Tuesday, August 16, 2011, 4:13 PM

COA: Municipality must adopt or control sewer lines in order to be liable for failing to maintain them

Today, in Williams v. Devere Construction Co., Inc., a panel of the North Carolina Court of Appeals (Bryant, McGee, Beasley) ruled that in order to state a claim against a municipality for failure to maintain sewer lines, home owners had to show that the municipality adopted or controlled the lines.

In August 2009, a sewer line backed up and caused sewage to flow back through the sewer line connected to a house owned by plaintiffs Jonathan and Jamie Kaufman Williams. Sewage spilled out into the Williams home, causing substantial damage throughout the home. Subsequently, the Williamses filed a negligence claim against a number of defendants, including the City of Thomasville, alleging that the City was "involved in the process of construction of the sewer system" for a new Randolph County school "in preparation for taking over operation and control of said sewer system."

The Court of Appeals held that the Williamses failed to state a claim against the City. In order to make out a case of negligence against the City, the Williamses had to show that the City had breached a duty of care. A municipality like the City can be liable for failing to maintain sewer lines constructed by someone else only when the municipality adopts those sewer lines as part of its sewer system or when the municipality assumes control and management of the sewer lines. In other words, where a municipality does not control the sewer lines, the municipality is not liable. Since the Williamses only alleged that the City was preparing to take control of the sewer system--not that the City actually controlled the sewer system--the Williamses had not alleged any facts showing that the City had any duty of care.

Related links: Record on appeal; Williamses' brief; City's brief.

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