Trial Victory: Brazos Electric Power Cooperative v. Carrell and Maak
Corsicana attorneys Jason Sodd and Clay Beard of Dawson & Sodd, LLP recently secured a verdict of more than five times the offer of the condemnor in a Johnson County case styled Brazos Electric Power Cooperative, Inc. v. Larry Kirk Carrell and Marsha E. Carrell and Brazos Electric Cooperative, Inc. v. Maak Enterprises, L.P. and Lone Star Land Bank, FLCA.
The case involved the issue of damages as a result of the placement of a 138KV power line across two tracts totaling just over 400 acres owned by the Carrell family. Brazos Electric contended the tracts were minimally damaged and that adequate compensation would be $121,896. Dawson & Sodd’s lawyers contended the properties were more significantly impacted, arguing for total compensation in the amount of $635,815. In a May 2015 trial, the Johnson County jury agreed. After accounting for pre-judgment interest and post-judgment interest, the recovery to the landowner, after fees and litigation expenses, was $492,638.00 (inclusive of the Special Commissioners’ Award).
The major issues in the case were the differences in the highest and best use of the two tracts and the damages to the land outside the power line easement on the tracts. The jury agreed with the landowner’s evidence on both counts after the completion of a five day trial.
Trial Victory: Land Rover, Ltd. v. Texas Midstream Gas
Frustrated by a low final offer, a local family-owned Partnership, Land Rover, Ltd., and its attorney, Tyler Milton, a partner with Dawson & Sodd, LLP, decided to take a stand and defend its Constitutional right to just compensation.
The dispute began in 2011, when 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 from two non-contiguous commercial properties, owned by the family partnership since 1990, located just south of Interstate 30 at the intersection of South Cherry Lane and Calmont Avenue in west Fort Worth. The easements traverse the entire road frontage for both tracts, requiring written preapproval from the pipeline company prior to any development activity within the easements. When the case reached trial in April 2015, Texas Midstream claimed it owed Land Rover only about $260,000. Land Rover’s experts countered that the total just compensation exceeded $1.4 million dollars and should properly account not only for the road-front permanent easement strips, but also for the significant loss in value to the remaining property created by both the permanent and temporary construction easements (13.2 percent of the properties) and the restrictions on development resulting from these easements (including the potential inability to access the properties). Dawson & Sodd attorneys Tyler Milton, Matt Hurt, and Jody McSpadden tried the case for the landowner.
At the conclusion of the week-and-a-half-long trial in County Court at Law No. 1 in Tarrant County, six jurors unanimously awarded the family partnership $1.28 million dollars, 8.27 times the original offer of $154,700. Judge Don Pierson entered a final judgment awarding Land Rover $1.51 million, which included pre-judgment interest, post-judgment interest, and court costs. The net recovery to the landowner, after attorney fees and trial and litigation expenses, was $1 million (inclusive of the Special Commissioners’ Award).
Trial and Appellate Victory: Crosstex v. Button Pipeline Case
Chalk up a win for Denton County landowners Terry and Ossie Button in their long-running battle with Crosstex Energy (now called Enlink Midstream). The Fort Worth Court of Appeals recently upheld a jury verdict based on evidence that the company’s natural gas pipeline easement across the landowners’ undeveloped property diminished the land value and limited what the family could do with their land in the future. The jury verdict required the company to pay significant damages for the reduced market value of the land caused by the pipeline.
The Fort Worth Court of Appeals upheld a Denton County jury’s 2011 verdict awarding the landowners a total of $873,824 in compensation for the pipeline easement. Crosstex originally offered $44,955. After the original appellate decision in January 2014 came down in favor of the Button family, Crosstex asked the court to reconsider its decision. The appellate court concluded that Crosstex’s arguments for rehearing were “mostly bark, with very little, if any, bite.” Crosstex could have appealed the case further to the Texas Supreme Court or settled with the landowners; Crosstex chose to settle. The net recovery to the landowner after fees and litigation expenses was $609,193.36 (inclusive of the Special Commissioners’ Award).
The Buttons turned to legendary Texas condemnation lawyer Glenn Sodd and his firm, Dawson & Sodd, LLP, to handle their case. Sodd’s partner, Clay Beard, a noted trial lawyer with more than 20 years’ experience, was lead counsel and was assisted by B. Tyler Milton. Crosstex hired a former Texas Supreme Court justice to handle its appeal.
“This outcome is another in a string of Texas cases where juries demonstrate that they understand that pipelines can devastate property value,” said Clay Beard. “It also shows that landowners should never assume that the original condemnation offers are in their best interest.”
Matt Hurt, one of Beard’s Dallas partners, agrees. Hurt points to a U.S. Department of Transportation study which found that “nearly 80% of all [right of way] acquisitions are settled without initiating eminent domain proceedings.” Hurt comments, “This study demonstrates what we know to be true—that a majority of landowners reach an agreement with the condemning agencies fairly early in the process.” He believes these statistics are good for the condemning authorities and not the landowners. “While there are no doubt exceptions, this study indicates a majority of landowners settle for something close to the condemning authorities’ initial offer.”
Beard believes that while many condemning authorities and their appraisers do their best to be fair with initial offers and appraisals, there are numerous cases where the initial offers or appraisals include mistakes. “Most of the issues we see in our practice stem from either a failure on the part of the condemning authorities’ appraisers to see the real value in a client’s property or a failure to account for the real damages caused to land impacted by takings,” said Beard.
“Our general advice to people facing condemnation—even those with significant real estate industry knowledge—is to find competent legal counsel early on,” said Beard. “Such is the case with Crosstex v. Button. That case is another example of a knowledgeable landowner’s belief about her property’s value colliding with the pipeline company’s belief that the pipeline caused minimal lasting damage,” said Beard. “The landowner sought help early on and we were fortunate to prevail and to obtain a favorable resolution. But it did not come without a fight for their rights.”
State Dismisses a Condemnation Action
A convenience store owner in Farmers Branch hired Dawson & Sodd after TxDOT filed suit to take valuable land from his site. Dawson & Sodd’s lawyers took key depositions of the State’s witnesses and established that the State lacked legal authority to acquire the land as part of the I-35E project. The State agreed to dismiss the condemnation action in 2013, and the landowner retained a very profitable site.
Ranch Flooded by Lake
In a case where a final offer of $200,000 was extended, a $34.2 million dollar recovery was upheld by the Texas Supreme Court for a ranch owner whose large and productive ranch was repeatedly flooded by water releases from an upstream lake. The net recovery to the landowners was $21.9 million after legal fees and litigation, trial, and appellate expenses.
Gas Wells Condemned in Area to be Flooded by New Lake
A Condemnor sought to acquire gas wells located in an area to be flooded by a new lake. The Condemnor only offered $20,000 to the property owner. Dawson & Sodd turned it into a $7.5 million settlement. The net recovery to the landowner was $4.93 million after legal fees and litigation expenses.
Convenience Store Taking in Dallas County
In 2012, after TxDOT’s acquisition eliminated the usability of a convenience store site in Dallas County, Dawson & Sodd increased the landowner’s compensation from the $4.1 million initial offer to a $5.77 million net settlement.
Texas Rangers Ballpark Cases
Landowners living in the location of the proposed Ballpark at Arlington (home of the Texas Rangers) collectively received net compensation of $5 million, a significant increase from the collective offer to the landowners of only $600,000.
Commercial Highway Frontage Near Ballpark in Arlington, Texas
In 2012, the State of Texas attempted to take vacant land along I-30 near the Ballpark in Arlington, Tarrant County. We increased the $1.625 million initial offer to a net recovery of $2.88 million for the landowner.
TxDOT Condemnation in Central Texas
When TxDOT condemned 28 acres for a rest stop along I-35 in Central Texas, it only offered $389,323. The acquisition destroyed all access to the valuable groundwater underneath the tract. The case was tried and resulted in a jury verdict for the landowner. The State of Texas appealed the verdict, but eventually agreed to settle for the jury verdict amount before the appellate decision was rendered. The net recovery for the landowner in that case was $3.14 million.
Dawson & Sodd raised a $251,880 offer to a landowner to a $1.38 million net settlement in a powerline case.
Dallas Cowboys Stadium
When a homeowner whose home was taken for the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington was only offered $351,000, we negotiated a final settlement that netted the homeowner $1.9 million after fees and expenses.
Commercial Building in Tarrant County
In early 2014, after a highway taking resulted in the demolition of a commercial building in Tarrant County, we raised the $846,000 initial offer to a $1.3 million net settlement.