Court: Oklahoma Water Resources Board Members Do Not Have Immunity
Price, Marie, THE JOURNAL RECORD
Members of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board do not have 11th Amendment immunity from being sued in a legal action filed by a Texas water district, a panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held Monday.
The Tarrant Regional Water District filed applications with the OWRB last year for 460,000 annual acre-feet of water that flows into the Red River from Oklahoma. The district also sued the OWRB and asked the courts to overturn Oklahoma laws restricting water sales.
A year ago, U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton denied the water board's motion that the lawsuit be dismissed.
The 10th Circuit panel upheld Heaton's ruling that the OWRB is not immune from suit, saying that 11th Amendment immunity "does not extend to a state official sued in his official capacity when the plaintiff seeks only prospective, injunctive relief."
The three judges participating in the decision said the relief the Tarrant district seeks is clearly prospective in nature.
The appellate court's decision did not address the merits of the case, which can now resume in the lower federal court.
"Our folks are looking at it," said Charlie Price, spokesman for Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, whose office is representing the Oklahoma water agency. "We'll sit down with the water resources board and discuss with them the ramifications of the ruling and talk about our options. We'll be making a determination in the next couple of days on where we go from here."
Jim Oliver, general manager of the Texas water district, sees significance in the appeals court ruling for his agency's side of the case, particularly in the panel's taking note that it is "well- established that Oklahoma does not enjoy an 'ownership interest' in water resources located in the state. …