The United States Constitution and the Texas State Constitution give the government the power of eminent domain, as well as other entities and authorities to whom those governments delegate the power of eminent domain, to appropriate private property for public use.
Eminent domain is commonly used to clear the way for new construction projects or to expand existing infrastructure. These projects can include public roads, highways, airports, parks, schools, flood control and public buildings. Eminent domain can also be used for common carrier pipelines and energy transportation such as electric transmission lines and oil, gas, natural gas and water pipelines.
As the state’s population continues to grow, the number of projects requiring the use of eminent domain will continue to rise as well. When applied with careful consideration and restraint, eminent domain is an efficient tool for completing projects that benefit the people and economy of the entire state. However, this is not always the case.
The Texas State Legislature and Seizing Private Property Through Eminent Domain
Title 10, Subtitle E, Chapter 2206 of the Texas Government Code describes the rules and regulations pertaining to eminent domain in Texas. (You can read it here). To avoid abuses, there are many limits to how, when and who can appropriate private property through the use of eminent domain.
Usually, only the federal, state, county and municipal governments, water districts and school districts have the authority to exercise the right of eminent domain.
Examples of these public entities that have the right of eminent domain include:
- Texas Department of Transportation
- School Districts
- State Universities
- Public Hospitals
- Texas Parks and Wildlife
- Texas Board of Criminal Justice
- Municipal Water Districts
Public utility companies have also been allowed to use eminent domain to procure private property to install power lines, pipelines, transformers, etc.
Private Entities with Eminent Domain Authority
This situation changed in 2005 with the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial ruling in the case of Kelo v. New London, which gave governments the authority to condemn private property for economic development. Since the decision, governments have allowed condemnation to be used for large commercial projects, like sports arenas, stadiums and shopping centers. Various entities and private companies have sought to use the power of eminent domain for private projects, causing angst among property rights’ advocates.
In response, the Texas State Legislature has passed laws limiting the use of eminent domain for commercial projects. One of these is the Property Owners’ Bill of Rights, which states that your property can only be taken by a governmental entity or private entity authorized by law to do so.
In Texas, some examples of private entities that have been granted eminent domain authority include:
- Common Carriers and Pipelines (Tex. Natural Resources Code Ann. § 111.019)
- Gas and Electric Corporations (Tex. Util. Code Ann. § 181.004)
- Telephone and Telegraph Corporations (Tex. Util. Code Ann. §181.084(2))
- Utility, Common Carrier, Cable Operator, or Energy Transporter (Tex. Util. Code Ann. §186.054(a))
- Waterworks, Water Supply, Well Wastewater, and Sewer Service Corporations (Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code
- Ann. §552.103(c))
- Water Supply Corporation (Tex. Water Code Ann. §49.222(a))
- Well Wastewater Corporation (Tex. Nat. Res. Code Ann. §111.404(a))
- Sewer System (Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code Ann. §§552.102(a)-(c))
- Spaceport Development Corporations (Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code Ann. §§507.103(a), (b))
Who, Specifically, Has the Power of Eminent Domain in Texas?
The State of Texas passed laws to require the State Comptroller’s Office to create and maintain and make a publicly accessible Internet website listing the entities that are authorized to use the power of eminent domain in the state of Texas. Called the Comptroller’s Online Eminent Domain Database (COEDD), it makes available several types of information, such as the name, address and public contact information of the entity; the type of entity and each provision of law that grants the entity eminent domain authority, to name a few. The COEDD is not the end of the inquiry as to whether a particular entity has the power of eminent domain, but it does make is easy for the public to at least start to search to determine whether a particular entity has the power of eminent domain or not.
You can access and search the database here.
Answers to Your Questions About Eminent Domain in Texas
Condemnation is the process by which an authorized entity seizes land for public use. This is not the same as a building that is unlivable being condemned by a city or municipality.
The words “eminent domain” and “condemnation” are close to the same meaning in this context, and are sometimes used interchangeably.
Yes, you can absolutely refuse the first offer. The condemning authority will appraise your land and offer you compensation, but the law gives you the option to refuse and have your own appraisal done. If you refuse the first offer, a lawsuit will be filed, and you will have the opportunity to submit evidence supporting your estimate of the fair market value of your property.
Ultimately, it is difficult to prevent a condemning authority from seizing your land. You would need to prove that they are not following the laws laid out in the Texas Landowner’s Bill of Rights. Some of the main considerations to look for would be:
• Does the condemning authority have the right to exercise eminent domain?
• Is the land acquisition for public use?
• Am I receiving fair compensation for my land?
Trial Victory in Pipeline Eminent Domain Case Result
In 2011, Texas Midstream sued family-owned Land Rover, Ltd. to condemn two permanent pipeline easements and two temporary construction easements for a high pressure gas pipeline in west Fort Worth. At trial in April 2015, Texas Midstream claimed it owed Land Rover only about $260,000. Dawson & Sodd represented the Land Rover partnership and argued that total just compensation exceeded $1.4 million dollars to account for the road-front permanent easement strips and significant loss in value to the remaining property.
After a week-and-a-half-long trial, a jury unanimously awarded the family partnership $1.28 million dollars — 8.27 times the original offer of $154,700. The net recovery to the landowner, after attorney fees and trial and litigation expenses, was $1 million (inclusive of the Special Commissioners’ Award).
Speak with a Texas Eminent Domain Attorney
No matter who purports to have the power of eminent domain, they must follow state and federal laws when it comes to the condemnation process. Dawson & Sodd, LLP has been protecting the rights of landowners all over Texas for over a hundred years. Our clients know they can depend upon our experience, skill and dedication to ensure that the laws are followed and they receive fair and full compensation for their property.
If your property is facing condemnation and you are unsure of how to respond, call the Texas property rights lawyers at Dawson & Sodd LLP at (903) 872-8181 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. We will be happy to discuss the facts of your case, answer any legal questions you might, and advise you on how to best protect your rights.