Appeals justices dismiss claims against Victoria officials in property dispute

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

May 16, 2013 at 12:16 a.m.

The Victoria city manager and the public works director were dropped from what has become a seven-year long property dispute, justices with the Thirteenth Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

Resident Keith Redburn sued the City Manager Charmelle Garrett, Public Works Director Lynn Short and the city of Victoria because he thought they were responsible for cleaning up debris left behind by a large culvert on his property in the 900 block of Stayton Avenue.

An area judge sided with the city in 2011 and ordered Redburn to dismantle the 5 tons of concrete he used to plug the culvert.

The city argued that because Redburn purchased the property "as is" in 2004, the mess was his problem. The previous owner, they said, agreed to its upkeep back in the 1940s.

Redburn and his attorney, Norman D. Jones, appealed the lower court's decision in March 2012.

Then, appeals justice Nora L. Longoria remanded the case back to the lower court in Victoria.

This subsequent opinion fine-tunes the first, and Redburn still is not allowed to plug up the culvert, Jones said.

"They did drop Charmelle Garrett and Lynn Short out of the lawsuit, which is no big deal as far as I'm concerned," Jones said. "They (the appeals justices) just kind of made the case - it appears to be easier to try."

"Determining whether the city has the right to dump the water on his property, that's the important issue, and that's still in there. That's the very basis and guts of the lawsuit," he said.

The outcome of this case could affect other municipalities across the state, he said.

"Anytime you're dealing with city immunity ... it opens up new procedures for someone else," Jones said.

City attorney Thomas Gwosdz, meanwhile, said the appeals justices got it right this time. The city, according to court documents, has long argued that claims against governmental employees, such as Garrett and Short, in their individual capacities are barred, pointing to a section of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code that says so.

The culvert drains stormwater from a significant portion of the "nine rivers historical district," he said.

Gwosdz did not know whether the city would seek to recover monetary damages from when Redburn plugged up the culvert, should the city win the case.

"This case hasn't really impacted the day-to-day operations of the city manager's office or the public works director's office," he added.

Jones has until May 31 to again ask the justices to reconsider their decision, and he's not sure whether he will do that yet. No other hearings have been set yet in the area for the case.



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