In that suit, Campbell found the attorney did not wait six months after filing an administrative claim before suing. The six-month waiting period is required by law.