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County health department taken to court over septic exemption


The LaGrange County Health Department has been served with a lawsuit in LaGrange Superior Court, filed by Shipshewana Lake property owners Robert and Dianne Fiedler over a request for a certificate needed for the Fiedlers to be exempt from the Shipshewana West sewer project.

In the lawsuit, filed in August, the Fiedlers are requesting that the court order the health department to issue a certificate stating that their residential septic system is functioning. A certificate from the county board of health is one item needed by a property owner seeking to get an exemption from a sewer system.

Under a state law passed this year, a property owner can request an exemption from being hooked into a sewer system if the septic system is less than 10 years old and certified to be operating by the county health department. A property can be exempt for an initial 10 years, starting at the date of installation of the system, and can be extended an additional 10 years.

According to court documents filed by the Fiedlers, they installed a septic system which passed inspection in October 2003.

In June 2012, the Fiedlers requested that the health department issue a certificate stating that the septic system was performing properly. When told by the county that the department did not have the personnel nor equipment for testing, the Fiedlers contracted with an independent testing firm, which tested the system on July 2 and stated “the drainage system would appear to be functioning properly at this time.”

The Fiedlers stated in documents that they presented the test results to the county health board on July 10, along with testimony at the board’s meeting.

A week later, the Fiedlers received a letter dated July 10 stating that the certificate stating the septic system was functioning properly would be denied.

In the filing, the Fiedlers contend that the county health department is “relying solely on a measurement between a property line and a sanitary sewer as a basis for its decision, rather than relying on actual test results” of the septic system. The county has a 1985 ordinance that mandates property owners hook into a sewer system if their property line is within 500 feet of the sanitary sewer line.

The Fiedlers contend in the documents filed that the only responsibility the health department has in this case is to issue or deny a certificate stating whether or not a septic system is properly working. The Fiedlers state “the only evidence in possession of (the health department) indicates that (the Fiedlers’) system was functioning satisfactorily when tested.”

“It seems that they (the health department) are taking a role beyond what they’re supposed to do. It’s the district that grants the exemption,” Robert Fiedler said Wednesday. “It’s the health department’s job to say if it is working or not.”

The LaGrange County Board of Health, county commissioners, and the county council are expected to meet in executive session Tuesday, Sept. 11, to discuss pending litigation.