Sojka and Sojka v. Breck and Breck

ISSUE: Whether the district court erred in dismissing Plaintiff’s nuisance claim

HOLDING: No, the district court’s ruling is affirmed based on the fact that Defendants’ actions at issue in the nuisance claim did not cause Plaintiffs’ claimed damages, and therefore did not constitute a nuisance.

SUMMARY OF FACTS: Plaintiffs Jeff and Rhonda Sojka filed a nuisance claim against their neighbors, Defendants Vicki and William Breck.  Plaintiffs claimed that the Defendants’ reconstruction of their home altered the drainage on their properties and resulted in water damage on Plaintiffs’ land.  The district court ruled in favor of Defendants, holding that the water damage would have occurred regardless of the altered drainage pattern.  Plaintiffs then brought this appeal, arguing that the district court erred by disregarding causation evidence and expert testimony that indicated the Defendants’ reconstruction led to the water damage on Plaintiffs’ property.  The Court of Appeals now considers the case.

The Plaintiffs purchased their property in 1990, which backs up to the Cedar River in Vinton, Iowa.  They rebuilt their home in 2000 and elevated the foundation five feet.  In 2006, the Defendant, Vicki, purchased the adjacent lot.  In 2008, the river rose above the flood plain and destroyed the homes of both Plaintiffs and Defendants.  Plaintiffs rebuilt their house first, elevating the foundation again and regraded the yard.  Defendants tried to sell their lot to the Plaintiffs, but decided their offer was too low and when the city declined to purchase the land, Defendants’ decided to demolish the existing home and rebuild.  Plaintiffs informed Defendant that they would sue if they carried through with their rebuilding plans.  Plaintiffs first tried to persuade the city council to stop Defendants from constructing the new home, arguing that the plans were unsafe, but they were unsuccessful. The initial suit was filed in March 2010.  Plaintiffs’ claimed that the new construction created an unlawful alteration of the natural flow of water, creating a nuisance.  In June 2010, a heavy rainfall caused extreme flooding once again on Plaintiffs’ property and they claimed that it was a result of Defendants’ construction.  The district court reviewed photos and video recordings showing the flow of rainwater on the properties, but dismissed the Plaintiffs’ claims and the Defendants’ counterclaims.  The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the Defendants’ actions did not “unreasonably disturb or interfere with their neighbor’s reasonable enjoyment and use of their property.”  The Plaintiffs had the burden of proving that Defendants’ actions actually caused the alleged damage, which they failed to carry as their evidence was incomplete and the court noted their tendency to exaggerate.  The Court ruled that the flooding to Plaintiffs’ property would have occurred regardless of the Defendants’ construction, thus the construction did not constitute a nuisance and the Court dismissed the claim.

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