A $10 million water rights lawsuit filed against Calistoga in 2014 was dismissed last week by a Napa County Superior Court judge, city officials said.
Judge Rodney G. Stone dismissed on Jan. 26 the suit filed by Debbie O’Gorman, who sought $10 million in damages for alleged violations of water rights.
“The city is very pleased with the result in this long running dispute over Ms. O’Gorman’s alleged water rights in Kimball Creek,” the city’s press release said.
“This has been a very long drawn out process that has consumed an incredible amount of resources both financially and in focus of staff time, all of which could have been used for other things in the community,” said Mayor Chris Canning. “We obviously agree with and appreciate Judge Stone’s very thorough and thoughtful examination, and we hope that this brings this entire saga to a final conclusion for the residents and rate payers of Calistoga.”
O’Gorman’s attorney said this isn’t the end though and plans to file an appeal.
“I believe the judge got it wrong…I’ve never let one judge to make the final decision,” said Brian Leighton, O’Gorman’s attorney. “I’ll take before a three-panel court.”
Grant Reynolds, a family friend to O’Gorman and a litigant in other suits against Calistoga, but is not involved in this lawsuit, said he expected there would be an appeal, and believes Leighton won’t give up taking it to the next level after that if necessary.
O’Gorman, in her second lawsuit against the city over water rights, claimed that she inherited the exclusive right to store, sell, and divert water at Kimball Reservoir. The city has owned and operated the reservoir since 1939, but O’Gorman claimed that the city’s appropriation of water for its municipal water supply constituted a taking of her water rights without just compensation.
Leighton said the Tubbs family, to whom O’Gorman is related, never intended for the water to be used for wineries, only residents, and when the city did start selling water to wineries it should have, but never did, notify the heirs to Tubbs. The agreement between Tubbs and the City “became null and void” in 1959 when the last Tubbs member died, Leighton said.
In rejecting O’Gorman’s claims, Stone said she had no property interest in the water and the city’s operation of the reservoir did not inflict any damages on her, and is “also unable to establish the factual premise for declaratory relief,” Stone wrote in his finding.
Additionally Stone determined that O’Gorman effectively “transferred all right, title and interest in claims and/or potential causes of action against the City for the diversion of waters proven to be her property to family friend Grant Reynolds” when she sold her initial claim to Reynolds.
O’Gorman’s first lawsuit in 2008 claimed that the city wasn’t following a municipal water supply 1939 agreement with her family – the Tubbs family who signed the agreement. A judge later dismissed this claim, but a family friend, Grant Reynolds — who brought the initial claim against the city on behalf of O’Gorman and her husband Matt Hickerson, whose family has close ties to Reynolds – bought the claim, adding additional claims that the city took more water than it was allowed under state permits. Reynolds later added another claim that the city was misusing Measure A funds. All claims were subsequently dismissed.
The city has spent more than $1 million in legal fees fighting the lawsuits plus an additional $600,000 to Reynolds’ attorney William McKinnon. McKinnon initially sought $2.8 million for what he claimed he was owed for work he did on Reynolds’ behalf.
In her ruling on McKinnon’s suit Napa County Superior Judge Diane Price called McKinnon’s billing records “vague” and “unreasonable” and reduced the amount of his claim by about 80 percent.