Evidence of a shorted-out lift pump on one day, is not evidence of faulty motor driven equipment on a different day says 13th Court of Appeals

 

City of Edinburg v. GNJ Realty Investments LLC, 13-17-00290-CV (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi-Edinburg August 22, 2017).

This is an interlocutory appeal in a Texas Tort Claims Act (“TTCA”)/sewage backup case involving alleged negligent operation of a motor-driven lift pump. The 13th Court of Appeals reversed and rendered an opinion in favor of the City.

GNJ Realty Investments LLC (or “GNJ”) brought a negligence claim against the City of Edinburg (“the City”), for sewage backup and property damage allegedly caused by a City-owned faulty motor-driven lift pump. GNJ leased a building to RGV Footcare. On February 2, 2014, a RGV Footcare employee, saw standing water in almost every room of the building’s floors. She called a plumber soon after and called the City the next day. GNJ asserted negligence because it felt the City failed to use reasonable care in the service and maintenance of the motor-driven equipment used in the sanitation system.  It asserted the flooding was system backup and arose from this failure. The wastewater supervisor for the City testified that upon personal inspection, the manhole that gave sewer service to GNJ’s building showed no evidence that anything the City owned caused this incident. He further testified that if a lift pump can be faulty, certain alarms and logs would have been generated by the system. No such alarms or logs were created on that day, although a short was logged as occurring the following day.  The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction which the trial court denied. The City appealed.

The court held no evidence in the record indicated the pump was faulty and was directly linked to the flooding of GNJ’s building. As stated by the supreme court many times “arises from” must have a nexus between the operation and/or maintenance of the equipment and the damage sustained. The connection must be considerably more than just the involvement of property. The trial court was not presented with any evidence that any of the pumps at Lift Station 30 were clogged—fully or partially—on February 3, 2014. Moreover, that a pump “shorted out” the day after RGV Footcare experienced the water back up is alone not evidence that it was malfunctioning the day before. Given the record, the court reversed the trial court’s denial order and rendered judgment for the City. GNJ’s claim was dismissed.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Justices Rodriguez, Contreras, and Hinojosa.  Memorandum Opinion by Justice Hinojosa.  The attorney listed for GNJ is John Andrew Millin IV.  The attorneys listed for the City are Roberto D. Guerra and Ysmael D. Fonseca.