What Is Inverse Condemnation In California After City of Oroville?

It is the nature of all greatness

Not to be exact.

-Edmund Burke

Twenty-two years have passed since the California Supreme Court has weighed in on the nebulous concept of inverse condemnation. That changed earlier this month.

On August 15, the Supreme Court issued City of Oroville v Superior Court of Butte County and arguably changed the landscape of inverse condemnation litigation.

Here are the facts. A group of dentists sued the City of Oroville for inverse condemnation when sewage came through city pipes and damaged their dental offices. Oroville claimed it was not responsible because the dentists didn’t install a backwater valve that, if installed, would have prevented the sewage from entering the offices. Both the trial court and the appellate court held Oroville was responsible and liable in inverse condemnation.

The Supreme Court reversed and held that an inverse condemnation claim is only successful when the property owner shows that the property damage “was the probable result or necessary effect of an inherent risk associated with the design, construction, or maintenance” of the public improvement. Causation was key for the Court. “Increased costs” to public entities also weighed heavily on the Court. Surprisingly, the Court focused on the actions of the dentists: had they installed the backwater valve, the damage would have been “eliminated or at least mitigated.” Even more surprising, the Court looked at the actions of Oroville and concluded it “acted reasonably.”

Together, these facts arguably gave the Court justification for departing from earlier inverse condemnation cases by interpreting this (and likely all) inverse condemnation cases under an analysis previously limited to inverse condemnation flooding cases: reasonableness.

City of Oroville will make inverse condemnations more difficult for property owners than they already are because arguably the focus has shifted from a more strict liability analysis to a more nuanced reasonableness analysis colored by subjectivity. Focus has also shifted toward the actions of the property owner.

Now defendants in inverse condemnation cases will likely argue their actions were “reasonable,” fault plaintiff property owners for the damage, and try move away from the strict liability, citing City of Oroville.

Questions? Contact Me for a free consultation.

Evan Walker

Evan W. Walker is a La Jolla attorney who has practiced law since 2008. He is licensed to practice in California, Connecticut, and Louisiana. His entire practice has been in litigation.

Evan is from a small town outside of New Orleans. He attended law school in New Orleans, which was interrupted by Hurricane Katrina. After evacuating to Houston, Evan graduated in 2008 as part of the ‘Hurricane Katrina Class.’

After graduation, Evan worked for a New Orleans insurance defense firm. He defended insurance companies against Hurricane Katrina lawsuits brought by homeowners and business owners.

In 2010, he and his wife moved to New Haven, Connecticut, so his wife could complete a medical residency at Yale. During the next few years, Evan worked for Travelers Insurance Company defending countless personal injury lawsuits.

In 2014, he moved to San Diego so his wife could complete a medical fellowship at UCSD. He then opened his own firm to represent people after years of defending insurance companies.

Evan is a Featured Faculty at Attorney Credits, a CLE company, and a regular contributor to various podcasts and publications. He has also been interviewed by San Diego television stations about his cases and practice.

Evan spent almost a decade as a defense attorney who defended insurance companies from personal injury and property damage lawsuits. He knows how insurance companies bully people and deny claims. And he knows how to fight them.

Bar Admissions: California Connecticut (inactive) Louisiana (inactive)

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