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.”