On March 13, 2018, Judge Nancy B. Firestone, United States Court of Federal Claims, ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) bears responsibility for causing recurrent flooding resulting in the taking without just compensation of farms and property in four Midwest states along the Missouri River: Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas. The ruling states that the government must compensate farmers, landowners and business owners for the taken property, which has an estimated value of more than $300 million.

The Court found, among other things, that the Corps’ deprioritized flood control in 2004, leading to a series of changes in flood control management that served to cause or contribute to cause flooding in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2014 and since.

The Ideker Farms, Inc. et al v. United States of America mass action has two phases. The March 2018 ruling marks the end of phase one, which began on March 6, 2017, focusing on liability and the cause of the flooding. The trial in the Federal Claims Court began in Kansas City, Mo. before moving to Washington, D.C. It involved 44 plaintiff “bellwether” tracts and more than 90 testifying witnesses over the course of the 63-day trial. Closing arguments were held in November and concluded in December. In total, over 100 depositions were taken and in excess of 20 million documents were produced throughout phase one.

The case will next proceed to phase two, where the Court will determine the extent of losses due to the taking.

Case Background

The mass action lawsuit was originally filed on March 5, 2014 on behalf of 372 plaintiffs comprised of farmers, landowners and business owners, and alleged that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ actions have violated the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment that bars the Government from taking private property without just compensation. An amended complaint was filed on October 15, 2014.

According to the complaint, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ departure from longstanding flood control policies damaged and destroyed farmland and property in the Missouri River Basin, dating back to 2007.  The Defendants fundamentally changed Missouri River management policies in 2004, in order to comply with the Endangered Species Act and to protect at-risk or endangered fish and wildlife.  These policies were a departure from the longstanding status quo, and the Corps allegedly made public statements acknowledging that the new design would result in frequent overflow of the River and devaluation of the Plaintiffs’ private property.  The Corps explained to farmers living along the River that, in order to restore fish and wildlife, “everyone would have to do their part,” and that “[y]our part is to move out of the floodplain and don’t live there.”  The lawsuit claims the Corps took the Plaintiffs’ property for a public purpose without any just compensation, violating their Fifth Amendment rights.

The plaintiffs in this litigation are farmers, individuals, and companies who own land, operate farms and other businesses, or reside in the Basin. The plaintiffs are represented by Benjamin D. Brown and Laura Alexander of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC and by Polsinelli PC.

The case name is: Ideker Farms, Inc., et al. v. United States of America, Case No. 1:14-cv-00183-LJB, U.S. Court of Federal Claims.