[¶ 1.] Under a Rapid City ordinance, homeowners are responsible for damage to their property caused by service lines extending from the City's water main to the water stop on the homeowner's property. When the homeowners here sued the City to recover for damage caused by a broken service line, the circuit court granted the City's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. On appeal, plaintiffs contend that the City's ordinance violates the open courts provision of the South Dakota Constitution as an unwarranted extension of sovereign immunity on the City's proprietary function of operating a waterworks system. Because we conclude that the Legislature has not granted to cities the power to disclaim all liability for water service lines, we reverse the dismissal and decline to reach the constitutional question.
[¶ 2.] Plaintiffs, David and Cindi Elkjer, are residents of the Parkridge area of Rapid City, South Dakota. Their home is connected to the City's waterworks system. On December 26, 2003, a service line failed, causing a large volume of water to escape. The broken line was underneath the city street between the main water line and the curb stop. When the line broke, water flooded plaintiffs' basement causing damage. This service line was constructed of polybutelene plastic, known as Poly-B.
[¶ 3.] The City did not install the service line or require that it be constructed of Poly-B. Service lines from the City's water main to the homes in the Parkridge area were installed by homebuilders and developers. However, builders were required to comply with City regulations on how to properly install these lines and on what materials were acceptable for use. One of the materials the City authorized was Poly-B. Many builders chose to use Poly-B to tap into the water main.
[¶ 4.] After becoming aware of nationwide problems with Poly-B, the City stopped approving its use for water service lines. In 1991, the City began a policy of repairing and replacing all defective Poly-B water service lines on a pro-rata basis. In 2001, the City amended its policy to "repair and replace all leaky polybutelene service lines from the main to the curb stop on a 100 percent basis."
[¶ 5.] Plaintiffs brought suit against the City in 2004 to recover for the damage to their property. They alleged that the conduct of the City in operating and maintaining its waterworks was both a negligent and an intentional tort. The City responded with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under SDCL 15-6-12(b)(5). The circuit court granted the motion. On appeal, plaintiffs ask "[w]hether City Ordinance 13.04.420 and City Policy PW 101001-12 violated the `open courts' provision of the South Dakota Constitution, [Art. VI, § 20], by purporting to extend immunity to the City of Rapid City, while acting in the proprietary capacity of operating a waterworks system so as to foreclose a cause of action for negligent acts committed in that capacity."
Analysis and Decision
[¶ 6.] A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(5) tests the law of a plaintiff's claim. A court must deny the motion unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff cannot recover under any facts provable in support of the claim. Fenske Media Corp. v. Banta Corp., 2004 SD 23, ¶ 7, 676 N.W.2d 390, 392-93 (citations omitted). Although these "motions are viewed with disfavor and seldom prevail," on appeal, we will examine them de novo, without deference to the trial judge's decision. Id. (citations omitted).
[¶ 7.] At the outset, we note that the City has not raised the defense of sovereign immunity. SDCL 21-32A-3 provides:
Id. (emphasis added). In that sovereign immunity is not directly in issue, before we reach a constitutional question, our first inquiry ought to be whether the City has been legislatively granted authority to disclaim all liability for damage caused by service pipes. The City's position is that it is acting under SDCL 9-47-1 and 9-47-6. SDCL 9-47-1 provides in relevant part: "Every municipality may construct, establish, operate, and maintain a system of waterworks and facilities in connection therewith; may regulate the distribution and use of water supplied thereby...." SDCL 9-47-6 provides: "Every municipality shall have power to regulate and provide for the laying of water connections from the city water mains to the lot line, and to assess the cost against the abutting property owner as provided by this title."
[¶ 8.] Cities are empowered to "enact, make, amend, revise, or repeal" ordinances. SDCL 9-19-3. The City enacted Municipal Code Ordinance 13.04.420:
[¶ 9.] In Olesen v. Town of Hurley, 2004 SD 136, ¶ 15, 691 N.W.2d 324, 328, we reaffirmed a longstanding rule in South Dakota: cities "`possess only those powers conferred upon them by the Legislature ... [and] a grant of authority includes those incidental or implied powers that are necessary to enable a municipality to perform the function authorized.'" Id. (citations omitted). Because cities have "no inherent powers, and none of the attributes of sovereignty," the scope of their implied powers falls under "a reasonably strict standard." Id. (citations omitted). Whatever latitude these implied powers might include "will depend upon the circumstances of each case." Id.
[¶ 10.] We find nothing in SDCL 9-47-1 and 9-47-6 granting express authority to disclaim liability for service pipe damage occurring under city streets. The City asserts, however, that it possesses implied power to define where its water system responsibilities begin and end. No South Dakota case authority exists on this point, but the City refers us to several other jurisdictions where it claims similar city ordinances have been upheld as reasonably implied municipal powers.
[¶ 11.] In Glennon's Milk Service, Inc. v. West Chester Area Municipal Authority, 114 Pa.Cmwlth. 88, 538 A.2d 138 (1988), a business sued a city for damage to its property caused by a leak in the service line between the city water main and the curb line. Pennsylvania law granted authority to local water authorities to "exercise all powers necessary or convenient for the carrying out of [its] purposes," including, the authority for "the construction, improvement, repair, maintenance and operation of its facilities and properties, ... and to determine by itself exclusively the services and improvements required to provide adequate, safe and reasonable service...." Id. at 139-40. The court concluded that this enactment vested in the water authority "the discretion to exclusively determine what services it requires to provide adequate safe and reasonable service." Id. at 140. Given this "exclusive power," the water authority's division of maintenance and repair duties between the water provider and the customer was not an abuse of discretion and a dismissal of
[¶ 12.] In another decision the City mentions, a court confronted the question whether the cost of repair and replacement of a water service pipe extending from the main to the water stop was chargeable to the property owner. Rosborough v. City of Moline, 30 Ill.App.2d 167, 174 N.E.2d 16 (1961). Like the Pennsylvania statute examined in the Glennon's case, an Illinois law gave water providers "the power to make all needful rules and regulations concerning the use of water supplied ... and make such rules and regulations for the construction, completion, management, or control of the waterworks, and for the fixing and collecting of such water rates or rents as [they] may deem necessary or expedient." Id. at 21. Once again, South Dakota does not grant the broad statutory authority to municipal water authorities seen in this Illinois statute. But, it must also be noted, Rosborough only stands for the routine proposition that a rule requiring consumers to bear the burden of paying for the costs of making connections between their premises and the water main is reasonable. Id. at 22 (citing MCQUILLIN, THE LAW OF MUNICIPAL CORPORATIONS, Vol 12, 375-78 & Vol 13, 72 (3d ed)). South Dakota grants the same authority by statute. SDCL 9-47-6.
[¶ 13.] One other case the City cites is Jackson v. Mayor, etc, of City of Ellendale, 4 N.D. 478, 61 N.W. 1030 (N.D.1894). In this opinion, the North Dakota Supreme Court had no state waterworks provision to interpret. There was only a municipal ordinance requiring lot owners to pay for the cost of service pipe installation. On "general principles," consequently, the court ruled that the "water system established by the city, and which it must maintain, stops at the main. It does not embrace service pipes." Id. at 1030. That was the apparent understanding the Ellendale city planners had when they installed the water mains. But this dated opinion is of little assistance to us because here we must interpret South Dakota statutes governing the scope of municipal powers in their operation of waterworks.
[¶ 14.] Conceding that cities can lawfully assess the cost of service lines to abutting property owners, it does not necessarily follow that because homeowners may be responsible for installation and maintenance costs, that a city cannot be sued in tort for its own negligence related to those service pipes. On the contrary, with our "reasonably strict standard" for interpreting statutorily granted municipal powers, we see little room for the implied powers the City asserts here. Under SDCL 9-47-1, cities may "regulate the distribution and use of water," and, under SDCL 9-47-6, they "shall have the power to regulate and provide for the laying of water connections from the city water mains to the lot line...." Nothing in these statutes appears to allow cities a right to proclaim themselves "not responsible for service pipes and fixtures" extending from city water mains to water stops at lot lines. See Rapid City, SD, Municipal Code Ordinance 13.04.420(A). In fact, an opposite interpretation may well be taken from SDCL 9-47-6 because it requires that cities "shall have power to regulate and provide for the laying of water connections from the city water mains to the lot line" and "to assess the cost" to lot owners. Id. (emphasis added). Having power to "regulate and provide" obviously imports some level of responsibility.
[¶ 15.] In dealing with a similar controversy, an Ohio appeals court reasoned:
Seeley v. City of Norwalk, 53 Ohio App. 180, 4 N.E.2d 403, 404 (1936) (citations omitted).
[¶ 16.] Similar to the circumstances in the Seeley case, Rapid City homeowners are "responsible for the repair and replacement of all other water lines" supplying water to their home, "including service lines from the main to the curb stop...." However, even though service line installation and replacement are the responsibility of homeowners, these service lines are regulated by the City. If homeowners need access to their water service lines under the street, permission to do so must be granted by the director of the public works as required by the municipal code.
[¶ 17.] Homeowners may be held responsible for the cost of installing, repairing, and replacing these service lines. On the other hand, to the extent that a city may be responsible for damage to service pipes, the Legislature has not authorized municipalities to disclaim liability from those who seek redress in tort. The City has the duty to use reasonable care to "regulate... water connections from the city water mains to the lot line...." SDCL 9-47-6. Although the City is not an insurer of its waterworks system, it cannot disclaim all liability for damages resulting from defects in service lines when its negligence has been proved. Whether plaintiffs may prevail in court on their negligence claim remains to be decided. All we declare today is that they have
[¶ 18.] Reversed and remanded.
[¶ 19.] GILBERTSON, Chief Justice, and ZINTER and MEIERHENRY, Justices, and MILLER, Retired Justice, concur.
[¶ 20.] MILLER, Retired Justice, sitting for SABERS, Justice, disqualified.
Public Works Committee Item number PW101001-12.
Under the City's Municipal Code 13.04.060, an application must also be completed in order for any owner of property to use the City's water; the application must then be approved by the director of public works.