This blog is the second in a series of posts on significant inverse condemnation cases. In the first blog, we discussed Tarrant Regional Water District v. Gragg and the “takings clause.”
The takings clause is the basis for inverse condemnation claims. This phrase refers to Article I, Section 17, of the Texas Constitution, which states that “[n]o 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.”
This clause as it applies to inverse condemnation claims allows landowners to file a claim for compensation against a government authority when a public use project causes damage to a landowner’s property. There are several conditions that must exist in order for an inverse condemnation claim to be successful.
This blog post will discuss one of those conditions — specifically, it will explore the difference between when a government entity’s actions are considered negligence and when they are considered an unconstitutional taking that may require compensation of the landowner.
Negligence versus Unconstitutional Taking
Determining when a physical taking calls for compensation to the landowner is tricky because there’s a difference between negligence and an unconstitutional taking. The government is generally immune to being sued for negligence, so the courts want to avoid holding government authorities liable for something less than intentional behavior.
More importantly, though, the public should not bear the burden of paying for property damage for which it received no benefit.
Damaging or appropriating property for a public use is the factor that makes the difference between a negligence action and a taking that requires compensation.
In the City of Dallas v. Jennings, 142 S.W.3d 310, 314 (Tex. 2004), the court ruled that the government entity must know its actions will cause harm or that harm is likely to occur for an inverse condemnation claim to exist.
The Jennings claim involved a home that flooded as a result of the city’s efforts to unclog a sewer line. When the city unclogged the sewer line, it did not know that any flooding damage would occur, and there was no evidence unclogging the sewer was likely to lead to such damage.
Therefore, the court ruled that this did not constitute an intentional taking and did not entitle the homeowners to compensation.
With inverse condemnation claims involving flooding, another important factor is whether a single flood event is involved, or if recurring flood events can be expected in the future.
Stay tuned for the next blog post in this series. It will discuss how permanent versus temporary damage and state of mind affect inverse condemnation claims.
Frequently Asked Questions About Eminent Doamin in Texas
There are several different types of inverse condemnation claims, including:
– Physical Appropriations
– Regulatory takings, which deny all economically viable use of property
– Regulatory takings, which unreasonably interfere with a landowner’s enjoyment of their property
– Exactions, in which the government requires a landowner to “trade” money or other development concessions for the government’s approval or permitting
Under the U.S. Constitution and Texas state Constitutions, entities with eminent domain authority are required to pay landowners “just” and “adequate” compensation for their land. What does the mean exactly? Just compensation means the current fair market value for a property. Issues arise because often what the government entity considers to be fair compensation is actually a lot less than what the property owner is entitled to.
In general, government entities including federal, state, county and municipal governments, as well as water districts and school districts, have the right to take land through eminent domain. Public utilities also sometimes are granted eminent domain authority, allowing them to use private property for such alleged public use needs as running power lines and pipelines.
Inverse Condemnation Case Result
Dawson & Sodd helps Teas landowners protect their rights in all types of eminent domain cases, including those involving inverse condemnation. In one prominent case, our client was a ranch owner whose large and productive ranch was repeatedly flooded by water releases from an upstream lake. The landowner was given a final offer of $200,000. A trial verdict of $34.2 million dollar was upheld by the Texas Supreme Court, resulting in a net recovery to the landowners of $21.9 million after legal fees and litigation, trial, and appellate expenses.
Get Help with a Texas Inverse Condemnation Claim
For more than 100 years, eminent domain law firm Dawson & Sodd has protected the rights of landowners. If the government has taken, used or damaged your property without compensation, our attorneys can help you fight. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.