Eminent Domain is the power of the government or quasi-government entities to take private or public property interests through condemnation. Eminent Domain has been a significant issue since 1879 when, in the case of Boom Company v. Patterson, the Supreme Court first acknowledged that the power of eminent domain may be delegated by state legislatures to agencies and non-governmental entities. Thus, the era of legal takings began.
Though an important legal dispute then, more recently eminent domain has blossomed into an enduring contentious social and political problem throughout the United States. The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution states, “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Thus, in the wake of the now infamous decision in Kelo v. City of New London, where the Court upheld the taking of private property for purely economic benefit as a “public use,” the requirement of “just compensation” stands as the primary defender of constitutionally protected liberty under the federal constitution. In response to Kelo, many state legislatures passed a variety of eminent domain reforms specifically tailoring what qualifies as a public use and how just compensation should be calculated.
Texas landowners recognize that the state’s population is growing at a rapid pace. There is an increasing need for more land and resources such as energy and transportation. But, private property rights are equally important, especially in Texas, and must be protected as well. Eminent domain and the condemnation process is not a willing buyer and willing seller transition; it is a legally forced sale. Therefore, it is necessary to consider further improvements to the laws that govern the use of eminent domain so Texas landowners can have more assurance that this process is fair and respectful of their private property rights when they are forced to relinquish their land.
This report compiles statutes and information from the other forty-nine states to illustrate how they address key eminent domain issues. Further, this report endeavors to provide a neutral third voice in Texas to strike a more appropriate balance between individual’s property rights and the need for increased economic development. This report breaks down eminent domain into seven major topics that, in addition to Texas, seemed to be similar in many of the other states. These categories are: (1) Awarding of Attorneys’ Fee; (2) Compensation and Valuation; (3) Procedure Prior to Suit; (4) Condemnation Procedure; (5) What Cannot be Condemned; (6) Public Use & Authority to Condemn; and (7) Abandonment. In analyzing these seven categories, this report does not seek to advance a particular interest but only to provide information on how Texas law differs from other states. This report lays out trends seen across other states that are either similar or dissimilar to Texas, and additionally, discusses interesting and unique laws employed by other states that may be of interest to Texas policy makers. Our research found three dominant categories which tend to be major issues across the country: (1) the awarding of attorneys’ fees; (2) the valuation and measurement of just compensation; and (3) procedure prior to suit.
This research was supported by Texas A&M University School of Law. We thank our instructors, Dean Andrew Morriss, Professor Jim Bradbury, and Instructional Assistant Professor Cynthia Burress, who provided insight and expertise that greatly assisted our research and understanding of Eminent Domain
Ashley, Caitlyn; Berthiaume, Elizabeth Spencer; Berzin, Philip; Blassingame, Rikki; Fryer, Stephanie Bradley; Cox, John; Crecelius, E. Samuel; Dennington, Taylor; Doty, Tave; Dowell, Stacie; Frysinger, Cameron; Hayes, Jordan Simmons; Hutchison, Alexandria; Tidwell, Hillary; Vinson, Michael; Wigington, George; Wilkes, Christopher; Wilson, Lola; and Wright, Shane, "Law and Policy Resource Guide: A Survey of Eminent Domain Law in Texas and the Nation" (2017). NRS Program Reports & Publications. 2.