LIMA – At the Third District Court of Appeals lawsuit hearing in Lima Nov. 4, one of the judges asked for clarification on how decisions were made about removal of an abandoned sewer line.
Cooper and Cooper attorney Sean Alto, representing the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the village of Minster and their contractor Helms and Sons, maintain unplanned removal of the sewer line also has removed governmental immunity from a lawsuit that says the decision contributed to flooding in several homes inside a large sewer reconstruction project along Seventh Street in the village in May 2019.
Green and Green attorney Jared Wagner, who represents the village, is asking the court to remove the village from the 2019 lawsuit due to governmental immunity, feeling the plaintiffs are misinterpreting the Ohio Revised Code section 2744. Wagner maintained ORC covers the entire project, not just specific parts.
One of the presiding judges, John Willamowski, asked Wagner if there was any information in the record that elaborated on how the sewer was determined to be abandoned, how the issue was dealt with between the contractor and village and if they were there allegations of mistakes made, by who and how.
The contractor has maintained they were following village orders in removed the sewer line.
Wagner said the removal a single sewer line was not raised as grounds for dismissal because such removal did not constitute “destruction of an entire sewer system” which the plaintiffs maintain removes immunity for the village under ORC 2744. Wagner also maintained that, while the Village may have ordered the old sewer line removed, the village was depending on the contractor to remove it properly.
Wagner also said the lawsuit alleges that it was the failure of an inadequately installed trench box which allowed flooding during a pending heavy rainstorm, not a single sewer line removal. He said the style and design of the trench box was a decision of the contractor and relieves the Village of responsibility.
The meeting was held via Zoom. Presiding judges were Willamowski, Vernon Preston, and Stephen Shaw.
The original motion to the court to grant immunity from prosecution says that “…the factual allegations in the Complaint, including the plain language of the contract itself, demonstrate that the overall nature of the project involved the governmental functions of reconstruction of a public roadway and sewer system and the removal of the abandoned sewer pipe was only incidental to the larger overall governmental function of reconstruction.”
Alto maintained that the village was liable since the plans were changed by the Village to remove what was termed an unknown “abandoned sewer line.”
Once the three judges heard the arguments from the two sides, they told both parties they would render a decision as to the village’s liability in the next few weeks. The case would then be returned to the Auglaize County Common Pleas Court for further action.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.