Dozens of residents who are suing the city of Reno over the flooding of their homes in 2017 are moving to federal court in a complex case that could cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
The move comes as the city’s related appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court is pending, the Reno Gazette Journal reports.
Lemmon Valley residents who filed a class-action suit won a jury verdict in Washoe County District Court in 2019 that determined Reno was responsible for the dramatic flooding that left their homes north of town under water for years.
But Judge Barry Breslow later decertified the class, which means each of the 26 plaintiffs must argue individually for damages. Since then, their lawyer, Roger Doyle, has been refiling their cases in federal court in Reno, the newspaper reported last week.
In the meantime, the years-long legal battle continues in both state and federal jurisdictions after the Reno City Council voted 4-3 to appeal the earlier judgment against the city to the state’s high court.
Mayor Hillary Schieve, council members Jenny Brekhus and Naomi Duerr argued the residents have suffered enough and that the city should settle the case and move on.
“To me this doesn’t sit right and I think that a lot of those people out there suffered,” Schieve said during a recent council meeting. “I think we all (need to) move on and focus on other things to make the infrastructure better for our residents.”
Council members Devon Reese, Oscar Delgado, Bonnie Weber and Neoma Jardon suggested that they should follow the city attorney’s advice and move forward with the appeal.
“We certainly don’t want those people to be out of their properties, but we also have to think about our entire city,” said Weber, whose ward includes Lemmon Valley and the Swan Lake flooding victims.
Reno City Attorney Karl Hall said the district court did not properly establish liability and incorrectly calculated damages, and the initial certification of the class was in error.
Doyle said that going to U.S. court will bind the city to the judgment that was found against it in the 2019 trial when a state judge determined the city was responsible for the damages.
Doyle and his team are moving to get the trials to determine damages in federal court as soon as possible. It took four years for the Washoe District Court to come to a final verdict in that case.
The ruling determined the city was responsible for damages plus attorneys fees, which could cost the city at least $1.5 million.
The Swan Lake Basin flooded nearby homes in 2017 after the city of Reno pumped or diverted excess storm water into Swan Lake Basin. More than 60 homes were damaged.
The newspaper reported in 2018 the city knew Swan Lake would likely flood and ignored suggestions to build flood mitigation projects alongside new developments in Lemmon Valley.
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