Throughout history governmental and quasi-governmental entities have taken private property when deemed necessary for a multitude of uses.
As sovereign entities, both the United States government and Texas state government possess the power of eminent domain – the authority to take or appropriate land for purposes they deem necessary. While the United States and Texas Supreme Courts have long held the power of eminent domain is essential to a sovereign government, there are limits and both the United States and Texas State Constitutions offer some protections to landowners who are subject to a governmental taking.
The U.S. Constitution and Eminent Domain
The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution reads:
“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
The Fifth Amendment covers a lot of ground. In addition to guaranteeing due process, protecting individuals from being tried twice for the same crime (double jeopardy) or being forced to testify against themselves at a trial (as in “taking the Fifth”), it also limits property takings by requiring the taking be for a public use and requiring payment of just compensation to the property owner.
The public use requirement means the land taken must be used for projects that benefit the public as a whole. However, courts often chose to interpret the phrase “public use” in very broad terms. Government projects such as roads, schools, hospitals, and parks qualify as public uses; the problem is, sometimes so do natural gas pipelines, electric transmission lines, sports stadiums, or even shopping malls.
The Fifth Amendment also promises landowners “just compensation” for their property taken. “Just compensation” is usually defined as the fair market price for a piece of land or the price an owner would get if he placed the property on the market.
The Texas State Constitution and Eminent Domain
Article I, Section 17 of the Texas Constitution reads:
“TAKING PROPERTY FOR PUBLIC USE; SPECIAL PRIVILEGES AND IMMUNITIES; CONTROL OF PRIVILEGES AND FRANCHISES.
(a) No person’s property shall be taken, damaged, or destroyed for or applied to public use without adequate compensation being made, unless by the consent of such person, and only if the taking, damage, or destruction is for:
(1) The ownership, use, and enjoyment of the property, notwithstanding an incidental use, by:
(A) The State, a political subdivision of the State, or the public at large; or
(B) An entity granted the power of eminent domain under law; or
(2) The elimination of urban blight on a particular parcel of property.”
Slightly different from what the U.S. Constitution says about eminent domain, the Texas Constitution guarantees property owners “adequate compensation” when their property is “taken, damaged, or destroyed” for public use.
Article l, Section 19 of the Texas Constitution gives property owners additional rights:
“DEPRIVATION OF LIFE, LIBERTY, PROPERTY, ETC. BY DUE COURSE OF LAW.
No citizen of this State shall be deprived of life, liberty, property, privileges or immunities, or in any manner disfranchised, except by the due course of the law of the land.”
Section 19 provides property owners cannot be deprived of their property without due process of law; including the right to appeal the taking of their property or contest the amount of compensation being offered.
Protect Your Rights Under the U.S. and Texas Constitutions — Speak to an Experienced Texas Eminent Domain Lawyer
If you are a Texas landowner who faces losing some or all of your property in an eminent domain action, you are entitled to a fair hearing and just compensation under the U.S. and Texas state constitutions. However, it is important you act quickly and effectively to protect your rights.
The law offices of Dawson & Sodd have been protecting the rights of Texas property owners for over 100 years. Our team of experienced Texas eminent domain lawyers will fight to ensure you receive the fair and just compensation you are owed for your land. Don’t let an entity with the power of eminent domain trample your rights. Contact the law offices of Dawson & Sodd to find out how we can protect your rights.