In Texas, district courts and county courts at law have concurrent jurisdiction in eminent domain cases. A county court has no jurisdiction in eminent domain cases[i]. Exercise of the eminent domain authority in all cases is governed by Sections 21.012 through 21.016 of the Texas Property Code[ii]. If the United States, the state, a political subdivision of the state, a corporation with eminent domain authority, or an irrigation, water improvement, or water power control district created by law wants to acquire real property for public use but is unable to agree with the owner of the property on the amount of damages, the condemning entity may begin a condemnation proceeding by filing a petition in the proper court. The petition must:
- describe the property to be condemned;
- state the purpose for which the entity intends to use the property;
- state the name of the owner of the property if the owner is known;
- state that the entity and the property owner are unable to agree on the damages; and
- if applicable, state that the entity provided the property owner with the landowner’s bill of rights statement in accordance with Section 21.0112[iii].
Each party in an eminent domain proceeding is entitled to written notice issued by the special commissioners informing the party of the time and place of the hearing. Notice of the hearing must be served on a party not later than the 11th day before the day set for the hearing. A person competent to testify may serve the notice. A person who serves a notice shall return the original notice to the special commissioners on or before the day set for hearing. The person shall write a return of service on the notice that states how and when it was served.
Notice may be served:
- by delivering a copy of the notice to the party or to the party’s agent or attorney;
- if the property being condemned belongs to a deceased’s estate or to a minor or other legally disabled person and the person or estate has a legal representative, by delivering a copy of the notice to the legal representative; or
- if the property being condemned belongs to a nonresident of this state and there has been no personal service on the owner, if the identity or the residence of the property owner is unknown, or if the property owner avoids service of notice by hiding, by publication in the same manner as service of citation by publication in other civil cases in the district courts or county courts at law[iv].
A party to a condemnation proceeding may object to the findings of the special commissioners by filing a written statement of the objections and their grounds with the court that has jurisdiction of the proceeding. The statement must be filed on or before the first Monday following the 20th day after the day the commissioners file their findings with the court. If a party files an objection to the findings of the special commissioners, the court shall cite the adverse party and try the case in the same manner as other civil cases[v].
A party that files a condemnation petition may move to dismiss the proceedings and the court shall conduct a hearing on the motion. However, after the special commissioners have made an award, in an effort to obtain a lower award a condemnor may not dismiss the condemnation proceedings merely to institute new proceedings that involve substantially the same condemnation against the same property owner. A court that hears and grants a motion to dismiss a condemnation proceeding made by a condemnor shall make an allowance to the property owner for reasonable and necessary fees for attorneys, appraisers, and photographers and for the other expenses incurred by the property owner to the date of the hearing. A court that hears and grants a motion to dismiss a condemnation proceeding made by a property owner seeking a judicial denial of the right to condemn or that otherwise renders a judgment denying the right to condemn may make an allowance to the property owner for reasonable and necessary fees for attorneys, appraisers, and photographers and for the other expenses incurred by the property owner to the date of the hearing or judgment[vi].
If a condemnor moves to dismiss a condemnation proceeding and subsequently files a petition to condemn substantially the same property interest from the same property owner, the court may not appoint new special commissioners but shall enter the award of the special commissioners in the first proceeding as the award in the second. The court shall award the property owner triple the amount of the expenses that were allowed the property owner prior to the dismissal of the first proceeding[vii].
After the special commissioners in an eminent domain proceeding have assessed the damages, they shall:
- make a written statement of their decision stating the damages, date it, sign it, and file it and all other papers connected with the proceeding with the court on the day the decision is made or on the next working day after the day the decision is made; and
- make and sign a written statement of the accrued costs of the proceeding, naming the party against whom the costs are adjudged, and file the statement with the court[viii].
If no party in a condemnation proceeding files timely objections to the findings of the special commissioners, the judge of the court that has jurisdiction of the proceeding shall adopt the commissioners’ findings as the judgment of the court, record the judgment in the minutes of the court, and issue the process necessary to enforce the judgment[ix]. The appeal of a judgment in a condemnation proceeding is as in other civil cases. A court hearing an appeal from the decision of a trial court in a condemnation proceeding may not suspend the judgment of the trial court pending the appeal[x].
[i] Tex. Prop. Code § 21.001.
[ii] Tex. Prop. Code § 21.011.
[iii] Tex. Prop. Code § 21.012.
[iv] Tex. Prop. Code § 21.016.
[v] Tex. Prop. Code § 21.018.
[vi] Tex. Prop. Code § 21.019.
[vii] Tex. Prop. Code § 21.020.
[viii] Tex. Prop. Code § 21.048.
[ix] Tex. Prop. Code § 21.061.
[x] Tex. Prop. Code § 21.063.