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Law School Case Brief

Marty v. State - 117 Idaho 133, 786 P.2d 524 (1989)


In interpreting the discretionary function exception to governmental liability contained in Idaho Code § 6-904(1), the rule is that a governmental entity and its employees are immune from liability for planning activities or policy formation. In applying this rule, the determination of the applicability of the discretionary function exception is a two-step process. First, one must examine the nature and quality of the challenged actions. Routine, everyday matters not requiring evaluation of broad policy factors will more likely than not be "operational." Decisions and actions which involve a consideration of the financial, political, economic and social effects of a given plan or policy will generally be "planning" and fall within the discretionary function exception. Second, the policies underlying the discretionary function exception must be considered. The policies are twofold: (1) to permit those who govern to do so without being unduly inhibited in the performance of that function by the threat of liability for tortious conduct; and (2) to limit judicial re-examination of basic policy decisions properly entrusted to other branches of government.


On June 3, 1983, the board of commissioners of Jefferson County declared the area surrounding Mud Lake to be a flood emergency area and requested assistance from the governor of the State of Idaho. In a combined effort the governmental agencies, the Army Corps of Engineers, the canal companies, the water users and numerous volunteers responded to the impending flood. Action was taken to: (i) strengthen and increase the height of the Mud Lake dike, which enclosed the lake on the south, southeast and southwest; (ii) divert excess water from Mud Lake through the use of the Owsley Canal Co. pump station; (iii) divert water from Camas Creek at the Lone Tree structure; (iv) cap all artesian wells that flow into the lake; (v) retain inflow from Camas Creek and flood waters at the wildlife refuge behind the Bybee structure; and (vi) cut the Dobson ditch to relieve the pressure on the Bybee structure. In late 1985, plaintiffs Joe and Ella M. Marty, joined by several other landowners ("Landowners"), filed a lawsuit in Idaho state court seeking damages and injunctive relief against defendants, the State, various governmental agencies, the canal companies and others. The Landowners based their claims for damages on theories of trespass, strict liability, negligence and inverse condemnation. They alleged that their farmland had been flooded as a result of defendants' actions and decisions including the failure to construct a spillway to prevent the flooding of the Landowners' farmland. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, denying that there was any basis for liability under the theories advanced by the Landowners and that their actions and decisions were immunized under several Idaho statutes. The trial court granted summary judgment dismissing all of the Landowners' claims. The Landowners appealed.


Under several Idaho statutes, were the governmental agencies immune from liability?




The state supreme court affirmed the trial court's judgment in part, and reversed and remanded in part. The court held, inter alia, that Idaho Code § 42-1717 provided the governmental agencies with immunity because the damages had been caused by measures taken to control and regulate a dam or to protect against failure of a dam during an emergency. In the same manner, the Court held that another agency enjoyed immunity under Idaho Code § 6-904 because any negligence that contributed to the flooding constituted planning and was discretionary. The court ruled, however, the summary judgment was improper on the Landowners' inverse condemnation claims. The court ruled that whether the State Disaster Preparedness Act provided immunity to the government agencies on the inverse condemnation claims depended on whether the Landowners suffered permanent damage and precisely when the government agencies took action against the impending flood. These questions, the court ruled, should be resolved by the trial court.

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