Heritage 5, LLC v. Estrada

Appellate Opinion on Flood Dispute Case in South Florida


We represented the Plaintiff, Heritage 5, LLC, a small agricultural business that specializes in growing and propagating rare bougainvillea. Our complaint alleged that the Defendant, Martin Estrada, had conducted filling and grading activities that resulted in the flooding of our client’s property. Among other things, Mr. Estrada filled an east-west ditch located along the northern boundary of his property that served as the outfall and natural drainage connection for our client’s property. The flooding resulted in the widespread loss of young and mature plants, as well as property damage. Despite a significant amount undisputed factual and expert testimony, the trial court ruled in favor of the Defendant.

In its opinion, the Fourth District Court of Appeal cited the Westland Skating Center case (Westland Skating Center, Inc. v. Gus Machado Buick, Inc., 542 So. 2d 959 (Fla. 1989)), the seminal case in Florida on flood disputes related to surface water drainage and property improvements. Quoting Westland, the court stated:

[A] possessor of land is not unqualifiedly entitled to deal with surface waters as he pleases nor is he absolutely prohibited from increasing or interfering with the natural flow of surface waters to the detriment of others. Each possessor is legally privileged to make reasonable use of his land even though the flow of surface waters is altered thereby and causes some harm to others. He incurs liability only when his harmful interference with the flow of surface waters is unreasonable.

Applying Westland here, the appellate court found that:

While man-made canals and ditches were added to the area over the years, they facilitated the natural flow of the water that had existed previously, from the north to the southwest. Considering the transition of the land from wetlands to agricultural use, the canal and ditches here at issue were part of a drainage scheme meant to preserve, but not change, the natural surface flow and drainage. Estrada’s alterations to this scheme unreasonably interfered with it, causing damage to Heritage 5’s property.

The appellate court reversed and remanded the case back to the trial court for a hearing on the amount of the damages and to set terms for a permanent injunction.

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Reference Info:Decision | State, 11th Circuit, Florida | United States

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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