CANTONMENT, Florida (From the News Journal) -- A judge has granted class action status to a lawsuit filed by Cantonment residents against International Paper Co. over flooding in 2014.
The lawsuit stems from claims that residents in the Bristol Park, Bristol Woods, Bristol Creek and Ashbury Hills neighborhoods were inundated with excessive floodwaters during the April 29, 2014, storm that damaged much of Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.
The plaintiffs claim IP failed to remediate an unused dam that burst during the storms and caused widespread damage in the neighborhoods, according to court filings.
IP spokesperson Janice Holmes said the company's policy is to not comment on ongoing litigation.
The plaintiffs' lead attorney, James Kauffman with Washington, D.C., firm Bailey and Glasser, said neither he nor his plaintiffs had comments on the proceedings.
The most recent court filings in the case show that Judge M. Casey Rodgers approved class status certification in late March, meaning the case is now considered class action. Last week, lawyers for IP filed a motion asking the court to reconsider. Class action lawsuits allow a group of plaintiffs with similar complaints to sue the defendant as a single group.
The plaintiffs' claims center on the Kingsfield Road Dam, which court documents show sits on IP property.
The documents state the company stopped using the dam in 2012 and instead routed wastewater through a pipeline to wetlands around Perdido Bay. The plaintiffs claim the company failed to maintain the dam after it discontinued using it.
During flooding in 2014, the dam overflowed and burst, rushing water into Elevenmile Creek and around homes in the plaintiffs' neighborhoods, which are about 2 miles downstream.
Eight plaintiffs are named in court filings, but the affected area includes 317 homes that could be brought into the lawsuit under a class action case, according to testimony from one of the plaintiffs' expert witnesses, a property appraiser in the area.
The order making the suit class action came after a three-day hearing in which both sides presented expert testimony and evidence related to the case.
IP took issue with the class ruling on the basis that each plaintiff's issues were different, saying one ruling would not encompass all of the issues.
The company's attorneys also claim there is no way to prove the dam breaking caused the damage to the homes since much of the rest of the county also sustained damages in what the Federal Emergency Management Agency has called a 500-year flood.