Port flooding lawsuit

A stormwater drain at 99 N. Main St. in Port Deposit, property owned by Tome Memorial United Methodist Church on which Nesbitt Hall is located, is at the center of a neighboring homeowner’s lawsuit filed in Cecil County Circuit Court.

PORT DEPOSIT — A homeowner is seeking more than $170,000 in damages, after he claimed a number of public agencies failed to control stormwater drainage that damaged his home.

Robert L. Kline III, who is a partner with the Cooke & Kline law firm in Hagerstown, said he filed the suit in September because the town of Port Deposit, the Cecil County Department of Public Works, Maryland State Highway Administration and Tome Memorial United Methodist Church would not fix a storm drain on church property that he claims is causing his property at 93 N. Main St. to flood.

Kline purchased the house in May 2017 for $17,000. It’s located next door to the historic Nesbitt Hall, which is across the street from Tome UMC and is owned by the church. Nesbitt Hall was originally the home of the church, but in recent years it was largely used as an accessory parish in the summertime prior to Tome UMC’s closure in September.

A motions hearing on whether to allow the case to proceed was originally set for Dec. 5, but courts closed that day for a national day of mourning in honor of former President George H.W. Bush. The hearing has been rescheduled for Feb. 1.

Kline said he wrote letters to all four parties with little or no response. Since then, the state and then the county asked him to file a tort claim, or a civil lawsuit seeking redress for negligence or intentional wrongdoing, which he did.

“Both were denied,” he told the Whig.

So he has filed an eight-count lawsuit to get the money he needs to repair the home and keep future flooding at bay.

“The front end is splayed and the left wall is moving out,” he said. “The stone foundation has been compromised.”

Kline said he made some repairs to stabilize the house, including replacing the entire first floor after floodwaters filled the basement and caused the floor joists to rot. According to Kline, the water in his basement comes from the storm drain next to the church, which he says is not functioning properly.

In the case filed in Cecil County Circuit Court, Kline lays the blame for the flooding across several agencies, including the town of Port Deposit for failing to manage code enforcement and project management, the county public works department as it operates the town’s wastewater facilities, and the State Highway Administration for not completing a stormwater remediation project in a timely fashion.

Specifically, Kline argues the town has been negligent in failing to manage code enforcement officer Susan Smith, citing instances of high grass, broken windows and standing water — presenting a risk of mosquito breeding — as evidence. Furthermore, he cites the town council’s supervision of the town administrator as negligent.

“The town of Port Deposit has failed to supervise Vicky Rinkerman as the only mention of the stormwater management project was on Jan. 17, 2017, and then not until Nov. 21, 2017,” Kline wrote, referring to the town’s meeting minutes. “The town of Port Deposit failed to supervise Ms. Rinkerman as there was no follow up, management and/or supervisor regarding the stormwater management project. The town of Port Deposit knew or should have known that if Ms. Rinkerman is not supervised in connection with the stormwater management project that there would be a distinct possibility that the matter would be forgotten and/or not handled in a timely manner.”

Kline also alleges that the town failed to notify the residents near the drainage pipe of the potential for issues and subsequently did not directly contact homeowners when the SHA’s mitigation project was delayed, presenting an argument for negligence.

With SHA, Kline argues that the state did not properly supervise Tom Revelle, project manager, to ensure the project was completed in a timely fashion. After being announced about two years ago, the project was canceled in August and will be re-bid.

SHA officials have noted to the town and Whig throughout the process that they have encountered many unforeseen challenges, including unknown asbestos pipes and underground sheets of the town’s iconic granite that prohibit drilling. A public meeting was held in May to collect historical knowledge of industries in town that could help engineers avoid further unforeseen troubles. The project is currently under redesign and additional testing.

Meanwhile, Kline argues that the incessant flooding and subsequent damage have also affected his personal health. He cites the need to import potable drinking water, and the constant odors, noise and disruption as a private nuisance. The passage of water from the storm drain onto his property is also evidence of trespassing as a violation of his property rights, he wrote.

Finally, Kline alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress as the flooding has caused him “persistent stress, anxiety and worry related to the impact of the water discharge on his land, water and personal health.” That count alone carries a request for compensatory damages of $75,000.

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