The case, Hlavinka v. HSC Pipeline Partnership, LLC, was heard by the court in February. The Hlavinkas are landowners along the Texas Gulf Coast. They sold easement rights to multiple other pipelines, but they could not reach a satisfactory agreement with HSC Pipeline, so the company initiated condemnation proceedings against the landowners.
The opinion of the court, authored by Justice Jane Bland, affirmed the findings of the trial and appellate courts that the Texas Business Organizations Code “granted independent condemnation authority and that polymer-grade propylene qualifies as an ‘oil product’ under that section.”
The landowners argued that the pipeline must first qualify for eminent domain authority under the Texas Natural Resources Code. They argued that because it does not carry crude petroleum, it does not qualify.
The Texas Supreme Court disagreed, stating that the Texas Business Organizations Code incorporates the Texas Natural Resources Code.
The Hlavinka family also argued that the pipeline is not a public use, or at least the public use question is for the jury to decide.
The court agreed that a public use is a requirement under the Texas Constitution in order for a pipeline company to exercise eminent domain authority. It found that the pipeline does serve a public use, stating in its opinion, “Requiring that transported goods be sold and delivered to a non-affiliate ensures that the pipeline is not private.”
Furthermore, the Supreme Court disagreed with the landowners that the public use issue is for a jury to decide, stating “that such a determination is a legal one, not one for a jury to decide.”
On one issue, however, the Hlavinka family prevailed. The family claimed they ought to be allowed to present evidence of previous arms’ length transactions for pipeline easement purchases to establish the value of the easement. The district court ruled against them on this issue, but the Texas Supreme Court justices agreed with the landowners.
The case was thus remanded to the trial court for a new trial “to determine the market value of the property taken.”
This case may have implications for another eminent domain case still pending before the court.
In January, it heard oral arguments in the Miles vs. Texas Central case to determine if the high-speed rail company qualified for eminent domain authority. That opinion has not yet been released.
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Kim Roberts is a regional reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.