Fairfax County’s Huntington neighborhood knows that when it rains, it pours, and that’s usually a bad thing in the flood-prone enclave.
But members of the community have been greeted with at least two welcome developments in the past few weeks: first, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors agreed to authorize a referendum for a $30 million bond for flood protection. Now the Virginia Supreme Court has agreed to reinstate a $9 million lawsuit filed by dozens of residents against the Virginia Department of Transportation seeking compensation for damages to their homes and personal property after a 2006 flood.
The high court upheld a Fairfax County Circuit Court ruling that dismissed the claims against the county but agreed to review the claim against VDOT . In an opinion dated June 7, the Virginia Supreme Court overturned the Fairfax County Circuit Court’s ruling involving VDOT, allowing the case against the state to proceed.
“I’m relieved to hear it,” Geoff Livingston, the lead plaintiff in the case, said Tuesday. “It’s really great news. We thought this thing was dead.”
In 2008, more than 130 Huntington homeowners and renters sued the county and the state. The lawsuit, Geoff Livingston, et al. v. Fairfax County and VDOT, alleged that the repeated flooding was a consequence of Capital Beltway construction, which relocated Cameron Run’s channel, and unbridled suburban development upstream. Yet neither the county nor the state did anything about it for 23 years, the lawsuit says.
The high court’s opinion last week, written by Justice LeRoy F. Millette, Jr., held that the residents were entitled to seek damages against the state even though their claim was based on a single instance of flooding. The high court also said the Circuit Court was wrong to hold that the plaintiffs were not entitled to pursue their claim because the 2006 flooding was an “extraordinary event.” The court noted that the Huntington neighborhood had been socked by Hurricane Agnes in 1972. The Virginia Supreme Court also said the plaintiffs were entitled to sue because they were not blaming the floods on the Beltway’s construction alone, but on the state’s failure to keep the Cameron Run channel free of sediment.
The case will now return to Circuit Court for further proceedings.
“I’m very happy. I think it’s a good thing,” said Eunice Johnson, whose home was damaged by flooding again last fall.
Livingston, meanwhile, said he will soon leave the enclave for Belle Haven. Though he has been unable to sell his flooded house, he said hopes he can persuade someone to rent it.