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Texas Central land survey case will go to trial

This is a little complicated.

A major decision standing in the way of a proposed high-speed rail project connecting Houston to Dallas has been scheduled for trial.

District Judge Joseph “Tad” Halbach denied Texas Central Railroad summary judgment in a land survey case in Harris County Dec. 16, sending the case to full trial scheduled for July 3, 2017.

Texas Central is in the process of surveying land to determine the best route for the proposed rail. As a result of Halbach’s ruling, the company will not be able to survey on the defendant’s property until after the trial.

Texas Central officials said, although they were disappointed in the court’s decision to send the case to a full trial, they believe their arguments will be successful in the end.

“Contrary to what opponents are saying, [Halbach] did not issue any opinion on the company’s operations or its rights under state law,” the statement said. “The decision does not set any kind of precedent, and we will show in a full trial that state law, established for more than a century, clearly gives railroad companies the right to conduct land surveys without interference. This is needed to determine the most advantageous high-speed train route.”

Texans Against High-Speed Rail—a group opposing the project—is contesting the idea that Texas Central is an official railroad company under state law and therefore does not have eminent domain authority; in other words, Texas Central does not have the authority to force private landowners to sell their land. TAHSR released a statement celebrating Halbach’s decision.

See here for some background. The point is that the denial of summary judgment is not in any way a ruling on the merits of the case, it’s just saying there has to actually be a trial to sort that out. Of course Texas Central would have liked to prevail on summary judgment – every plaintiff wants to win without having to go through the full process. They didn’t get that, so a trial it will be. Note that while Judge Halbach made the summary judgment ruling, he will not be the judge at trial, as he was among the judges swept out in November. Shouldn’t make any difference, I just wanted to note that in case anyone gets confused when they see another judge’s name associated with this next year. The Star-Telegram, BisNow, the Chron, and the Press have more.

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One Comment

  1. mollusk says:

    To add a bit – While granting a summary judgment can be appealed, denying one can’t. Also, judges on their way out the door usually try to leave things reasonably tidy for their successors. If he’d granted the summary judgment, things had the potential to get procedurally complicated right as he’s winding down and his successor is trying to get up to speed – which isn’t much good for anyone. TCR can take another run at this with the new guy if they’re so inclined.