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Parish v. Smith Utility District

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

February 28, 2018

GENE PARISH
v.
SMITH UTILITY DISTRICT ET AL.

          Session February 23, 2017

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Smith County No. 15-CV-91 John D. Wootten, Jr., Judge

         Plaintiff brought an action against a local utility district for damages allegedly arising from the construction and maintenance of a water line on plaintiff's property. Plaintiff also sought injunctive relief. The utility company moved to dismiss, asserting that it was immune from suit or, alternatively, that plaintiff's action was barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The trial court granted the utility company's motion. The court concluded that plaintiff's claim for damages were barred by the Governmental Tort Liability Act. The court further concluded that plaintiff's request for injunctive relief was barred by the GTLA's one-year statute of limitations. And the court determined that the action would be barred by the one-year statute of limitation applicable to governmental takings. We conclude that the gravamen of plaintiff's claim was for inverse condemnation, and the action was time barred.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed

          G. Frank Lannom and Donnavon Vasek, Lebanon, Tennessee, for the appellant, Gene Parish.

          Jason K. Murrie and Thomas I. Carlton, Jr., Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellees, Smith Utility District, and Mack Gann.

          W. Neal McBrayer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S. and Andy D. Bennett J., joined.

          OPINION

          W. NEAL McBRAYER, JUDGE

         I.

         In a letter dated February 18, 2013, Mack Gann, an employee of the Smith Utility District, contacted Gene Parish to ask whether Mr. Parish, as a resident of Ben Gentry Lane, would be interested in the installation of a water line. According to a subsequently filed complaint, the allegations of which we assume to be true, Mr. Parish initially declined the offer of public water access. But eventually Mr. Parish agreed to "get the process started" after his neighbors promised to contribute $1, 000 towards the costs of installation.

         At some later point in time, when he went to pay his meter fee, Mr. Parish discovered to his dismay that his neighbors had withdrawn their prior offer to help pay for the installation of the water line. According to Mr. Parish, he then requested additional time from Mr. Gann to "resolve their unaddressed issues." By this point, however, installation of the water line had apparently started, and Mr. Gann refused to stop.

         "[O]n or about August 26, 2013, " Mr. Parish told Mr. Gann that he and Smith Utility District were "trespassing on [his] land without any right or authority to do so." Mr. Parish also demanded that Mr. Gann and Smith Utility District leave the property and never return. Mr. Gann refused and claimed a right to be on Mr. Parish's property by virtue of an easement. Mr. Parish disagreed and told Mr. Gann that the easement was only for ingress and egress.

         On April 7, 2015, Mr. Parish filed a complaint for trespass against Smith Utility District and Mr. Gann seeking damages and injunctive relief. The complaint claimed that Smith Utility District and Mr. Gann "[d]uring the months of August, September, and October of 2013, . . . entered onto the property . . . by physically driving heavy construction equipment on the property and . . . excavating to install a water line." Mr. Parish also argued that Smith Utility District and Mr. Gann "continue to enter onto the property . . . on a periodic time schedule."

         Smith Utility District and Mr. Gann moved to dismiss Mr. Parish's complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. See Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6). They argued that they were immune from suit under the Governmental Tort Liability Act ("GTLA") and ...


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