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Floodplain suit against county dismissed

A federal judge dismissed this week a multi-million dollar court action that had accused Lawrence County officials of improperly administering floodplain regulations.

Saturday, February 03, 2001

A federal judge dismissed this week a multi-million dollar court action that had accused Lawrence County officials of improperly administering floodplain regulations.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy S. Hogan of the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati signed an order Wednesday dismissing the case – a lawsuit filed in May 1998 by 34 homeowners, two businesses and a fire department in eastern Lawrence County.

The 1998 suit alleged that the Federal Emergency Management Agency and county commissioners from several terms approved regulations but waited four years before beginning enforcement, which caused financial hardship and devalued property for homeowners facing floodplain violations. FEMA was later dismissed from the suit.

The suit sought to stop any suspension of flood insurance by FEMA and a judgment that plaintiffs’ structures built between Sept. 26, 1989, and Oct. 12, 1993, do not violate regulations.

According to the order, Judge Hogan examined several points of law, including one that the county has immunity from liability for acts or omissions connected with a governmental function.

Plaintiffs argued that while the county might be entitled to immunity, the commissioners acted recklessly after passing federally-required floodplain regulations in 1989.

Plaintiffs alleged that Lawrence County was not immune because " the Commissioners knew that residents would be harmed if they failed to properly administer the program; plaintiffs contacted the County to determine if they were required to obtain permits before constructing on or making improvements to their property; and plaintiffs relied on the County’s representations that there were no regulations or permits applicable to their construction projects."

Judge Hogan disagreed, writing that "the alleged duty to accurately disclose building regulations was not a duty undertaken with specific reference to these plaintiffs" so immunity applies.