Ex parte The Water Works and Sewer Board of the City of Anniston.Annotate this Case
The Water Works and Sewer Board of the City of Anniston ("the Board") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Calhoun Circuit Court ("the trial court") to vacate its order entering a partial summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs Betty Milner and Teresa Holiday. In 2018, plaintiffs sued the Board seeking compensatory and punitive damages based on claims of breach of contract, nuisance, continuing trespass, negligence, and wantonness. Plaintiffs alleged that in February 2016 they instructed the Board to cut off water supply to a house they owned; that plaintiffs "returned to reopen" the house in February 2018 and discovered that the water supply to the house had not been completely cut off; and, that the Board's failure to properly cut off the water supply caused severe damage to the house. The Board filed an answer that included general denials of plaintiffs' allegations and asserted a number of "affirmative defenses," including that plaintiffs' injuries were the result of the "intervening and superseding" actions of an individual or entity other than the Board or anyone under its control. Viewing the evidence before it in a light most favorable to the Board, the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court could have assigned some culpability to the Board. However, the Court determined the Board could not have known plaintiffs would initiate litigation against the Board once it was discovered that, at least from the Board's perspective, water was running to plaintiffs' house only because a third party had tampered with the cap and lock device, not because the Board had failed to properly cut off the water in 2016. Moreover, the Court concluded plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that fundamental fairness required the most severe sanction available to the trial court to impose upon the Board. Therefore, the Court determined the Board established a clear legal right to mandamus relief. The petition was granted and the writ issued.