Sandomierz group proceedings
The action is connected to public authorities’ negligence and omissions in the area of carrying out the duties in the scope of flood protection which in May 2010 resulted in the breaking of the right bank levee on the Vistula River in the Koćmierzów district of the city of Sandomierz and, subsequently, in the flooding of the right bank area of Sandomierz and the adjacent area.
Parties to the Proceedings
The class action was initiated by the statement of claims filed by Mr. Zbigniew Rusak against the State Treasury – the Governor of the Świętokrzyskie Province, the State Treasury – the Director of the Regional Water Management Authority in Krakow, the Świętokrzyskie Province – the Świętokrzyski Zarząd Melioracji i Urządzeń Wodnych in Kielce, the Poviat of Sandomierz and the Municipality of Sandomierz (hereinafter referred to as: ‘Defendants’).
Mr. Zbigniew Rusak appears as the group representative in the meaning of the Act of 19 December 2010 on Pursuing Claims in Group Proceedings representing 26 (previously 27) parties injured by the tort which the Defendants are charged with.
Object of the Proceedings
Upon amending the statement of claims by limiting the demand in action for payment to a demand for establishing liability, under Article 2 (3) of the Act of 19 December 2010 on Pursuing Claims in Group Proceedings, the object of the proceedings is the establishing of the Defendant’s compensatory liability towards the members of the group arising out of a tort consisting in an exercise by the Defendants of public authority in the scope of flood protection that was non-compliant with the law (the improper performance of such duties) in the area of the Poviat of Sandomierz in the Świętokrzyskie Province which on 19 May 2010 resulted in the flood waters having overflowed the crest of the levee located along the Vistula River in the district of Koćmierzów, the Municipality of Sandomierz, and the levee having been broken (due to the levee washout) which entailed further consequences.
Status of the Case
The class action concluded in the first instance with a judgement rendered on 19 October 2017. The judgment is not final.
Following an appeal lodged by the State Treasury, Państwowe Gospodarstwo Wodne Wody Polskie, and the Świętokrzyskie Province, the case is presently pending before the Court of Appeals in Krakow.
Course of the Proceedings
The class action was filed on 1 September 2010 and was one of the first class actions filed after the Act of 19 December 2009 on Pursuing Claims in Group Proceedings entered into force. Initially, the group comprised 17 persons while the demand in the action sought specific monetary compensation amounts to be awarded to the group members.
1. The action was twice subjected to the stage of examination of the admissibility of group proceedings (certification); the first of the decisions of the Regional Court in Krakow of 20 May 2011 on hearing the case in group proceedings was contested by the Defendants. The court of second instance reversed the decisions and remitted the case for rehearing in this scope.
2. In the course of the proceedings, the Claimant amended the statement of claims, limiting the previous demand for an award (payment of specific compensation amounts to individual group members) to a demand for establishing Defendant’s compensatory liability.
3. By virtue of the decision of 26 April 2012, the Regional Court in Krakow, 1st Civil Division again rendered a decision on hearing the case for establishing the Defendants’ liability in the group proceedings and rejected the action for payment (in connection to the statement of claims having been amended). This decision was contested – in the scope of admissibility of hearing the case in group proceedings by the Defendant State Treasury, whereas in the scope of the formal decision on the rejection of the claim for payment by the Claimant.
4. By virtue of the decision of 17 September 2012, file ref. no. I ACz 1324/12, the Court of Appeals in Krakow, 1st Civil Division dismissed the complaint of the State Treasury and, allowing the Claimant’s complaint, reversed the award on rejecting the action for payment that was included in the decision of 26 April 2012. This resulted in the decision on hearing the case in group proceedings becoming final and valid. Thus, the first stage of the proceedings, i.e. examination of the admissibility of the group proceedings, was concluded.
5. Subsequently, the Regional Court in Krakow ordered a publication of announcements on the initiation of group proceedings to file ref. no. I C 1419/10 which were published in the Tygodnik Nadwiślański weekly, the Gazeta Wyborcza daily, and in the Echo Dnia daily, on 6, 11, and 13 December 2012 respectively, setting a three-month time limit for new parties to join the group. Following the announcements, 11 more persons submitted declarations on joining the group.
6. By virtue of the decision of 6 September 2013, the Regional Court in Krakow established the composition of the group in keeping with the inventory of members submitted by the Claimant and including 27 members (natural and legal persons). The decision on the composition of the group was contested by the State Treasury. This complaint was dismissed by virtue of the decision of the Court of Appeals in Krakow, 1st Civil Division, of 10 December 2013, file ref. no. I ACz 2189/13, in light of which the composition of the group was established in a final and valid manner.
7. In further order, the Regional Court in Krakow carried out extensive evidentiary proceedings which encompassed evidence from the opinion of the Integrated Engineering sp. z o.o. opinion unit as well as evidence from documents and testimonies of witnesses. The evidentiary proceedings concluded in October 2017.
8. In connection to the demise of one of the group members, on 19 April 2017 the Regional Court in Krakow rendered a decision by virtue of which it amended the decision on the group composition by excluding the deceased group member from the group. The State Treasury contested the decision on amending the group composition with a complaint which was dismissed in full by the Court of Appeals in Krakow, 1st Civil Division, by virtue of the decision of 6 September 2017, file ref. no. I ACz 1231/17.
9. On 19 October 2017, the Regional Court in Krakow rendered a judgment concluding the proceedings in the first instance in which it established that the State Treasury – the Director of the Regional Water Management Authority in Krakow, the Świętokrzyskie Province – the Świętokrzyski Zarząd Melioracji i Urządzeń Wodnych in Kielce, bear joint and several liability for a tort consisting in the improper exercise of public authority in the scope of flood protection (Article 417 CC) and dismissed the statement of claims in its further extent.
10. In March 2018, the State Treasury – Państwowe Gospodarstwo Wodne Wody Polskie, Państwowe Gospodarstwo Wodne Wody Polskie (autonomously), and the Świętokrzyskie Province lodged an appeal against the judgment of the Regional Court in Krakow of 19 October 2017, file ref. no. I C 1419/10.
11. On 28 June 2019, the first hearing before the Court of Appeals in Krakow was held (file ref. no. I ACa 954/18) at which the Court of Appeals in Krakow decided to submit a legal issue stirring serious doubts to the Supreme Court:
- Does the Regional Self-Government Community – the Province bear compensatory liability for an unlawful action/omission/ of the Marshal of the Province perpetrated at the exercise of public authority in the scope of tasks falling within the scope of government administration provided for in Article 75  of the Water Law Act of 18 July 2001, i.e. the former Water Law according to the wording stemming from Journal of Laws 2001 no. 115 item 1229, as amended Journal of Laws 2004 no. 116 item 1206/”;
- Did Państwowe Gospodarstwo Wodne Wody Polskie in Warsaw accede to the litigation under Article 534   of the Water Law Act of 20 July 2017(i.e. the new Water Law, Journal of Laws 2017.1566), with the binding force as of 1 January 2018 in place of the Province participating in the case so far? (in the event of an affirmative answer to the question indicated in point 1 above).
12. At present, the case file has already been passed on to the Supreme Court; the legal question was registered under the file ref. no. aIII CZP 57/19 (http://www.sn.pl/sprawy/SitePages/Zagadnienia_prawne.aspx?ItemSID=1280-301f4741-66aa-4980-b9fa-873e90506a11&ListName=Zagadnienia_prawne).