Municipal Liability for Damages from Culvert Built Without Permit

In Chatman v. Alameda County Flood Control etc. Dist. (1986), the appellate court affirmed summary judgment in favor of a water district in an inverse condemnation action by a homeowner whose house was subsiding due to erosion of a culvert built by a private developer, which culvert carried creek water under her property. The evidence showed the culvert was privately planned and built; the district did not plan, design, create, install, approve or accept the culvert; the district owned no easements or rights-of-way in the culvert; it had not maintained or repaired the culvert. Although the district had conducted channel-clearing activities in the creek, the portion cleared did not include the culvert under the plaintiff's property and neither that clearing nor the district's inspection of the culvert was sufficient to show control. (Id. at pp. 428, 431.) Nor did the district's requirement of preapproving all work done on the culvert manifest its control. "A homeowner frequently must obtain a building permit prior to repairing or remodeling his or her house. This does not imply, however, that the regulatory agency 'controls' that home." (Id. at p. 431.) The Chatman court concluded that "because the District neither built, accepted, approved, nor maintained the culvert, it is not liable." (Id. at p. 432.)