Three-Year Statute of Limitations Confirmed for Inverse Condemnation Causes of Action

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In Bookout v. State of California, 2d Civil No. B214906, the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, confirmed that a three-year statute of limitations applies to a cause of action against a public entity for damage to private property based upon a theory of inverse condemnation. In the case, the appellant filed suit against Caltrans, San Luis Obispo County, the Oceano Community Services District and Union Pacific Railroad in 2006, alleging that they had caused his property to flood, which resulted in damage sometime in 2002 or before. In finding at trial that the appellant's case was time-barred, the trial court noted that for inverse condemnation causes of action, the three-year limitations period under California Code of Civil Procedures section 338(j) generally applies, and a five-year statute of limitations applies only where a public entity has physically entered and exercised dominion and control over some portion of the plaintiff's property. Additionally, the trial court found that the appellant's property had not sustained repeated damage incident to a public improvement so as to avail the appellant of a longer limitations period. The Court of Appeal confirmed the trial court's findings in full. This case is a good result for public entities because it confirms that property owners must generally bring suit for inverse condemnation within three years of when the damage to their property occurs. Such lawsuits can be costly for public entities because plaintiffs who prevail in them are entitled to their attorneys' fees.

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