After years of litigation, couple’s lawsuit over their property’s flooding nearing end

After years of litigation, couple’s lawsuit over their property’s flooding nearing end
The City raised the lake level in 2013, flooding a portion of Ed & Debra Wilkie's yard.

BOILING SPRING LAKES, NC (WECT) - A legal battle over whether the city of Boiling Spring Lakes should have to compensate a couple whose property flooded because of a city project is nearing an end, more than four and half years after the couple sued the Brunswick County community.

So far, the lengthy case has cost Boiling Spring Lakes nearly $300,000, $295,314.40 to be exact, City Manager Jeff Rupp confirmed in an email on Tuesday.

That figure will likely increase as the case works it way through remaining court proceedings.

Case timeline

In mid-2013, Boiling Spring Lakes installed equipment to raise the level of Spring Lake at the request of several homeowners whose property adjoined the lake.

As the water rose, it flooded a significant portion of Ed and Debra Wilkie’s property, as well as at least four other homeowner’s properties. An engineering firm hired by the city ultimately confirmed the lake was encroaching on private property the town did not own.

The Wilkies filed a lawsuit against the city in May 2014, seeking compensation due to “inverse condemnation.” Under the Fifth Amendment, the government is required to compensate people for taking their property.

The couple claimed in their suit they lost “fifteen to eighteen percent” of their lakeside property due to the elevation of the lake.

Brunswick County Superior Court Judge Ebern T. Watson III heard the case in November 2015 and ruled in the Wilkies' favor, saying the city's actions amounted to the taking of the Wilkies' land and they should be compensated.

The City of Boiling Spring Lakes appealed, however, and the Court of Appeals came down with a split decision, finding that the city did not take the land for “public use or benefit” so it did not amount to inverse condemnation. The Court of Appeals also found the Wilkies had a direct claim because their constitutional rights had been violated.

The Wilkies appealed that ruling to the N.C. Supreme Court, which earlier this year unanimously reversed the appeals court’s decision on the grounds that the legislative intent was to protect the rights of private property owners from the government and not about who stood to benefit from the city’s “taking” of the land. The state’s highest court also remanded the case to the state Court of Appeals for further proceedings.

On Tuesday, the three-judge panel released its new ruling, affirming Judge Watson’s ruling in favor of the Wilkies.

“(Boiling Spring Lakes’) installation of the elbows and subsequent flooding caused substantial destruction of (the Wilkies) property,” Judge Philip Berger wrote in the decision. “…it becomes clear that the trial court’s original order was correct in finding that Defendant City’s actions had resulted in a compensable taking pursuant to both the North Carolina and United States Constitutions.”

Legal fees

Repp declined to provide a statement on the appeals court’s ruling, saying the city has not had a chance to review the decision with its attorneys.

The appeals court’s ruling remands the case back to Brunswick County Superior Court to determine the value of the property “taken” by the flooding.

It’s unclear when the matter will be taken up in court.

In July of this year, Boiling Spring Lakes reached a $70,000 settlement in a separate lawsuit filed over the flooding issue.

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