By Jennifer Whitlock
In the latest development of a prominent ongoing estate litigation, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has sided with private property owners.
The question is whether Texas Central Railroad, a private company and developer of a high-speed train project connecting Dallas and Houston, meets the criteria of the definition of a railway company in the Constitution of Texas and therefore is eligible to exercise eminent domain authority to build the 240- mile railway line.
Landowner James Miles has sued Texas Central after the company attempted in 2015 to obtain permission to survey the 600 acres he owns in Leon County. If the Texas Central proposed route is built, it would divide the Miles property with a 100-foot right-of-way.
His lawsuit is currently under review by the Texas Supreme Court after opposing lower court and appellate court rulings. Miles claimed that Texas Central could not use a prominent estate since the company does not currently operate a railroad. This means that the company does not meet the definition of a railroad company or an intercity electric railroad company as described in the State of Texas Transportation Code.
For its part, Texas Central believes that it is considered a railway company because it engages in railway activities with a “reasonable probability” that the project will eventually result in trains running on tracks.
The verdict of the Thirteenth Corpus Christi Court of Appeal was based on the definitions of “railway company” and “intercity electric railway company” proposed in the Texas Transportation Code.
In one legal brief Filed at the invitation of the Texas Supreme Court, Paxton argued that the court should overturn the decision of the appeals court siding with Texas Central.
This would effectively bar Central Texas from exercising any eminent domain authority as it seeks land to build rail lines.
“The legislature has delegated to the ‘railway companies’ eminent domain power, which includes the power to enter, examine and survey a person’s land which may be used for the proposed railway. by the Society. the [companies] can only carry out preliminary examinations and inquiries into the properties of private landowners for the purpose of building and operating a high-speed train if they are railway companies or railway companies long distance electric, ”he wrote in the brief. “In the eyes of the state, [Texas Central Railroad and associated company Integrated Texas Logistics] are neither.
During the 46-page brief, Paxton explained why Texas Central and its associated company do not qualify for railroad status in the state of Texas.
The first definition of “railway company” refers to currently operating railway companies seeking to expand roads, according to the Attorney General’s argument.
“But the respondents do not operate anything that looks like a railroad. That maybe they do someday is not enough, ”Paxton said.
The second definition of “intercity electric railway” refers to what the Paxton team classified as small local electric railways designed to transport passengers between a city and its surroundings, as operations commonly referred to as commuter trains. suburb. Interstate high-speed train does not meet the definition, according to the state.
“They are not railroads because they do not operate railroads. And they are not intercity electric railway companies because the high-speed train they intend to operate is not the small localized intercity railway expressly provided for by law, ”wrote the office of the Attorney General. “Respondents also cannot meet the constitutional constraints imposed on private actors seeking to use eminent powers, as they cannot show a likelihood that they will obtain funding to complete the project.”
The state ended its argument by stating that Texas Central also cannot meet constitutional constraints requiring private companies to demonstrate a “reasonable probability” that they will complete the public use project.
Simply put, the respondents have failed to establish the likelihood that they will ever succeed in raising the substantial capital required to complete their high-speed train, let alone the fact that such a train will someday operate and serve public interest, ”Paxton concluded. .
The legal file is available in its entirety here.
Resources for landowners facing eminent domain proceedings can be accessed from the Texas Farm Bureau at texasfarmbureau.org/eminentdomain. A landowner’s guide to prominent estate, the State of Texas Landowners Bill of Rights, checklists and more are available.