Supreme Court Rules Federal Government is Liable for Arkansas Forest Damage

Saturday, December 08, 2012

The state of Arkansas has won its case against the federal government over the deliberate flooding of forestlands during the 1990s.


The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission sued Washington in 2005 to get compensation over the drowning of hardwood oak trees on a 23,000-acre wildlife-management area along the Black River.


From 1993 to 2000, the Army Corps of Engineers released more water than planned from the Clearwater Dam in Missouri. But federal attorneys claimed other factors may have caused the trees to die off.


Arkansas won its case before the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in 2009, which found the government responsible for an unconstitutional taking of the commission’s property. The court ordered the federal government to pay more than $5.6 million for the dead trees and more than $176,000 for a regeneration program.


But the ruling was overturned on appeal by the Federal Circuit, which said the flooding had to be permanent for the Army Corps of Engineers to be at fault.


Arkansas state attorneys petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. The high court disagreed with the appellate decision, saying “recurrent floodings, even if of finite duration, are not categorically exempt from Takings Clause liability.”


The ruling clears the way for the Arkansas commission to be reimbursed for the flood damage.

 -Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Uncle Sam May Be Liable for Recurrent Flooding (by Barbara Leonard, Courthouse News Service)

Supreme Court Says Government May Have To Pay For Flooding (by Robert Barnes, Washington Post)

Arkansas Game and Fish Commission v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court) (pdf)


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