The Common Law
Eminent domain – the government made a low offer – what next?
The government is going to build a high-voltage power line across my property. I rejected the government's low offer, which only accounted for the property taken and not for the damages caused to my remaining land. Now that I've rejected the offer, I'm not really sure what happens next.
Property owners facing condemnation are justifiably frustrated when they receive a low offer for the forced sale of private land. This is especially true when the government's offer ignores the reduction in value caused by the project to the remaining land still owned. It's important for property owners that reject the government's offer as too low to understand what happens next in an eminent domain case.
After the initial and final offers are rejected, the government will file a lawsuit against the landowner to acquire the property rights it seeks. Filing the lawsuit starts the administrative phase of the case. The government will conduct a special commissioners' hearing, which is presided over by three court-appointed commissioners (check out previous "Common Law" columns for more details on the special commissioners' hearing process). At the end of the hearing, the special commissioners will issue a special commissioners' award, which sets out the commissioners' independent opinion as to the value of the property.
But this is not the end of the condemnation litigation process. If either side is unhappy with the special commissioners' award, the landowner or the government may object to the award on or before the first Monday following the 20th day after the day the commissioners file their findings with the court. In doing so, the condemnation lawsuit will be "appealed" to the trial court and the case will move forward in a manner similar to other civil lawsuits. The trial is "de novo," which means that both parties start from square one and the case proceeds as if the commissioners' hearing and award had not occurred. Under Texas law, the landowner has the absolute right to a jury trial.
Eminent domain is its own unique area of the law, with both procedural and substantive nuances. Landowners facing the prospect of losing property to a government infrastructure project – including high-voltage electric transmission lines, new or expanded highways & roadways, and pipeline easements – should talk to experienced eminent domain lawyers to learn more about their constitutional rights as property owners.
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Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.
The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.