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Maher v. City of Box Elder

Supreme Court of South Dakota

March 13, 2019

WILLIAM J. MAHER d/b/a VALLEY VILLAGE MOBILE HOME PARK, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
CITY OF BOX ELDER, Defendant and Appellee.

          CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS ON NOVEMBER 12, 2018

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SEVENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT PENNINGTON COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA THE HONORABLE CRAIG A. PFEIFLE Judge

          GREGORY A. EIESLAND AARON D. EIESLAND of Johnson Eiesland Law Offices, P.C. Rapid City, South Dakota Attorneys for plaintiff and appellant.

          DONALD P. KNUDSEN KATELYN A. COOK of Gunderson, Palmer, Nelson & Ashmore, LLP Rapid City, South Dakota Attorneys for defendant and appellee.

          PER CURIAM

         [¶1.] William Maher brought suit against the City of Box Elder (the City), arguing it negligently operated its water system and caused his waterlines to break. The City moved for summary judgment, asserting the public duty rule precluded imposition of a duty to Maher absent proof the City assumed a special duty. The circuit court granted summary judgment. We reverse.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2.] William Maher owns a mobile home park in Box Elder and receives water from the City's water system. The City owns, operates, and maintains its water system in part to supply water to its resident customers, including Maher. The waterlines within the park are privately owned and maintained.

         [¶3.] To supply water, the City used a well that is known as the Madison Well No. 6. In 2006, the City purchased and installed booster pumps to move water from the Madison Well to a water tower located by a local school. In 2014, the City drilled a new well known as the Ghere Well and created a storage reservoir beside it. In 2014, the water in the Ghere Well exceeded maximum permissible contaminates, and the City took the well offline. The City, however, still needed to supply sufficient water to its customers. In October and November 2014, after taking the Ghere Well offline, the City installed more powerful booster pumps at the Madison Well location to push water to the reservoir located by the Ghere Well.

         [¶4.] In February 2015, numerous waterlines within Maher's mobile home park broke. Maher reported the breaks to the City. The City subsequently installed pressure reducing valves at the corners of Maher's property, and Maher experienced no additional breaks. Maher alleged the City admitted the absence of the pressure reducing valves caused the park's waterlines to break, but the City disputed Maher's claim.

         [¶5.] In November 2016, Maher brought suit against the City for negligence. He argued the City had a duty to operate, control, and maintain its water system in a reasonable manner. He contended the City breached that duty when it negligently increased the pressure in its waterlines without installing pressure reducing valves. More specifically, Maher claimed the City failed "to properly design changes and alterations to its water system," failed "to install proper pressure reducing valves," failed "to adhere to prudent engineering standards for design and operation of a water system," failed "to take necessary precautions to protect" its water system, and failed "to employ proper water system design professionals in altering [its] water delivery system." He also alleged the City's negligence caused damage to the park's waterlines.

         [¶6.] The City moved for summary judgment, arguing the public duty rule precluded imposition of a duty because Maher failed to establish the City owed him a special duty. In response, Maher argued the public duty rule did not apply because this is a "regular negligence" case against the City for the City's negligent operation of its water system. He further asserted the public duty rule only applies when the question concerns whether the governmental entity owed a duty to protect another person from the misconduct of a third party.

         [¶7.] The circuit court accepted the City's argument and granted its motion for summary judgment, concluding Maher failed to identify a material issue of fact in dispute on the question whether the City owed him a special duty. Maher appeals, ...


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