Homeowners near the 17th Street Canal could finally get their day in court in a 5-year-old lawsuit alleging a local levee authority had no right to take portions of their property to maintain flood control structures along the canal.
The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East had sought to have the lawsuit thrown out in July, appealing the case to the state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal. But that court ruled Thursday that the latest version of the case should be heard in New Orleans Civil District Court.
The ruling is the latest in a long string of twists and turns that have characterized the case’s tortured path through the legal system.
The original version of the suit was thrown out, and there has been much sparring over other issues in district, appeals and federal courts. In all that time, however, the case has never actually gone to trial.
“This is great news for us, because we finally get to move forward,” said attorney Randall Smith, who is representing the homeowners on Bellaire Drive who brought the suit.
In their suit, the homeowners allege the flood protection authority illegally allowed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to remove trees and buildings from their backyards near the canal’s levee without compensation. It also asks that the court declare state laws prohibiting certain buildings near the levees and guaranteeing access to those areas are unconstitutional.
The flood protection authority has argued that construction and trees near the levees can undermine them and increase the risk of flooding. It also has said state law and old servitudes prohibit buildings near the levees and ensure public officials’ access to the sites.
District Judge Kern Reese initially sided with the landowners in a summary judgment in 2009, but that decision was reversed by the 4th Circuit. Legal wrangling over the case continued for years until Reese dismissed the original suit in July but allowed the homeowners to go forward with a new version of their claims.
Thursday’s ruling came in response to the authority’s request to the 4th Circuit to examine that decision.
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