The attorneys at McFarland PLLC have extensive experience at every stage of Condemnation matters. From pre-condemnation planning to commissioners’ hearings and, of course, trial.
The planning for public projects requiring the taking of private property begins years before the owner’s property is ever condemned. Our attorneys have worked with governmental agencies to seek modifications of public projects to eliminate potential negative impacts before any acquisition. We consult with property owners on how to proceed when property is under the shadow of an anticipated taking. We also monitor significant developments in projects as they proceed from the planning, design, and right of way acquisition stages.
Special Commissioners’ Hearing
When the government and a private property owner cannot agree on the compensation to be paid, state law allows the condemning authority to take the property through the exercise of its eminent domain power. Every statutory condemnation case must go through an administrative phase in which disinterested landowners in the county are appointed as Special Commissioners to assess the market value based on evidence presented by both sides in an informal hearing. The point of the administrative phase is to bring the parties together to avoid litigation. At this stage, both sides typically have their positions as to the market value of the property and the impacts of the taking. The hearing allows each side to explain its position and expose the weaknesses of its opponent’s position to a disinterested decision-maker. After hearing the evidence and receiving the award, the parties are in a much better position to evaluate their respective positions and consider settlement. Many cases are resolved following the administrative phase. However, either side may appeal the award, at which point the case proceeds as any other civil case on the court’s docket.
Analysis of Claims
For those cases that proceed to a judicial case, there are a number of opportunities for the parties to gain a better understanding of the market facts and, thus, the merits of their positions. The cross examination in the commissioners’ hearing is without the benefit of discovery. Full discovery allows for a more vigorous examination of the appraisal opinions that form the basis of the parties’ positions. As the facts that support or cut against the property owner’s position are established, the condemnation attorney should have a good picture of what the case is “worth” and, thus, what an acceptable settlement would be.
Our lawyers’ extensive experience in trying condemnation cases across Texas is the most important contribution we bring to the representation of property owners in condemnation cases. To properly evaluate a case, the condemnation attorney needs to understand how a trial court, jury, and potentially a court of appeals will perceive the property owner’s case, whether in terms of the admissibility or persuasiveness of its evidence or the compensability of its damage claim. Through numerous trials and appeals of these issues, we have gained the insight and experience to shepherd our clients through these issues, maximizing their recovery in every stage of the condemnation process.