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Eminent Domain


Case citation:  West Hardin County CISD v. Poole, __ S.W.3d __, 2012 WL 5278610 (Tex. 2012)

Summary:  The West Hardin Consolidated Independent School District obtained a delinquent property tax judgment against an oil and gas lease that Wallace Maury Poole owned and operated.  Poole did not appeal, and the district foreclosed its judgment lien on the leasehold, taking ownership.  The Railroad Commission then ordered Poole to plug a well on the lease, which Poole failed to do.  According to Poole, the district should have plugged the well because it was the new owner.  Alternatively, he claimed that the district had prevented him from entering the property by threatening criminal prosecution.  After a hearing, the Railroad Commission ordered Poole to plug the well.  Poole did not comply with the order.  As a result, the Railroad Commission plugged the well and brought an action against Poole to recover its costs and assess a penalty.  The parties ultimately settled the dispute.

Thereafter, Poole sued the district, alleging that the district’s actions constituted an unconstitutional “taking” of his property in violation of article I, section 17 of the Texas Constitution.  The trial court determined that it did not have jurisdiction over the matter but a court of appeals reversed and returned the case to the trial court to reconsider the takings claim.  The district appealed to the Texas Supreme Court and the Court agreed to hear the case.

Ruling:  The Supreme Court held that Poole had not stated a valid “takings” claim under article I, section 17 of the Texas Constitution.  The Court observed that immunity is waived under section 17 in a takings claim, only when a property owner requests compensation for property lost.  In this case, the “essence” of Poole’s complaint was that the district “refused to resolve this situation and/or replace Poole as Lease operator – thereby playing Poole against the Commission and causing Poole to pay excessive well plugging costs and Lease clean-up costs, all (or substantial portion of which) were the liability” of the district.  According to the Court, Poole contends that the district injured him, but did not allege that the district took his property without compensation.  Thus, Poole’s lawsuit did not adequately allege a “taking” of property for which immunity from suit is waived.

Things to Remember:  It is not often that we see a “takings” suit against a school district.  Here, Mr. Poole’s allegations simply were not enough to make out such a claim.