Article II, Section 20, of the New Mexico Constitution provides: "Private property shall not be taken or damaged for public use without just compensation." In this case we consider the meaning of the phrase "for public use" in the context of an inverse condemnation claim for damage to a property owner's buildings caused by a municipality's maintenance of nearby drainage ditches.
The plaintiff is Electro-Jet Tool and Manufacturing Company, Inc. ("Electro-Jet"). It owns one or more buildings and other facilities on the north side of Albuquerque, New Mexico, not far from the Rio Grande River. Two drainage ditches, originally constructed and thereafter maintained by the City of Albuquerque ("the City"), border Electro-Jet's property. One ditch is located on the south side of the property and the other on the west. The purpose of the ditches is to carry away storm and other waste water and otherwise to drain the abutting property. The south side ditch empties into the west side ditch, and water drained through both ditches eventually empties into the river.
In the summer of 1986, the City performed alteration and maintenance work on both ditches. With respect to the west side ditch, it altered the slope of the ditch so that water ponded to a depth of several inches on several occasions, some of which lasted for several days. The west side ditch work also dammed up the south side ditch, so that water ponded in the latter ditch as well. The City also failed to maintain the grade of the south side ditch and to clean it out properly; these failures also caused water to pond in that ditch. The ponding water migrated through the sub-surface soil and caused Electro-Jet's buildings to settle and otherwise damaged its property.
Electro-Jet brought suit for this damage against the City and various other defendants in July 1988. Two claims were asserted against the City: a claim for negligence and a claim in inverse condemnation. The City answered, admitting and denying various allegations in the complaint and raising various defenses, including defenses that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and that the City was immune under the Tort Claims Act from liability for any of the alleged acts of negligence. Extensive discovery followed, and in October 1990 the City moved for summary judgment as to Electro-Jet's inverse condemnation claim. The sole ground for the City's motion was that, under the allegations in the complaint and in light of Electro-Jet's answers to the City's interrogatories, Electro-Jet had not stated a claim in inverse condemnation. The trial court agreed and, by order entered in January 1991, granted summary judgment to the City on Electro-Jet's claim for inverse condemnation, dismissed with prejudice the count in the complaint asserting the claim, and certified the order as a final judgment under SCRA 1986, 1-054(C)(1) (order adjudicating fewer than all claims and determining absence of just reason for delay is final judgment). Electro-Jet thereupon appealed.
Electro-Jet argues on appeal that the position evidently adopted by the trial court, and which it ascribes also to the City, has no support in New Mexico law. It maintains that the inverse condemnation count of its complaint alleged all of the elements necessary to support a claim in inverse condemnation and that the presence or absence of negligence as part of the facts underlying such a claim is immaterial to a property owner's entitlement to inverse condemnation when those elements are alleged and proven. It further maintains that the only elements of a properly asserted inverse condemnation claim are: (1) a taking or damaging of private property for public use, by (2) an entity authorized to exercise the power of eminent domain, where (3) there has been no compensation paid nor condemnation initiated. (It will be noted that this phrasing of the "elements" of an inverse condemnation claim begs the question considered in this opinion, since it recognizes that the taking or damaging must be "for public use.") Electro-Jet completes its argument by insisting that all three of these elements were alleged in its complaint, and indeed were admitted by the City in moving for summary judgment, and that it was therefore entitled to pursue its claim for inverse condemnation.
In connection with this last part of its argument, Electro-Jet has affirmed, several times in its briefs and again at oral argument, that there are no factual issues related to its entitlement to inverse condemnation; the question posed by the trial court's order is one of law. That question is whether Electro-Jet's complaint, considered in the light of its answers to the City's interrogatories, stated a claim upon which relief through inverse condemnation could be granted.
As the trial court's order comes to us for review, therefore, it stands essentially in the same posture as an order granting a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under SCRA 1986, 1-012(B)(6). Under
In deciding this appeal, we agree with Electro-Jet's assertion that negligence is irrelevant to a viable claim for inverse condemnation, but we disagree with its position that the only allegation required to state an inverse condemnation claim is that damage to private property has resulted from a public entity's performance of a public purpose. Electro-Jet's emphasis is on the transitory act or omission of government in pursuit of a public purpose, not on the damage to property for public use. The Constitution speaks not to the act, but to the property. The damage must be the result of the public entity's deliberate taking or damaging of the property in order to accomplish the public purpose. This is the meaning we ascribe to the constitutional phrase "for public use."
Electro-Jet's count in inverse condemnation did not allege any action by the City amounting to a deliberate (as we shall define that term in this opinion) damaging of its property by the City, and so we conclude that the trial court correctly dismissed that count. However, it is well settled that a complaint should be dismissed for failure to state a claim only when it appears that the plaintiff could not recover under any state of facts provable under the claim. E.g., Petty v. Bank of New Mexico Holding Co., 109 N.M. 524, 526, 787 P.2d 443, 445 (1990). As we discuss below, various states of fact are possible under which Electro-Jet could recover through its inverse condemnation count. We are therefore unwilling to sustain the court's dismissal of that count with prejudice; rather, we think that Electro-Jet should be given an opportunity to allege and prove facts, of the sort discussed below, that would entitle it to compensation by way of inverse condemnation. Accordingly, we vacate the trial court's order and remand with instructions to permit Electro-Jet to amend its complaint to allege facts sufficient, under the principles outlined below, to assert a claim for inverse condemnation.
We begin by referring to an issue that is not involved in this appeal: the question whether a particular taking or damaging is for a "public use," in the sense of "use by the public" versus "advantage to the public." This issue frequently arises in cases where a condemnor takes or damages private property, and the question is whether the taking or damaging is for a "public use," in a narrow sense ("use by the public") or in a broader sense ("public advantage"). Compare Threlkeld v. Third Judicial Dist. Court, 36 N.M. 350, 15 P.2d 671 (1932) (right of way for logging company's railroad is not a public use) and Gallup-American Coal Co. v. Gallup Southwestern Coal Co., 39 N.M. 344, 47 P.2d 414 (1935) (right of way for coal mining company is not a public use) with Kaiser Steel Corp. v. W.S. Ranch Co., 81 N.M. 414, 467 P.2d 986 (1970) (right of way for distribution of water is a public use); see generally 2A Julius L. Sackman & Patrick J. Rohan, Nichols' The Law of Eminent Domain §§ 7.02-7.07 (Rev.3d ed. 1990) [hereinafter
As just mentioned, there is no issue on this appeal as to the meaning of the phrase "public use"; the City did not below and does not here controvert Electro-Jet's declaration, in its answers to the City's interrogatories, that the maintenance and improvement of the ditches was undertaken to channel and control run-off and waste water for the benefit of the public and was for a public use. Rather, the issue on this appeal focuses on the preposition "for" in the phrase "for public use" and seeks to answer the question: When property is damaged in the course of performing an admittedly public purpose, to what extent (if any) must the damaging itself be the object of the condemnor's exercise of its power of eminent domain? In other words, to what extent (if at all) is "taken or damaged for a public use" synonymous with "taken or damaged in order to accomplish a public use"?
As noted above, Electro-Jet disputes any equivalence between the phrase "for a public use" and "in order to accomplish a public use." All that is required, according to Electro-Jet, is that an entity with the power of eminent domain be engaged in performing a public purpose, that the plaintiff's property be damaged as a result of this activity, and that the plaintiff not have received compensation nor have been subjected to a condemnation action brought by the entity. When these facts are present, Electro-Jet argues, even if the plaintiff's damage has resulted from the entity's negligence in carrying out the activity, the plaintiff is entitled to maintain an action in inverse condemnation.
Framing its argument in this way, Electro-Jet runs headlong into a widely accepted body of case law, summarized in the following statement in Nichols:
4A Nichols, supra, § 14.16, at 14-372-76 (footnotes omitted).
This passage in Nichols was quoted in Chavez v. City of Laramie, 389 P.2d 23, 25 (Wyo. 1964), in which the Wyoming Supreme Court held that the damage to the plaintiffs' property resulting from water flowing into their basement apartment from a severed water main and a crushed sewer line was not compensable under a constitutional provision virtually the same as our Article II, Section 20. The damage to the water main and sewer line had resulted from a contractor's work in connection with relocation of a highway. The court said:
Id. at 25. And earlier in the opinion: "Certainly the accident and consequent damage served no public purpose, and there was absent a taking or damaging of property for public use." Id. at 24 (emphasis in original).
The court in Chavez placed considerable reliance on a leading case from Louisiana, Angelle v. State, 212 La. 1069, 34 So.2d 321, 2 A.L.R.2d 666 (1948), in which the court reversed a judgment for owners whose property was destroyed after a state agency sprayed their harvested sweet potatoes with a disinfecting agent, which apparently caught fire. With reference to a constitutional provision like Article II, Section 20, the court said:
Id. 34 So.2d at 323, 327, 2 A.L.R.2d at 670-71, 674 (emphasis added).
California courts have similarly distinguished between a deliberate taking or damaging and damage resulting from tortious conduct:
Hayashi v. Alameda County Flood Control & Water Conservation Dist., 167 Cal.App.2d 584, 334 P.2d 1048, 1053 (1959) (emphasis added) (citing Neff v. Imperial Irrigation Dist., 142 Cal.App.2d 755, 299 P.2d 359 (1956)).
Neff, 299 P.2d at 360-61 (emphasis added).
The cases cited thus far in this opinion are but a few of the countless decisions dealing with an almost infinite variety of fact situations and enunciating myriad rules governing instances in which compensation for an unintentional damaging of private property will be afforded as a matter of constitutional right and instances in which such damage has occurred as a result of, at most, simple negligence on the part of governmental agents carrying out public purposes. See generally A.W. Gans, Annotation, Damage to Private Property Caused by Negligence of Governmental Agents as "Taking," "Damage," or "Use" for Public Purposes, in Constitutional Sense, 2 A.L.R.2d 677 (1948); Arvo Van Alstyne, Inverse Condemnation: Unintended Physical Damage, 20 Hastings L.J. 431 (1969). In the welter of these cases, many of which reach results and rely on principles that are difficult to reconcile or downright inconsistent with the results and principles in other
Some of the cases seem to stand for the simple proposition advocated by Electro-Jet on this appeal: All that is required is damage proximately resulting from an act of a public entity performing a public purpose, regardless of whether negligence has played any part in causing the damage. See, e.g., Aetna Life & Casualty Co. v. City of Los Angeles, 170 Cal.App.3d 865, 216 Cal.Rptr. 831, 835 (1985) ("[A]ny actual physical injury to real property proximately caused by a public improvement as deliberately designed and constructed is compensable under [the constitution,] whether or not the injury was foreseeable." (citing Albers v. County of Los Angeles, 62 Cal.2d 250, 42 Cal.Rptr. 89, 398 P.2d 129 (1965) (in bank), and McMahan's of Santa Monica v. City of Santa Monica, 146 Cal.App.3d 683, 194 Cal.Rptr. 582 (1983))). Cases like these probably rest to some extent on the once generally accepted but now widely repudiated doctrine of sovereign immunity, under which the government could not be sued without its consent — a consent sometimes found in the "just compensation" clause of a state's constitution. See Van Alstyne, supra, at 440-41:
In New Mexico, the doctrine of sovereign immunity was abolished in Hicks v. State, 88 N.M. 588, 544 P.2d 1153 (1975). In response, our state legislature enacted the Tort Claims Act, NMSA 1978, §§ 41-4-1 to -27 (Repl.Pamp. 1989). Section 41-4-4 grants a governmental entity and any public employee acting within the scope of duty immunity from liability for any tort except as waived elsewhere in the Act. Section 41-4-2 explains:
From this declaration and from the authorities cited and quoted previously in this opinion, we conclude that we must reject Electro-Jet's proffered equivalence between the constitutional concept of damage "for public use" and the concept of damage resulting from performance by a governmental entity of a public purpose in carrying out a public project, whether that project be construction of a public improvement or maintenance of a public building or other structure, such as a highway or (as in this case) a drainage ditch.
Intentionally causing the damage would clearly fall within this standard; so also would acting with knowledge that the damage was substantially certain to result from the conduct. See Robinson v. City of Ashdown, 301 Ark. 226, 783 S.W.2d 53, 56 (1990) ("[W]hen one knows that an invasion of another's interest in the use and enjoyment of land is substantially certain to result from one's conduct, the invasion is intentional." (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts § 825(b) cmt. d (1977))). Knowledge to a substantial certainty is not required; knowledge of a substantial probability would also give rise to the requisite deliberate taking of a calculated risk. See Van Alstyne, supra, at 439 (infliction of damage by deliberate adoption of a defective plan with knowledge that damage is a probable result constitutes a form of intentional adoption of a risk-prone plan of public improvement). In all of these situations the property owner's right to compensation under the constitutional provision at issue is perhaps best summed up in a California case: "The fundamental justification for inverse condemnation liability is that the public entity, acting in furtherance of public objectives, is taking a calculated risk that damage to private property may occur." Yox v. City of Whittier, 182 Cal.App.3d 347, 227 Cal.Rptr. 311, 316 (1986). See also Van Alstyne, supra, at 491 (inverse liability may result "[w]hen the government, acting in furtherance of public objectives, has [deliberately or knowingly] taken a calculated risk that private property might be damaged ...").
With these principles in mind, we can now discuss the New Mexico cases relied on by Electro-Jet. It purports to find its virtually automatic rule of constitutional entitlement to compensation for its property damage in five cases: Garver v. Public Serv. Co., 77 N.M. 262, 421 P.2d 788 (1966); Wheeler v. Board of County Comm'rs, 74 N.M. 165,
Garver simply recognizes the remedy of inverse condemnation where property has been taken or damaged for public use "and the person or agency taking or damaging the same for such purpose has failed for some reason to proceed by condemnation proceedings to exercise the power of eminent domain... ." 77 N.M. at 270, 421 P.2d at 793. In Wheeler, a pre-Hicks case that dismissed a count in negligence on sovereign immunity grounds but upheld a count in inverse condemnation, the Court declared that damages resulting from the defective design, construction, and maintenance of a highway were compensable under the "just compensation" clause of the Constitution. 74 N.M. at 170, 391 P.2d at 668. It was alleged that the damage resulted from improper drainage of water owing to the defective design, construction, and subsequent maintenance of the highway in its new alignment. Id. at 166, 391 P.2d at 665. The case thus easily falls under the standard noted above that permits inverse condemnation liability where a public entity deliberately constructs or maintains an improvement with knowledge of a substantial probability of damage, or at least deliberately takes a calculated risk that such damage may result.
In Harris, we considered a case (which does not appear to have been an inverse condemnation case) in which highway improvements had lowered the grade of the street adjacent to the property owner's property, resulting in inconvenience in getting from the street to the property and vice versa. We held that the owner was entitled to damages suffered through depreciation in the value of his property resulting from this change in grade. 69 N.M. at 317, 366 P.2d at 712. Again, this was a clear case of obviousness, to the point of substantial certainty, that the market value of the abutting property would be damaged as a result of the condemnor's actions.
We see nothing in North that militates against any of the principles set forth in this opinion or that supports Electro-Jet's argument. The Court of Appeals did say, unremarkably, that "[i]f the condemning authority has taken or damaged property for public use without making just compensation therefor or without initiating proceedings to do so, the property owner has recourse through inverse condemnation proceedings." 101 N.M. at 226, 680 P.2d at 607. This appears to contemplate one of the situations described above — namely, the situation in which the condemnor knows that damage will result but fails to initiate a condemnation proceeding.
McClure is the case on which Electro-Jet relies most heavily. There, the Town of Mesilla, in installing a drainpipe beneath an intersection, failed to connect it to a sewer or other part of the drainage system and the pipe ended abruptly under the intersection. Rainwater emptied into the soil under the intersection and the plaintiff's nearby premises, resulting in damage to the plaintiff's property. The plaintiff sued the Town for negligence, and our Court of Appeals sustained the trial court's dismissal of the plaintiff's complaint on the ground that the Town was immune from liability under the Tort Claims Act. The Court, in an opinion by Judge Sutin, went on to hold, however, that on remand the plaintiff should be allowed to file an amended complaint to state a claim for inverse condemnation, saying: "The Constitution gives to a person, whose property is damaged for public use, the right to compensation... . [I]nverse condemnation is not a common law tort action, and the Tort Claims Act is not an exclusive remedy." 93 N.M. at 448, 601 P.2d at 81.
We do not discern in McClure a holding that whenever a public entity damages private property in the course of carrying out a public project, the property owner is automatically entitled to compensation from the government. The property owner may be entitled to compensation if the government's conduct has been negligent and if
McClure does, however, point the way to our disposition of the case at bar. Here the trial court did not sustain a motion to dismiss the negligence count in Electro-Jet's complaint, but it did dismiss with prejudice the inverse condemnation count. As in McClure, we believe that the plaintiff should be given an opportunity to plead and prove facts sufficient to sustain an inverse condemnation award. Electro-Jet's complaint, insofar as it attempted to assert a claim in inverse condemnation, did little more than recite those words and the words "damage," "public use," and "eminent domain" and invoke the inverse condemnation statute, Section 42A-1-29. While "[u]nder our rules of `notice pleading,' it is sufficient that defendants be given only a fair idea of the nature of the claim asserted against them sufficient to apprise them of the general basis of the claim," Petty v. Bank of New Mexico Holding Co., 109 N.M. 524, 526, 787 P.2d 443, 445 (1990), we believe that some allegation of the factual predicate for Electro-Jet's inverse condemnation claim should have been provided in the complaint. It was not, and the trial court correctly rejected Electro-Jet's claim that the mere carrying out of a public project during the course of which damage occurred to Electro-Jet's property ipso facto entitled the company to compensation. Dismissal of Electro-Jet's claim was therefore appropriate, but we think the plaintiff should have been given, or should be given now, an opportunity to amend its complaint to state such a factual predicate.
At oral argument, the City conceded that if it had decided to maintain the ditches in the way it did with knowledge that underground seepage was likely to damage Electro-Jet's building and had proceeded regardless of that known likelihood, an inverse condemnation claim would lie. With or without this concession, it is certainly conceivable, as a possible set of facts provable under Electro-Jet's inverse condemnation claim, that the City might have known of the nature of the soil beneath Electro-Jet's building and that it proceeded to permit water to pond in the drainage ditches regardless of that knowledge and regardless of the probability that damage to the building would ensue. Other factual scenarios are possible; we simply are unwilling at this juncture, in light of the principles announced for the first time in this opinion, to sustain dismissal of Electro-Jet's inverse condemnation claim with prejudice on the basis that it did not plead the claim with sufficient particularity.
The situation here closely parallels that in a California case, Sutfin v. State, 261 Cal.App.2d 50, 67 Cal.Rptr. 665 (1968). There, the trial court sustained a demurrer
Id. (emphasis added).
Just as the court in Sutfin did not know whether the plaintiffs there could state facts constituting a cause of action in inverse condemnation, id., we likewise do not know whether Electro-Jet can allege such facts in the instant case. But it should be given the opportunity to do so.
The judgment is accordingly vacated, and the cause is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
RANSOM and BACA, JJ., concur.