Updated on September 27, 2023
The Joe Montana lawsuit versus the City and County of San Francisco involves several issues that we hope homeowners do not have to deal with.
But, what do you you do when your municipal infrastructure is affected by unexpected factors such as urban development and forces of nature, causing an overall decline in the quality of life to you as the homeowner and to your community at large?
If your local government does not step up, you have to take action. The following is an example of how it could start to play out, quarterbacking this case (at least as part of this pool of plaintiffs), is none other than Joe Montana.
On August 24, 2023, Joe Montana (the former Hall-of-Fame San Francisco 49ers Quarterback) along with a long list of other owners, tenants and occupants of real property in the Marina community in San Francisco (collectively, “Montana”) sued the City of San Francisco and the County of San Francisco (“San Francisco”) alleging various property damage claims based on San Francisco’s alleged failure to maintain and operate its sewage and stormwater system. Montana filed the case in the San Francisco County Superior Court, case number CGC-23-608635.
In the lawsuit, Montana contends that San Francisco operates a 100-year-old combined sewer and stormwater system that disproportionally inundates the Marina with sewage and stormwater thereby damaging the plaintiffs property. Montana contends that new business licenses, new home permits and improvements made to the upstream portion of the stormwater and sewage system have caused an increase in runoff negatively impacting the Marina. Montana further alleges that during periods of heavy rain the $1.5 billion sewage treatment facility that is designed to treat the stormwater/sewage water gets overwhelmed and San Francisco simply opens it gates and lets untreated wastewater flow into the San Francisco Bay.
Legally, the lawsuit involves claims for inverse condemnation, dangerous condition of public property, failure to maintain, negligence, nuisance, trespass, and declaratory relief. Each of these claims arises essentially out San Francisco’s use of the existing stormwater and sewage system and its maintenance obligations.
As a Los Angeles real estate lawyer, a few issues come to the forefront when examining the complaint. One issue Montana will have to prove for his negligence and failure to maintain claims is that San Francisco owed him a duty to maintain the wastewater system. If he can overcome the duty hurdle, he will then have to show that he was damaged. Damages in this case will be interesting. Unless there is actual physical property damage (like water damaged improvements or personal property), Montana will have likely have to argue that the value of his property is damaged by San Francisco’s alleged negligence. This will require expert opinion, likely from a real estate appraiser, opining about how property values in the Marina are negatively impacted by the wastewater system.
Likewise, for Montana’s inverse condemnation claim, he will have to show that he and his Marina neighbor’s property values are being impacted by a disproportionate burden that is being placed on them when the wastewater piles up on their neighborhood. Again, valuing that will likely be a hotly contested expert issue. Experts will have to consider other market factors that are going on today, like high interest rates, to make sure those factors are not the cause of any perceived loss in property value.
The lawsuit also contains more traditional claims like trespass. A trespass occurs when there is an unauthorized invasion into real property. Trespass claims do apply to water intrusion and they are typically brought against the person causing the water intrusion – here that is alleged to be San Francisco. Again, the damage will be valued by the actual financial harm to the resident’s property.
Montana’s complaint itself does not identify any specific items or portions of property that he claims San Francisco damaged for Montana or any of the other plaintiffs. However, that is not atypical. In California, the rules for a complaint for most types of causes of action simply require that the plaintiff put the defendant on notice of their claims – it does not typically require that the plaintiff allege every fact or every item of damage with specificity. Usually, those details are brought out through discovery where the parties exchange their information and documents about the events at issue.
At Schorr Law, we frequently handle cases similar to the Joe Montana lawsuit, including cases involving water intrusion, failure to maintain, trespass, nuisance and damage causes to property by adjacent property owners. For help with your real estate matter, please do not hesitate to contact us directly at (310) 954-1877, text us at (310) 706-2265, or send us a message here.