Blaine County 5th District Judge Ned Williamson has ruled in the favor of the city of Ketchum by dismissing a lawsuit related to flooding along Warm Springs Creek in 2017.
Homeowner Richard Stanislaw, an attorney representing himself in the case, sued the city in June 2018. His lawsuit alleged that the city caused about $100,000 in damage to his property on Georginia Road by ordering the emergency installation of riprap on Warm Springs Creek upstream from his property in May 2017. The riprap was intended to protect the bridge on Aspen Drive from erosion.
In a 39-page ruling issued May 20, Williamson granted the city’s motion for summary judgment. On June 11, Williamson entered a judgment dismissing the lawsuit.
On May 11, 2017, City Administrator Suzanne Frick orally ap-proved Burks Excavation to place riprap in Warm Springs Creek, with consultant Stephanie Eisenbarth providing supervision, according to Williamson’s ruling.
Stanislaw asserted that the
city had not done any engin-
eering work, produced permitted plans or created a design, and did not follow its ordinances.
Williamson focused his ruling on two issues—whether Stanislaw could legally prove the city-approved actions caused the damage to his property and whether it should be granted legal immunity.
Stanislaw provided an opinion from general contractor Gary Storey, who had worked on the Stanislaw property in the days leading up and immediately following the riprap installation. Storey had observed flow on Warm Springs Creek for decades.
Williamson ruled that Storey’s observations were admissible as evidence. However, he found that Storey was not qualified to be an expert on the issue of whether the city-approved actions caused the damage.
“The ultimate issue is whether the installation of rip-rap in Warm Springs Creek in May 2017 caused the erosion of the riverbank on the Stanislaw property,” Williamson wrote. “By outlining Storey’s experience on riparian projects … Stanislaw has attempted to qualify Storey as an expert. However, the court finds that Storey is not a qualified expert.”
Williamson made a similar finding to a declaration made by Stanislaw—its observations were admissible in the case, but its opinions on what caused the damage were inadmissible.
His ruling then focused on whether Frick’s actions met the requirements for “discretionary function immunity” under Idaho law, which protects a government for decisions it left to an employee’s best judgment.
“The policies of the discretionary function immunity are clearly met in this case,” Williamson wrote. “Frick was dealing with multiple issues caused by the flooding and decisions needed to be made quickly in the emergency situations to protect the public and infrastructure.
“During such flooding scenarios, Frick should not be concerned about the threat of liability for Ketchum’s emergency actions and courts should not re-examine or second guess such decisions made during emergencies. Local city officials have the authority to make such decisions and are in a better position to determine what actions are needed to protect the public and infrastructure.”