LJA Denies Responsibility for Elm Grove Flooding; Says They Owed No Duty to Victims

On February 27, 2020, lawyers for flooded Elm Grove residents listed LJA Engineering as an additional defendant in the Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village flooding case. Defendants’ amended petition included 14 documents, with specific allegations. On March 16, 2020, LJA filed a general denial and requested a jury trial.

LJA’s drainage design forces floodwater to make six turns within the space of about 200 yards. The areas at the left and top of the frame flooded during May and September last year when water overflowed.

Hints of Defense Strategy

However, in answering the allegations, LJA’s lawyers did hint at their defense strategy. In addition to their general denial, they claim that:

  1. Plaintiffs’ damages were solely caused by the negligence of third parties over whom LJA has no control.
  2. Plaintiffs did not hire LJA and therefore LJA owed no duty to the plaintiffs.
  3. Intervening and superseding conduct on the part of third parties or other parties, persons or entities, acts as a total bar to plaintiffs’ claims.
  4. The incident in question was an Act of God.

Here is their entire answer to the plaintiffs’ claims. LJA’s lawyers filed it with the Harris County District Clerk on 3/16/2020.

Opinions of Claims

  1. Third parties in the case include several contractors, AND Figure Four Partners, a Perry Homes’ subsidiary of another subsidiary. Engineers, in my experience, often blame problems on contractors that didn’t follow plans. In this case, according to the drainage impact analysis submitted by LJA to Montgomery County, contractor(s) should have cleared only 30 acres on the northern portion of the site and 58 acres on the southern portion during Phase 1. See page 1, paragraph 2 of LJA’s Drainage Impact Analysis. However, Google Earth shows that about half of the 182-acre northern section and all of the 86-acre southern section were cleared by February 23, 2019. That was six weeks before the May 7th flood. Images taken of the northern portion of the site shortly after the May 7th flood show it was virtually clear except for piles of uprooted trees. Helicopter images show that substantially all of the northern section was cleared about the time of the Imelda flood. Construction documents also show that an engineer should have been supervising construction.
  2. No duty! This seems to run contrary to professional engineers’ code of ethics and state law. See section §137.55 ENGINEERS SHALL PROTECT THE PUBLIC.
  3. I’m not sure what they mean by “intervening” conduct. It sounds like interference from above. Hmmmm. Could they be pointing a finger at Perry Homes’ Figure Four Partners or Perry Homes itself? It will be interesting to see what happens with this one.
  4. It will also be interesting to see how they justify the Act-of-God claim. Figure Four Partners claimed the same defense initially. However, the nearest official rain gages say the rainfall should have been within the design parameters of the site, especially for the May flood.

Trial Still Set for July, But…

The District Clerk’s website shows no other activity on the case since LJA filed this document. Harris County Civil Courts will operate on a restricted schedule until further notice due to the corona virus. Hours of operation are from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday. They are closed Friday through Sunday.

Judge Lauren Reeder months ago set a trial date of 7/13/2020, at 08:30 a.m. However, the corona virus could delay the start of any trial in this case.

New Discovery in MoCo Drainage Criteria Manual

In the meantime, I discovered one other interesting potential violation of the Montgomery County Drainage Criteria Manual. Section 9.1.2 Flood Plain Development Guidelines and Procedures says that when planning a development within the 100-year flood plain, construction within the floodway is limited to structures which will not obstruct the 100-year flood flow unless fully offsetting conveyance capacity is provided.

“Where such a potential exists, offsetting conveyance capacity must be provided to eliminate the increased potential for flood damage.”

The potential violation? The twin culverts shown in the photo above. They were built when only one of five detention ponds was even partially complete. And they’re right at the county line. LJA’s own maps show these culverts to be within feet of the Taylor Gully floodway and floodplain on the Harris County side of the county line.

If LJA intends to argue that May 7th or September 19th were greater-than-100-year rains, it then seems to me that they should have halted construction of the culverts until fully offsetting detention was in place. To this date, only 23% of the intended detention capacity has been constructed.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/28/2020

942 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 191 since Imelda

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.