Texas Ag Commissioner, Members of Congress, State Legislators, Texas Farm Bureau, Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, and Texas Businesses Ask Texas Supreme Court To Hear Landowner Appeal And Reverse Dangerous Eminent Domain Ruling
Jewett, Texas – Texas’ top agricultural officials and organizations are lining up to support Leon County landowners Jim and Barbara Miles’ legal efforts to protect their ranch from Texas Central Railway’s proposed Dallas to Houston high-speed rail project. In the trial court, Judge Deborah Oakes Evans ruled in favor of the Miles’, finding that Texas Central does not have eminent domain authority as a railroad or an interurban electric railway. Judge Evans also found that ITL, an entity created in the middle of the lawsuit, does not have eminent domain either. The Corpus Christi Court of Appeals reversed that ruling, finding that both Texas Central and ITL are railroads and interurbans with eminent domain authority. The Texas Supreme Court recently denied Miles’ petition for review of the court of appeals’ opinion earlier this summer; so late last month, Miles’ filed a motion for rehearing asking the Texas Supreme Court to grant review and affirm Judge Evan’s ruling.
Blake Beckham, the Miles’ attorney and Special Litigation Counsel for Texans Against HSR, said, “If ever there was a ruling that created ‘the Wild, Wild West’ of eminent domain abuse, this is it—the court of appeals’ ruling creates a dangerous precedent that would allow anybody with $300 and a computer to immediately obtain the extraordinary power of eminent domain by filing papers with the Texas Secretary of State falsely claiming to be a railroad or an interurban. This is not and cannot be the law in Texas.”
Texas Farm Bureau said in its amicus brief to the Court, “This is an important case that deserves a review. The issues, in this case, are exceptional in scope and reach, and important to the citizens and landowners of this state. They will affect rural landowners directly and often, for practical reasons.” (Full text here.)
Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association told the Court, “These private development projects not only destroy the meaningful use and character of the land, but they do so without adequate due process. The courts, therefore, are the landowner’s last and best hope for ensuring the continued constitutional protection of private property rights when the next privately-funded project comes knocking at their door.” (Full text here.)
Texas Commissioner of Agriculture Sid Miller also weighed in: “The project will devastate thousands and thousands of acres of agricultural and special status farmland that is already under constant threat of eminent domain. Landowners who devote their entire lives and all their resources to their farms and ranches, and who rely on the use of their land for income, should not be at the mercy of private actors falsely claiming eminent domain authority, like Texas Central has done here.” (Full text here.)
Members of Congress, Representative Kevin Brady and recently-elected Representative Jake Ellzey, are both staunchly opposed to the proposed HSR. Congressman Brady said of the project, “I am deeply concerned that Texas Central is proposing to seize Texans’ ranches, farms, and homes—against their will—while the project is still in its planning stages. I will always support infrastructure that supports growth and transportation improvements. However, granting eminent domain to Texas Central would not only violate the freedoms of property owners but fail to protect the taxpayer.”
Congressman Ellzey said in his letter to the Court, “Private property rights are sacred, and I do believe that the issues raised in this case are critically important to every Texas landowner. For these reasons, I wanted to write this letter in solidarity with my former [Texas Legislature] colleagues and on behalf of myself and my constituents. I respectfully request that the Court grant Mr. Miles’ petition for review.”
Texas State legislators, including Representatives Ben Leman, Cecil Bell Jr., Cody Harris, Kyle Kacal, Will Metcalf, Trent Ashby, Steve Toth, Tom Oliverson, and James White, and Senators Lois Kolkhorst, Charles Schwertner, and Brian Birdwell, emphasized to the Court its role in protecting private property rights: “This Court has repeatedly, recently, and unanimously recognized that strong judicial protection for individual property rights is essential to freedom itself. Therefore, we not only call upon this Court to once again ensure that the property rights of individual landowners are protected from the attempted abuse of eminent domain by private actors, but especially when on behalf of a foreign government.” (Full text here.)
Texans Against HSR President Trey Duhon noted, “Texas Central is not a railroad or interurban electric railway. Texas Central is merely a promoter of a high-speed rail project that is running on empty. If private entities like Texas Central can so easily obtain eminent domain authority in Texas, the door will be wide open for more landowner abuse, while complicating eminent domain rights for those that legitimately have it.”
The Miles’ motion to rehear was also supported by numerous Texas businesses, including KSA Industries Inc., and private landowners.
Background – Jim Miles originally sued Texas Central in March 2016 to end its harassment and efforts to survey his private property. After Texas Central lost a case against another landowner in Harris County, Texas Central created a shell company, ITL, in an attempt to fix the legal problems it had encountered while trying to prove eminent domain authority in court. ITL then sued Miles despite having never contacted him in any manner whatsoever. Miles didn’t even know ITL existed. Judge Evans saw though Texas Central’s nonsense and signed a final judgment in favor of Miles and against Texas Central and ITL.
When the court of appeals reversed Judge Evans’ ruling, Jim and Barbara were even more resolved to continue the fight to protect their property rights and those of other landowners. “We’re going to take this all the way. Texans take their private property rights seriously and we know the Texas Supreme Court does too. We cannot allow private companies to take our land through self-declared eminent domain authority.”