A federal judge ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers management of the Missouri River in four states over recent years caused flooding that deprived landowners and farmers of their property, opening the door to millions of dollars of possible damage awards.
Filed in 2014 on behalf of 372 plaintiffs, the complaint claimed that the Corps violated the Constitution’s takings clause, which prohibits the government from appropriating private property without compensation.
Known formally as Ideker Farms Inc. et al. v. The United States, the decision makes the Corps and federal government liable for damages.
The Corps has been managing the 2,341-mile-long Missouri River and its floodplain since Congress passed flood control laws adopted in 1917 and 1927.
The trial began in Kansas City, Mo., last year but was concluded in Washington, D.C., in November after 55 presentations by 95 witnesses. Another phase will determine financial damages.
Flooding along the Missouri has been heavy in recent years, and the trial centered on flooding since 2007.
The plaintiffs claimed that repeated years of flooding under the Corps’ river control program “threaten to wipe out an entire way of life.” Even though the flooding is temporary, the landowners argued, the damage can be substantial and the “invasion, not the amount of damage resulting from it, so long as the damage is substantial,” is key to determining if there has been an illegal “taking.”
Attorneys for the Corps and the U.S. government argued that the plaintiffs can only say that there has been a taking if they prove that the changes and damage to the property exceed the range that the landowner could have reasonably expected “in the natural course of things.”
Expert witnesses testified during the trial about various levee overtoppings and a levee failure between 2007 and 2014. The 259-page decision, by Judge Nancy B. Firestone, lists more than 40 individual properties and owners that would be covered by the decision.