State of Texas sides with landowners in high-speed rail eminent domain case

In the prominent estate case before the Texas Supreme Court, the Texas Solicitor General weighed in on the landowner’s side.

In October, the Texas Supreme Court asked Judd Stone, the solicitor general, to submit a factum in Miles v. Texas Central, and he said that while “the state takes no position on the wisdom or utility of building a high-speed rail network between Dallas and Houston…private actors who seek to seize private property using eminent powers must strictly respect the statutory and constitutional conditions governing the use of these powers. Respondents [Texas Central] not have.”

The Solicitor General’s Office is part of the Attorney General’s Office and is responsible for handling appellate litigation for the state.

In May 2020, the 13th Texas Court of Appeals ruled that the Dallas-Houston high-speed rail project can exercise the power of eminent domain because it is considered a railroad under Texas law.

In his brief, Stone argues that Texas Central is not considered a railroad entitled to exercise eminent domain authority under the Texas Transportation Code.

He disagreed with the Court of Appeal’s analysis that “even though the respondents currently own no trains, operate no trains and have constructed no fixed railways, the court has even concluded that they were railroad companies because they had proven that they would “be able to establish and operate a railroad in the future”.

Further, the State also believes that “Defendants have failed to establish the likelihood that they will ever be successful in raising the substantial capital necessary to complete their high-speed train, let alone that such a train will one day work and serve the public interest.”

The brief goes on to say that the law requires an entity to demonstrate a reasonable likelihood that it will operate a railway in the future. “The whole point of the reasonable probability test is that, before the incredible power of eminent domain can be exercised in the railway context, there must be a reasonable probability that the private entity, and who would be condemned, is a railway or intercity company. serve the general interest. »

In this case, the Solicitor General argues that Texas Central failed to do so.

“Jim and Barbara Miles are just one of thousands of families between Dallas and Houston who have been threatened by the prominent self-appointed domain authority of Texas Central over the past seven years,” said Kyle Workman, chairman of the board. Administration of Texans Against High-Speed ​​​​Rail, Recounted The Texan.

“The amicus brief submitted by Solicitor General Stone and [Attorney General] Paxton in the Miles case is very strong validation that the State of Texas stands on the side of Texas landowners and private property rights, a major development that we know the Texas Supreme Court will carefully consider and in depth in this case,” he added. .

“Texas Central respects the Solicitor General’s right to disagree with the Court of Appeals’ decision finding that Texas Central is a railroad company under Texas law,” a Texas Central spokesperson said. in an e-mail to The Texan.

We are confident that the Texas Supreme Court will agree with the Court of Appeals that Texas Central is a railroad company under Texas law, with the rights and authority that come with being a railroad company a railway.

In June 2021, the Texas Supreme Court denied the landowner’s appeal, but granted a request for a rehearing in October.

Oral arguments in the case are set for January 11, 2022. The case has been ongoing since the trial court’s decision in 2018.

Jose P. Rogers