Your West Texas Legal Advocate

A Hometown Lawyer Advocating For You In Eminent Domain Matters

When facing loss of your land due to eminent domain, it can feel like everything is stacked against you. You may fear that a fair resolution is completely out of reach. However, there are things you can do to protect your rights. Take the first step by putting a trusted Big Country attorney in your corner.

From our offices in Abilene and Albany, our lawyer at The Law Offices of John T. Montgomery tenaciously advocates for the rights of landowners in West Texas. Our established hometown attorney, John T. Montgomery, is ready to guide you through every step of the eminent domain process. From start to finish, he will stand up for your best interests.

What Is Eminent Domain?

Eminent domain is defined as the power of the sovereign (or government) to take private property for public use. Condemnation is the procedure by which the taking or appropriation occurs. Many landowners are unaware of the process of condemnation, the appropriation of private property by the government against the will of the owner. Mr. Montgomery helps property owners fight against condemnation related to oil, gas and pipeline projects.

The Three Stages Of Pipeline Easement Condemnation

Stage 1 in the condemnation process has no judicial involvement. Pipeline companies are required by law to make an offer to purchase the property from the landowner unless it is evident from the start that no agreement will be met from such an offer. This first stage is the only time a property owner can negotiate changes to the proposed easement agreement. Two important things need to be addressed in this first stage: changes to the proposed easement and the amount of damages. This first stage takes place before any legal fees potentially come into the equation. Our lawyer helps clients negotiate a fair and just easement agreement during this first stage. If one cannot be reached, he helps our clients proceed to Stage 2 and, possibly, Stage 3.

Stage 2 starts when the company petitions the court after the final offer is rejected. A copy of the petition must be sent by the landowner by certified mail with a return receipt requested. It must contain six essential elements:

  1. A description of the land
  2. A statement declaring the public use for which the land is being acquired
  3. The name(s) of the owner(s), if known
  4. A statement showing that the parties have been unable to agree on damages
  5. A statement verifying that the company provided the landowner with a copy of the Landowner’s Bill of Rights
  6. A statement confirming that the company made an offer to purchase the property as outlined in Section 21.0113 of the Texas Penal Code (TPC)

All of these elements must be present before the proceedings can be dismissed. After the letter has been sent, a special commission is appointed by a judge. During Stage 2, the only issues that the special commissioners can legally determine are market value, special damages and special benefits. Mr. Montgomery represents clients during this hearing in order to protect their rights against the pipeline companies pursuing condemnation against them.

Stage 3 starts if an appeal is requested from the special commissioner’s decision. If an appeal is requested, then that party must file formal written objections with the appropriate judge before the first Monday following the 20th day after the filing of the special commissioner’s decision. At this point, the decisions will move to a county or district court of law, where a lawyer will be required to represent the property owner in court. It is also the first time that the question of taking the property can be legally raised and determined. If the award from either the special commissioner or trial court is more than the company’s final offer, then the company must pay all court costs. If a property owner intends to appeal their case, it is best practice to refuse acceptance of any part of the award from the special commission. Our attorney protects landowners’ rights and liberties in court from the practice of condemnation by pipeline companies.

Protecting Your Rights In Easement Agreements

Negotiating the terms of a proposed easement agreement by a pipeline company is one of the most important parts of the complex process of condemnation. Because an easement or right-of-way constitutes an interest in land, it is imperative that all aspects of the agreement be placed in writing. Section 26.01 of the Texas Business and Commerce Code provides that no promise or agreement involving a contract for the sale of real estate is enforceable unless the promise or agreement is in writing and is signed by the person to be charged with the promise or agreement.

When reading over the provisions provided in an easement agreement, there are several factors one must consider and look at:

  1. Does the agreement contain an accurate description of the location and width of the permanent pipeline easement, with the centerline clearly depicted and surveyed? This is to protect against blanket easements.
  2. When does the easement agreement terminate? In other words, whenever the pipeline does not transport materials for a continuous period, such as six to nine months, the pipeline agreement should terminate.
  3. Make sure that the agreement requires the company to protect and indemnify the landowner from any lawsuits arising from the company’s activities on the property.
  4. Make sure the lump-sum payment covers or addresses the following three items: payment for the easement, any damages caused to the property by the easement’s construction, and damages for any impairment of direct access on and off the remaining property caused by the presence of the pipeline

Helping You Appeal Special Commission Awards

If, after the special commission makes the award to the property owner and pipeline company, the property owner is dissatisfied with the results, they can appeal the decision in district or county court. The district court has the authority to determine all issues, including the authority to condemn property and the assessment of damages. Once appealed, all evidence and information presented in the special commission hearing is admissible, and the property owner is given the right to a brand new trial with evidence being submitted for the first time on court record. During the appeal, one can select to have a trial with a jury if so predisposed. Our attorney has the jury selection knowledge and tools to pursue a fair and just appeal for the property owner. Six jurors are allowed on the jury, and the judge must also sit as a juror.

During the appeal process, hiring a knowledgeable hometown lawyer can help increase the property owner’s chances in court. Most pipeline companies are not from the town in which the case is appealed, and, therefore, they hire outside, big-city attorneys. The advantage of a hometown lawyer cannot be understated. With the trial consisting of six jurors, an attorney from the community – like Mr. Montgomery – can give the property owner an edge ahead over some attorney from out of town. In general, the special commission does not award the property owner a true “fair market” value for the condemned property. This makes the appeal process paramount to getting the compensation owed to a property owner from pipeline companies. With the many legal loopholes pipeline companies will use, it is important to have a knowledgeable attorney for trial as well as for the drafting of the pipeline agreement. Our lawyer takes pride in helping clients during their trials as well as after them, assisting with the drafting of the agreements to make sure that all rights, compensation and liberties are protected for landowners against pipeline companies.

Get In Touch Today For Dedicated Advocacy

When your property is targeted for condemnation through eminent domain, it’s important to act promptly to protect your rights. Reach out now by sending a message or calling 325-704-4357. Our lawyer is ready to discuss your case and start advocating for you.