TALLAHASSEE — The 1st District Court of Appeal has remanded a case back to a circuit court in which a Florida couple has been engaged in a long-running feud with the Suwannee River Water District over damaged caused to their property.
Judge Timothy J. Osterhaus and the appeals panel stated that Circuit Court for Columbia County erred when it granted summary judgment in favor of the water district. According to the ruling, the panel determined the action taken by the district that led to the flooding of the Jeffery and Linda Hill’s property wasn't an act that qualifies the district for quasi-judicial immunity.
According to the ruling, the Hills and the water management district have spent the better part of the last decade in dispute. In 2006, the district received a permanent injunction against the family’s business, El Rancho No Tengo Inc., demanding that it apply for a permit to repair an eroded dam at the business farmland, court records state.
The district contended that Hill and his family proceeded to work on fixing the dam or pond without a permit. The district claimed the work was improperly done and was certain to fail.
The injunction required the Hills to “forthwith [to] drain the dam to the lowest level feasible and, within 60 days of the entry of this order, provide to [the District] engineering certification of the dam and its appurtenant works and an operation and maintenance plan.”
During the next nine years, neither the Hills nor their company complied with the injunction to drain the pond or present a maintenance plan. The Hills sued, claiming the actions of the district damaged their property and in effect denied them use of the land. The Hills sued for over $1 million in damages.
After a series of contempt motions, the lower court ruled against the Hills and said that the actions of the district were under the authority of the court and thus protected by judicial immunity.
The appeals panel disagreed, writing that the district’s action was not judicial but administrative in nature.
"The District’s actions here, draining a pond and flooding fields, isn’t part and parcel of the judicial process, or functionally comparable to the work of judges—making decisions, resolving disputes, adjudicating rights, processing cases, and the like,” Osterhaus wrote in the appeals court opinion. “And so, we can not affirm the decision to the District on quasi-judicial immunity grounds.”
The court remanded the case back to the circuit court for further proceedings.