Landmark SCOTUS Ruling Benefits Texas Farmer

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In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court granted Texas farmer Richie DeVillier the opportunity to sue the State of Texas in federal court under the protections of the Fifth Amendment.

The decision marks a significant step forward in DeVillier’s legal quest following the devastating flooding of his fifth-generation family farm in Winnie. According to the SCOTUS opinion, DeVillier was listed alongside 120 property owners affected by the case.

The saga began when the Texas Department of Transportation constructed a 3-foot barrier to act as a dam on Interstate 10 near DeVillier’s property. Although the median reportedly prevented water from flooding to the south, flooding resulted in the north, destroying DeVillier’s home, orchard, and livestock.

In response, DeVillier sought compensation from the state, filing a lawsuit in a Texas district court, citing the Texas Constitution and the “Takings Clause” of the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, per the opinion.

However, the case took a complex legal turn when Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office successfully moved the state district court lawsuit to federal court, arguing that it would better accommodate the plaintiffs, including DeVillier’s neighbors, per The Texan. After the case was moved, the state attempted to dismiss the case, contending that the plaintiffs could not sue the state directly under the Fifth Amendment in federal court.

The federal district court initially ruled in DeVillier’s favor, asserting that the Fifth Amendment did provide grounds for his lawsuit. However, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned this decision, prompting DeVillier and his legal team, represented by the Burns Charest law firm and the Institute for Justice, to appeal to SCOTUS.

In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas, SCOTUS held that Texas common law serves as a valid cause of action for citizens seeking just compensation under the Fifth Amendment. This ruling effectively reinstated DeVillier’s initial victory at the district court level and empowered him to pursue damages against the state.

Despite DeVillier’s favorable outcome, Paxton claimed victory.

“For as long as Texas has been Texas, it has recognized that property rights are crucial to a free society. Under the U.S. Constitution, such claims should be pursued under state law unless Congress has said otherwise. I’m pleased the Supreme Court agreed with us unanimously that citizens should sue under Texas law,” said Paxton in a press release.

Daniel Charest of the Burns Charest law firm stressed to The Texan the significance of the ruling, noting that DeVillier now possesses two avenues to sue the state and seek redress for the damages incurred. Robert McNamara, the Institute for Justice attorney who represented DeVillier in the appeals process, rebuked Paxton’s victory claim, asserting that SCOTUS’s decision affirmed DeVillier’s right to litigate his Fifth Amendment claims.

“[Tuesday’s] ruling makes clear that Texas can be sued under the Fifth Amendment and that the claims Texas wanted thrown out will instead go to trial in that same federal district court — in other words, after Texas spent untold amounts of time and taxpayer dollars trying to get Richie’s Fifth Amendment claims dismissed, Richie will get to litigate his Fifth Amendment claims. The party that gets what he wants is the party that won. What Texas did is called losing. Only a politician would claim to have won a case he lost,” stated McNamara, per The Texan.

With SCOTUS’s endorsement of the lawsuit, DeVillier and his legal team are prepared to proceed with the trial court process, determined to hold the state accountable for purportedly destroying his family farm.

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