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City Council votes to appeal Swan Lake flooding lawsuit

By Bob Conrad

Reno City Attorney Karl Hall today pushed city council members to appeal a $750,000 verdict against the city in the lawsuit filed by plaintiffs whose homes were destroyed and damaged during the 2017 flooding in Lemmon Valley.

He succeeded.

Hall said Washoe District Court Judge Barry Breslow made “numerous errors” in ruling for the plaintiffs.

Hall said Breslow’s errors included how the class action was certified, how liability was determined, and the awarding of $750,000 in damages “was in error.”

Hall also said he wanted the Nevada Supreme Court to grant the city a new trial.

“We don’t believe liability was appropriately established,” he said. “It would give us clarity on what needs to be paid.”

However, the city will be liable for more damages and attorney fees if the court does not rule in the city’s favor.

“If we were to lose and we were to pay the attorneys’ costs for the appeal, we’d probably be looking at [about] $50,000 in that general range,” in addition to the current award and  about $1.5 million in attorney fees and costs, Hall said.

“The more we talk and the more we try to settle, the more attorney bills go up.”

Luke Busby, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said earlier this week he hoped the city council would deny Hall’s request.

“This case is over four years old, and everyone’s costs will only continue to rise if litigation continues,” he said. “The Plaintiffs are still living with the consequences of the flooding since it happened in early 2017. Continuing the case only creates needless suffering for our clients and increased burden on City taxpayers.”

Council members Devon Reese, Neoma Jardon and Bonnie Weber, who represents Lemmon Valley constituents, each voted for the appeal and spoke in favor of it. Council member Oscar Delgado, without making any comment, also voted in favor.

Reese said that since he’s an attorney, he supported the advice of the city attorneys. He said the plaintiffs’ attorneys saw the case as “a cash cow.”

“They see a number of plaintiffs, a government entity, and … it is not [the city] who caused the increase in fees and costs,” he said. “It is the complexity of the nature of class actions and in particular some of the choices that were made by these defendants at various times.”

Judge Breslow, however, said city attorneys were to blame for drawing out the case for a number of reasons. He chastised the city for what appeared to be the city fighting plaintiffs on a number of issues even after a jury found in favor of the plaintiffs. These included making arguments with no legal basis or citations.

“The City raised legal and inconsequential factual challenges to [a plaintiff’s] claims, but it failed to support those challenges with evidence that could be presented to the Court in a form that would be admissible and it conceded during oral argument that it had no evidence to offer in dispute of any of the claimed amounts,” he wrote.

Hall estimated the appeal will take about six months.

Mayor Hillary Schieve and Council members Naomi Duerr and Jenny Brekhus were opposed to the appeal.

Duerr said that the plaintiffs have been unable to live in their flooded homes, for years.

“They have been out of their homes and [suffered damages] not just to the value of their property … for four solid years,” she explained. “And now we’re into the fifth year. You have to get an attorney [to fight these cases] on contingency. That is a big risk to a law firm.

“The more we talk and the more we try to settle, the more attorney bills go up. I don’t think the residents should wait any longer.”

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