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How Does a Condemnation Lawsuit Proceed?
When discussing a Condemnation lawsuit, the entity that is taking land from a private citizen for a public use is referred to as the “Condemnor” or the “condemning authority.” The landowner is sometimes referred to as the “Condemnee.”
In order for the Government ( LCRA or TxDOT, for example) or a utility company such as ONCOR to use its power of Eminent Domain to take private land, the Condemnor must follow very specific set of rules mandated by the Texas Property Code. If the Condemnor does not follow these rules, it may be possible to get the lawsuit dismissed.
It is important to remember our judicial system is designed to be adversarial. Even though the Condemnor is required to “negotiate” with and make “good faith” offers to the landowner, the owner usually will be dealing with a group of people who have the Condemnor’s best interests in mind rather than the property owner’s.
Therefore, in order to guarantee your constitutional property rights are protected, Texas landowners facing condemnation proceedings should consult an experienced lawyer to guide you through the condemnation law process.
The Condemnation Process:
- The Condemnor makes a determination to implement a project that requires it to take land from private citizens as a public necessity.
- The condemning authority should notify the owner of its intent to acquire the land, inspect the property, and then perform a survey and appraisal. If possible, the owner should consult with an experienced eminent domain lawyer at this point.
- The condemning authority will make an initial offer to purchase the land from the owner. This offer must be made in “good faith” and will usually be accompanied by the appraisal. This appraisal is performed by and appraiser who is hired by the condemning authority.
- This stage is usually involves the owner’s attorney negotiating with the government for a price the owner is willing to accept. If the condemning authority’s offer is rejected, it will file a Petition in Condemnation lawsuit against the landowner. This is not necessarily a bad thing! These cases can be settled by agreement of the parties at ANY stage in the lawsuit.
- As required by Chapter 21 of the Texas Property Code, three “Special Commissioners” will be appointed by the court to conduct a hearing on compensation. You will be notified of a hearing date. The Commissioners ultimately decide on a value and make an award in that amount to the owner. There are rules that must be followed by both parties in one of these hearings. An experienced Texas eminent domain lawyer will be able to help the owner with this hearing.
- Either party may object to the Special Commissioners' Award within a specified period of time after the award is given. Upon timely objection, the Court regains its jurisdiction over the case and it will proceed like any other civil lawsuit in order for the property value to be determined by the judge or a jury.
- The condemning authority is required to deposit the amount awarded by the Commissioners with the Court prior to taking possession of the property. At this time the owners may withdraw the money awarded to them from the clerk of the Court or choose to leave it in trust with the Court while the lawsuit is pending.
- If the Special Commissioners award is appealed causing the Court to proceed with the lawsuit, the parties usually will continue to negotiate while preparing the case for trial. If the parties cannot reach a settlement agreement though mediation, or otherwise, the case will go to trial. Typically, Texas condemnation cases are tried to juries.
Please email or call Russ Baker at 214.726.1450 to discuss your case. Initial consultations are always free.