JudicialTransportationTexas Supreme Court Denies Appeal by Texas Landowners, Leaves Texas Central with Eminent Domain Authority

The Texas Supreme Court denied an appeal by Texas landowners challenging the eminent domain authority of the Texas Central high-speed rail project between Dallas and Houston.
June 21, 2021
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Last week, the Supreme Court of Texas denied a petition for review by landowners about the eminent domain authority of Texas Central Railroad. No reasoning was provided by the court in its denial of James Frederick Miles’ appeal.

This leaves standing the ruling by the 13th Texas Court of Appeals last spring which found that the project can exercise the power of eminent domain because it qualifies as a railroad under Texas law.

“The Court’s denial of review should put an end to over five years of contentious litigation and clear the path for Texas Central to bring the high-speed train to Texas,” Texas Central said in a press statement.

The high-speed rail project planned between Dallas and Houston has been moving forward with plans. Recently it signed a $16 billion contract with Webuild, an Italian company, to lead the civil construction team that will build the Texas passenger line.

“We are profoundly disappointed in the court’s denial of the Miles’ petition. The court has consistently spoken of the sanctity of private property rights in Texas. We think the denial of the petition says otherwise,” Patrick McShan of the Beckham Group, attorneys for the petitioners told The Texan.

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The petitioners plan to file a motion for rehearing in the next few weeks and set forth the reasons why the court should accept its petition, McShan added. Four justices have to vote to grant a petition and set it for hearing, but only seven are currently available to vote on the matter. Justice Jane Bland recused herself due to a conflict, as she has previously represented Texas Central, and Justice Eva Guzman recently resigned from the court to run for Texas attorney general. 

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX-8) was disappointed with the court’s decision. “By freeing up Texas Central to use eminent domain authority, the Court is neglecting to protect the liberties of Texas landowners whose farms, ranches, and homes sit along the proposed route,” he said in a press release.

Brady is also skeptical about the feasibility of the project and promises to continue his opposition to any efforts by Texas Central to “seize property without the consent of landowners.”

Another lawsuit impacting the high-speed rail project was filed in federal district court in April. It claims that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) failed to follow required procedures and processes found in federal law as part of its review of the project, resulting in an outcome that doesn’t account for all potential environmental impacts and violates the private property rights of the plaintiffs. 

The FRA issued its rule of particular applicability and environmental impact statements in late summer 2019. The rules do not grant permission for Texas Central to begin construction but do allow it to proceed in making an application to the Surface Transportation Board (STB), an independent federal agency charged with the economic regulation of railroads, according to federal law.

When asked about the current status of its application to the STB, Texas Central’s spokesperson told The Texan, “We are grateful that STB approved our petition for jurisdiction. Regulatory approvals and permitting for an infrastructure project are complex, lengthy, and expensive. Texas Central has achieved most of the required major regulatory milestones, [and] will continue to work with all agencies to advance to the construction phase.“

Texas Central may be the beneficiary of federal funding if the INVEST in America Act (H.R. 3684) is passed. Rep. Colin Allred (D-TX-32) has worked as a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to include possible funding opportunities for high-speed rail projects.

“Private entities like Texas Central, which is trying to build a high-speed rail line between Dallas and Houston, would also be eligible for financing through the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program,” Allred’s office said in a press statement. 

“Texas Central Railroad should not be allowed to obtain one dime of federal assistance after repeatedly telling Texans and federal authorities that this project would be privately financed for several years. This project should live or die on the private market,” Waller County Judge Trey Duhon, president of Texans Against High Speed Rail told The Texan.

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a 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.