Current Issue

Supreme Court Rules 9-0 For Texas Landowner

Apr 25, 2024 | Farmers and Ranchers, Issues, Liberty Matters | 0 comments

On April 16th, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 9-0 property rights ruling in favor of Richie DeVillier, a Texas rancher whose land had been destroyed by flooding after the State altered a highway next to his property.

DeVillier’s family has ranched and farmed the same land in Winnie, Texas for nearly a century.  Winnie is located between Houston and Beaumont near the Gulf of Mexico in far East Texas.  The area is flat and of low elevation, but it naturally drained into the waterways that flow into the Gulf of Mexico. Flooding was never an issue until a few years ago.

That’s when the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) altered Interstate 10 next to his property, raising the road 17 inches and placing a solid three-foot-high concrete barrier down the middle of the highway. The barrier cut off the area’s natural rainwater drainage system.  Then, in 2017, a slow-moving tropical storm left his farm flooded for days.  His cattle died and crops were destroyed.  It happened again two years later.

As depicted below in the pictures, the median barrier kept the south side of the highway open (on the left side of both pictures) by holding back stormwater, which then submerged property north of the highway (on the right side of both pictures):

 

DeVillier sued Texas in state court claiming the State of Texas violated his Fifth Amendment right under the U.S. Constitution. Relying on the constitutional guarantee that states: “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation,”  DeVillier claimed that the State’s action caused the destruction of DeVillier’s property, thus “taking” it for a public purpose that required just compensation.

But the State of Texas didn’t see it that way and they fought the family for years trying to get the case dismissed.  One of the arguments the State raised is that federal courts don’t allow individuals to sue states under the Fifth Amendment.  The district court didn’t buy that argument and ruled in DeVillier’s favor.

The State appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and they agreed with the State saying the Fifth Amendment Takings Clause does not provide a right of action for takings claims against the state.  However, the Supreme Court granted cert and held oral arguments on January 16, 2024, and all nine Justices recognized that the State of Texas’ position and its “procedural maneuvering” would effectively extinguish the right of private property owners to “just compensation” when the government takes their property for public use.

Justice Thomas delivered the unanimous decision by the Court and remanded it back to Texas where the DeVillier family can now bring a Takings cause of action against the State of Texas under Texas law.  All that’s left to resolve is for the trial court to determine how much compensation the State owes the DeVillier family.  Now, that’s justice.

SCOTUSblog:  https://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/devillier-v-texas/

Opinion of SCOTUS: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/23pdf/22-913_3204.pdf

Watch this devastating story of the DeVillier property on YouTube.