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Franco sues city for property damage
fighting city hall1.jpg
The owner of this home on Center Street has filed a lawsuit against the city claiming his house has been damaged by sewer line work.

You can’t fight city hall, but you can sue it for negligence. 

Homeowner David Franco is suing McMinnville city government for damage to his property at 207 Center Street. 

The case revolves around Franco building an addition to his home that, unbeknown to him, was near a city sewer line. When that sewer line was damaged and needed repair, Franco claims his home was damaged in the process.

According to the lawsuit, Franco claims damages to his home totaling $75,000 due to a sewer line break and subsequent repair. He is being represented by attorney Scott Horton. 

Also named in the lawsuit is Morgan Contracting, the company hired by the city to repair the sewer line, as well as Franco’s homeowner’s insurance providers.

The lawsuit alleges negligence on part of the city of McMinnville and subcontractor Morgan Contracting, and claims a breach of contract against the insurance companies because they failed to pay for damages to the garage and dwelling through his contract of insurance. 

Morgan Contracting is “liable in negligence for breaching its duty to maintain, repair, service, troubleshoot and generally placing and installing the sewer pipeline on the plaintiff’s property in a way that would and did damage the structure.”

The lawsuit claims the city’s neglect is twofold: 1) for hiring Morgan Contracting; 2) for approving Franco a building permit for 207 Center Street to construct a 24-foot by 23-foot attached garage in an area where a sewer pipe ran under it. 

According to the lawsuit, “The city of McMinnville was negligent in hiring Morgan Contracting Inc. to put and/ or replace sewer pipe underneath the plaintiff’s dwelling…”

Franco came before the McMinnville Board of Mayor and Aldermen in late 2018 and voiced concerns regarding a sinkhole endangering his home. At that time, he said the road collapsed in December 2017 and city employees filled it with gravel. One month later, the issue hit a bit closer to the house.

“On Jan. 18 my driveway collapsed,” said Franco. “They took trucks of dirt out and put trucks of gravel in, because the sinkhole broke. The guys were working 12 feet from my garage. A week later, my garage door stopped. Two weeks later, the house started to collapse. First it was the garage and two rooms. Now, it’s all the house.” 

Franco stated that his homeowner’s insurance declined to cover the damage, which was allegedly caused by a sewer line collapse. That denial prompted him to turn to city government for help.

At that time, former mayor Ben Newman asked city attorney Tim Pirtle to look into the matter. 

It is unknown what steps Pirtle took. 

In early 2019, former McMinnville Water and Sewer Department director Anthony Pelham informed city officials about an easement issue between the department and the Center Street residence due to the garage being constructed over an existing sewer line. 

“There is a 20-foot permit easement that dissects the property diagonally between Center Street and Yankee Street,” said Pelham. “It represents the location of the sewer line itself with a 10-foot easement on either side of the line. Based on what we determined in the field, the sewer line is under the edge of where the existing garage is.”

Pelham stated that while a building permit was issued, placement of the garage over an easement makes it an illegal structure and in violation of the department’s easement. Only moveable structures are allowed over easements in the event of a line break that needs to be repaired. 

“The garage was an illegal construction on top of a city easement, but I understand the problem,” said Pelham. “The greater issue for me, for long-term maintenance, is the 20-foot easement is insufficient for me to effect repairs if we had to go through there. I don’t know what the resolve is. I request permission to pursue negotiations on expanding the Water and Sewer Department’s easement and removal of the structure.” 

The city Water and Sewer Committee approved negotiations between Pelham and Franco.

A lawsuit was filed on Dec. 7, 2021.