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Minvielle v. Iberia Parish Government

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

November 20, 2019

STEPHEN MINVIELLE, ET AL.
v.
IBERIA PARISH GOVERNMENT

          APPEAL FROM THE SIXTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF IBERIA, NO. 132644 HONORABLE VINCENT J. BORNE, DISTRICT JUDGE

          James L. Pate Cliff A. LaCour B. Lance Person NeunerPate One Petroleum Center COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE: Iberia Parish Government.

          Gordon J. Schoeffler Joseph R. Joy, III COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT: Stephen Minvielle Jeffrey Gates.

          Court composed of John D. Saunders, Elizabeth A. Pickett, and Van H. Kyzar, Judges.

          JOHN D. SAUNDERS, JUDGE.

         In this case we must decide whether the trial court's denial of Appellants' claims for declaratory relief and the grant of Defendant's exceptions of no cause of action was proper.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This suit arises as a result of recent changes made to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's ("FEMA") flood designations on a particular stretch of land in Iberia Parish, particularly that stretch of land which borders on Tete Bayou, a relatively small waterway which connects Bayou Teche to Lake Fausse Point, on which Steven Minvielle and Jeffrey Gates's ("Appellants'") respective properties rest. In late 2015/early 2016, the Iberia Parish Government ("Parish") undertook efforts to revise its parish flood maps on the land surrounding Tete Bayou. The Parish prepared its proposed revisions for the area and submitted same to FEMA. Plaintiffs' respective properties were affected by the proposed revisions, having flood zone and floodway boundaries shifted unfavorably on their properties.

         In June of 2016, FEMA issued a "Letter of Map Revision Determination Document" ("2016 LOMR"). Under applicable laws, the Parish was required to adopt the 2016 LOMR in order for the Parish to enjoy continued participation in the National Flood Insurance Program ("NFIP"). Adoption of the maps required the Parish to publish the proposed changes to the flood maps for the community's review. Within 90 days of the publication (referred to as the "appeal period"), "any interested party" could request that FEMA reconsider the determination. The 2016 LOMR was thus set to become effective after the 90-day appeal period passed and FEMA had resolved any appeals received during the appeal period. In the absence of any appeals, the revisions would become effective in November 2016.

         During the 90-day appeal period though, the massive floods of August 2016 occurred, inundating much of South Louisiana with historic rainfall and causing widespread flooding. Despite the massive flooding in the territory, neither Appellants had flood waters rise from Tete Bayou onto their properties. As a result, Appellants and other citizens questioned how their properties could be in floodways and flood zones when they did not even flood during the largest flood event in modern history.

         Thus, in the wake of the August floods, the Parish received numerous calls from concerned citizens, including Appellants, who were affected by the 2016 LOMR but had no flooding from Tete Bayou during the August floods. In response, in September 2016, the Parish took steps to request from FEMA that the revisions previously submitted for the 2016 LOMR not go into effect, but that the Parish have additional time to submit new information based on the actual flood event in August. The extension was granted, and the Parish began submitting and exchanging information with FEMA in connection with this effort. During this time frame, the Parish took no formal action through its council, nor did it provide formal notice to the public as to the status of its efforts or what the results of its actions were.

         In June of 2017, FEMA wrote to the Parish advising that based upon the information it submitted, the 2016 LOMR would not become effective and a new LOMR would be issued. Thereafter, in August of 2017, FEMA issued a second LOMR ("2017 LOMR").

         The 2017 LOMR involved changes to the 2016 LOMR, again redrawing the boundaries of floodways and flood zones on Appellants' respective properties. Unlike the 2016 LOMR, which provided grace periods for the public to comment and object, the 2017 LOMR simply went into effect on August 9, 2017. Thus, Appellants contend that the 2017 LOMR is ineffective due to the Parish's failure to legislatively adopt same pursuant to Federal law and the NFIP regulations, and the adoption of same violates the Parish's Home Rule Charter.

         Appellants contend that they are left with one of two positions. Either the 2017 LOMR is ineffective, or the 2017 LOMR is effective, in which case Appellants assert a taking. Given these two scenarios, Appellants initiated suit on August 9, 2018, asking first for a declaratory judgment as to whether the 2017 LOMR is in effect or not. If the LOMR is determined to be effective, Appellants then assert claims for a constitutional taking of their property (only with regards to the part of their properties designated as "Floodway".)

         Without filing an answer, the Parish excepted to the petition arguing that Appellants failed to state a cause of action (as to both the declaratory action and the inverse condemnation action), that they failed to join a necessary party (FEMA), and that part of their claim had prescribed.

         In January of 2019, the district court granted the Parish's exceptions of no cause of action on both the declaratory judgment and the inverse condemnation claims, thereby dismissing all claims with prejudice. The Parish's remaining exceptions (Non-Joinder and Prescription) were denied as moot and are thus not at issue in this appeal. It is from this judgment that Appellants appeal, alleging three assignments of error.

         ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR

1. The Trial Court erred in holding that Appellants failed to State a Cause of Action for Declaratory Judgment with regard to the validity of the new FEMA Flood maps by alleging that the Parish failed to comply with the Iberia Parish Home Rule Charter in adopting the new maps.
2. The Trial Court erred in holding that the Parish complied with its Home Rule Charter with regard to the adoption of the new FEMA flood maps.
3. The Trial Court erred in holding that Appellants' taking/inverse condemnation claims are barred by discretionary immunity.

         ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NUMBER ONE:

         Appellants' first assignment of error contends that the trial court erred in holding that Appellants failed to state a cause of action for declaratory judgment as to whether the new FEMA maps are valid or not due to the Parish's failure to follow its Home Rule ...


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