Class action status OK'd in major post-Katrina flood case

AP News
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Posted: May 04, 2016 7:46 PM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge who ruled last year that the federal government is responsible for some of the flooding that hit the New Orleans area after Hurricane Katrina and other storms granted class-action status in the case Wednesday, meaning numerous property owners — not just the handful in the original 2005 lawsuit — could be in line for compensation.

How much money and how many properties could eventually be involved wasn't immediately clear. And the ruling made clear that nothing is imminent, pending an appeal court review.

The case centers on flooding in New Orleans' Ninth Ward and neighboring St. Bernard Parish blamed on the now-closed Mississippi River Gulf Outlet.

The lawsuit said the construction, dredging and operation of the navigation canal, known in south Louisiana as "Mr. Go," contributed to conditions that led to catastrophic flooding during Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, Hurricane Rita weeks later and other storms. In effect, the suit argued, the flood damage caused by the canal was an illegal taking of private property by the federal government without adequate compensation.

Judge Susan Braden of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims agreed. She ruled last May that the Corps' "construction, expansions, operation, and failure to maintain the MR-GO" led to storm surge and flooding that amounted to "a temporary taking under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution."

Her Wednesday order had some specifics, spelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars in storm-related costs and lost rent on specific properties and saying the city of New Orleans should recoup real estate taxes, currently estimated at $2.5 million.

However, Braden stressed that the ruling dealt with what she referred to as "test properties" in the case. She said an appellate review of her finding will likely take at least a year.

Meanwhile, Braden said, she expects to soon begin issuing orders to the St. Bernard and New Orleans governments "so that the court will be in a position to proceed promptly to issue a final money judgment as to all class members, if the appellate court affirms this court's decisions."

The Justice Department declined comment Wednesday. Attorneys for plaintiffs in the case had not returned requests for comment Wednesday evening.

The MRGO was authorized by Congress in 1956 as a shortcut from the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico and was completed years later. It was shut down in 2009.