Landowners Lose Eminent Domain Battle Against Pipeline

Hlavinka Loses Eminent Domain Battle | Image by The Texan

The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that a pipeline company transporting “polymer-grade propylene” possesses eminent domain authority under the Texas Business Organizations Code to condemn land against the landowners’ wishes, according to The Texan.

In February, the Supreme Court heard the case in Hlavinka v. HSC Pipline Partnership LLC. The Hlavinkas are landowners along the Texas coast and have sold easements to pipeline companies in the past but could not reach a suitable agreement with HSC.

The HSC then petitioned for the land in question to be condemned.

Justice Jane Bland authored the court’s opinion, confirming the Texas Business Organizations Code “granted independent condemnation authority and that polymer-grade propylene qualifies as an ‘oil product’ under that section.”

The Hlavinkas argued that the pipeline had to qualify under the Texas Natural Resource Code before they could condemn the property under eminent domain laws. The family said that since the pipeline carried an oil product and not actual crude oil, it did not qualify.

Based on its justices’ authored opinion, the Texas Supreme Court disagreed with their assessment.

Additionally, the Hlavinkas argued that the pipeline was not for public use, or at the least, a jury was required to make that determination.

The court agreed that the pipeline needed to serve a public use but ruled it qualifies.

“Requiring that transported goods be sold and delivered to a non-affiliate ensures that the pipeline is not private,” the court stated.

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.”

The court sided with the Hlavinkas on one issue. The landowners wanted to present evidence from prior easement transactions to establish the value of their land.

A lower court refused this request, but the Texas Supreme Court allowed it.

The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the trial court to determine the property’s market value in question.

Eminent domain was legalized with the 5th Amendment of the Constitution. Initially, it was intended for items that served the public interest, such as government buildings, schools, and roads.

The publication Area Development spoke with those on both sides of the argument.

The publication reports that proponents of economic development claimed that this is a valid use of Eminent Domain as it creates benefits for the whole community. While opponents point out that the main factor guiding these decisions is profit instead of public service.

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