MoCo Judge Dismisses Lake Conroe Association Suit to Block Seasonal Lake Lowering
It has been a busy ten days at the Montgomery County Courthouse. On March 31, the Lake Conroe Association (LCA) filed a lawsuit to block the seasonal lowering of the lake. But a hearing was not set until April 19. Meanwhile, the SJRA and City of Houston initiated a release of 450 cubic feet per second on April 1. That prompted the LCA to request an immediate order to stop the release on April 6. And that may have backfired on the Association. It forced the judge to look at the case sooner. And today, the judge dismissed the entire suit with respect to the City of Houston for lack of jurisdiction. Co-defendant SJRA has yet to file its response in the case, so the judge could not rule on that.
Dismissed for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction
In its initial response to the LCA suit, the City argued what lawyers call a “plea to the jurisdiction.” The City claimed that LCA lawyers relied on outdated case law, that the City enjoyed governmental immunity, and that the plaintiff’s claims should be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
The arguments re: immunity are complicated and technical. Briefly, Texas law gives governmental entities broad immunity. Plaintiffs must challenge the validity of a statute under which a government took action to challenge the government’s action. But, says the City, the seasonal lake lowering policy is not a statute or ordinance; it is simply a policy. Thus, “Plaintiffs’ declaratory judgment action is barred by governmental immunity.”
More Hail Mary’s
To stop the seasonal release once it started, Plaintiffs then filed their first supplement to the Application for a temporary restraining order. They also filed a Supplement to their Original Petition. And a second supplement. The filings claimed that the release of 450 CFS was:
- Causing irreparable harm
- A public nuisance
- A “taking” of their property
- An unreasonable loss of water
- Diminishing their enjoyment of the lake
The City of Houston answered these allegations one by one in a seven-page brief filed on 4/7/2021. I’ll dispense with the legal arguments; you can read them for yourself. They discuss whether the allegations have merit and meet the legal definitions involved.
Even without a law degree, it appears on the surface that the only claim with validity is the enjoyment claim. But balanced against the City’s property rights (in the water), plus the potential flood-reduction and property-protection benefits, it pales.
Suffice it to say, that around 9 a.m. today, the judge agreed with the City of Houston’s Plea to the Jurisdiction. “The Court having considered the Plea and the response, if any, is of the opinion that it should in all things be SUSTAINED.”
“IT IS THEREFORE, ORDERED that City of Houston’s Plea to the Jurisdiction is SUSTAINED and that Plaintiffs’ claims are DISMISSED for lack of jurisdiction.Judge in LCA Case
Altogether, plaintiff’s filed 86 pages of legal briefs so far. I’m glad I’m not a Lake Conroe homeowner paying the bill for that!
Irreparable Harm? Really?
Some LCA claims stretched credulity. A 1-foot reduction causing irreparable harm? Really?!! During public testimony before a special SJRA Board meeting this morning, Lake Conroe callers mentioned that sales tax receipts are up, boaters are enjoying the lake, and home values are also up substantially since the seasonal lake lowering policy started.
Homeowners around Lake Conroe should demand to learn what and who is really behind this exercise.
Effect on SJRA
To date, the City of Houston has taken the lead on various pleadings. That makes sense because the lake lowering program involves its water.
The judge’s order this morning did not affect the SJRA. That’s because SJRA has not yet filed any answer, pleadings, or briefs in the case. The extent of SJRA activities on this case so far was to brief its board this morning and get its support to engage outside legal counsel. The board approved hiring two firms. Expect more from the SJRA in the coming days.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/9/2021
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