Appeals Court finds government at fault for Missouri River flooding

SIOUX CITY — The U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled the federal government bears responsibility for causing atypical recurrent flooding that damaged farms and property in the Missouri River basin since 2007.

Initially filed in 2014, the plaintiffs in the case include more than 370 landowners from Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. Seth Wright, the lead counsel for the plaintiffs, says while some landowners were frustrated with how long the case is taking, they were pleased with this latest ruling.

“In some respects, our clients feel vindicated that the government has caused the flooding — which is something they knew all along — and that they are now hopefully going to receive some compensation from the government,” said Wright. “It’s been almost a decade since we filed this case and a decade-and-a-half since the first flood began in 2007.” Wright says the primary allegation from the plaintiffs was that the changes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made to the river through the Missouri River Recovery Program (or M-R-R-P) caused flooding along the river — which the court also ruled violated the 5th Amendment.

“The 5th Amendment also provides that the government cannot take private property without just compensation,” Wright explained. “That’s what this case was about — that the government had taken the property rights of the plaintiffs through the appropriation of a flowage easement and had not compensated them for that flowage easement.” Wright says it was a massive win for the ruling to favor their cross-appeals, including compensation for crop losses, damages from the 2011 floods, and the value of the permanent flowage easement on the impacted landowners’ properties.

“The changes they made to the river through the MRRP is what’s caused this flooding and they have appropriated a permanent flowage easement over our client’s property, which will allow the government to continue to flood their property,” said Wright. “So, the only recourse through the 5th Amendment is just compensation.” Wright says it’s unclear whether the federal government will choose to appeal the ruling.

“The next appeal from this would be to the United States Supreme Court,” he said, “so, we’ll have to wait and see what the government does and whether they want to appeal this ruling.” Unless appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals has ruled to remand the case back to the trial court.