SCOTUS Case from TX Could Alter Eminent Domain Law

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A case stemming from claims by several Texas landowners began hearings in the United States Supreme Court yesterday.

The case is based on Houston-area landowners alleging that improvements to Interstate 10 caused seasonal flooding on their properties. The landowners are claiming the damage to their properties is in violation of the Fifth Amendment, and they are entitled to federal relief.

Richie DeVillier is one of the litigants whose agricultural land has been impacted, as The Dallas Express reported previously. He says that his property had not flooded before the State’s highway project, and his land has since faced significant damage to crops and livestock.

DeVillier and other property owners argue that this constitutes illegal taking of private property by the government in violation of eminent domain law.

The State maintains that the damage to the property is unintentional and thus does not cross the threshold of illegal taking, as reported by The Texas Tribune.

In an interesting twist, attorneys for Texas have indicated they would be willing to make concessions to the landowners should the case be remanded to the lower court, provided the plaintiffs dropped the Fifth Amendment claim. However, the case is being reviewed at the federal level at the State’s request.

The Supreme Court is not considering whether the landowners should be compensated. Instead, the Supreme Court hearing would decide if the case should be heard at the federal level or if it is more appropriate at the state level.

Despite sending the case to the federal courts, the State is now arguing the plaintiffs do not have the right to sue in federal court, which Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts referred to as a “Catch-22.”

An equally unimpressed Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the case appeared to be a bait-and-switch effort.

It is unclear when the Supreme Court will issue its ruling about the appropriateness of hearing the case. When it is handed down, the decision could potentially expand the interpretation of the Fifth Amendment in regard to eminent domain issues nationwide, possibly increasing pressure on states to compensate people impacted by various projects, per The Texas Tribune.

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