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Supreme Court open to flood compensation

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that people whose property was damaged by intermittent flooding caused by the government may seek compensation. The decision, which was unanimous, reversed a lower court ruling that had barred claims for flood damage unless the flooding was ‘‘permanent or inevitably recurring.’’

The case arose from the activities of the Army Corps of Engineers, which periodically flooded 23,000 acres along the banks of the Black River in northeastern Arkansas. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission managed the land.

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From 1993 to 2000, the corps changed its pattern of releasing water from the Clearwater Dam, which is 115 miles upstream from the commission’s land. The flooding destroyed timber and altered the character of the terrain, requiring reclamation efforts.

The commission sued the federal government under the Constitution’s takings clause, which says that property cannot ‘‘be taken for public use, without just compensation.’’ A lower court awarded the commission $5.7 million. The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed that decision, saying that the takings clause did not cover damage from intermittent flooding.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that ‘‘no magic formula enables a court to judge, in every case, whether a given government interference with property is a taking.’’

‘‘No decision of this court,’’ she continued, ‘‘authorizes a blanket temporary-flooding exception to our takings clause jurisprudence, and we decline to create such an exception in this case.’’

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