On May 19, 2023, Jackson Walker secured a major appellate victory for the Hidalgo County Water Improvement District (HCWID) No. 3 in an important eminent domain and immunity dispute before the Supreme Court of Texas. The central issue was whether a land-owning governmental entity could unilaterally stop an authorized condemnation by asserting governmental immunity from suit.
Agreeing with Jackson Walker client HCWID No. 3, the Court unanimously held that immunity does not apply in the eminent domain context. The decision is the Court’s first discussion of the intersection of condemnation and immunity.
The Court’s decision that governmental immunity does not apply in the eminent domain context is enormously important to all Texans. The decision means that one governmental entity cannot use immunity to stop another’s authorized condemnation (or shared use) of public land for the public benefit. The ruling reversed the court of appeals’ departure from first principles of law and a century of settled precedent. And it avoided the perverse consequence of the court of appeals’ opinion that only private land could be taken for public works.
“We are extremely proud of this major win today in the Texas Supreme Court. This case asked the consequential question of whether governmental immunity applies in the condemnation context. The Court agreed with us that it does not,” stated Jackson Walker partner and Appellate Practice Chair Jennifer Caughey. “As the Supreme Court held, there was no basis to extend immunity to condemnation. If the Supreme Court had instead upheld the court of appeals’ decision, it would have been a disaster for Texans, with public projects either being thwarted or happening through vast, unnecessary taking of private land.”
“If the Supreme Court had instead upheld the court of appeals’ decision, it would have been a disaster for Texans, with public projects either being thwarted or happening through vast, unnecessary taking of private land.”
The team representing the HCWID No. 3 in the Supreme Court of Texas was led by Jennifer Caughey, who argued the appeal in January 2023, along with partner Brad Anderson and senior counsel Danica Milios. Local counsel Frank Weathered and Randolph K. Whittington also represented District No. 3 on appeal.
The case is Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3 v. Hidalgo County Irrigation District No. 1, case number 21-0507, in the Texas Supreme Court. For additional information, view Jackson Walker’s December 2022 release “Jackson Walker Secures Texas Supreme Court Grant of Petition to Review Eminent Domain Dispute Between Hidalgo County Water Districts.” For news coverage of the decision, see “Texas Utility’s High Court Win Has Eminent Domain Impact” by Law360 Pulse (subscription required).
Meet Our Team
Jennifer Caughey is a former Justice on Texas’s First Court of Appeals, a partner at Jackson Walker, and current chair of Jackson Walker’s appellate section. Justice Caughey leverages her diverse experience on both sides of the bench to litigate complex cases at the appellate and trial levels. She is recognized by Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business in the area of Litigation: Appellate – Texas and among Thomson Reuters’ Super Lawyers in the area of Appellate Law.
Brad Anderson is an eminent domain attorney with extensive experience representing condemning authorities and landowners throughout the state of Texas. Brad has extensive experience in every area of the land acquisition process and advises clients on the legal, political, and practical challenges that come with voluntary and involuntary land acquisition.
Danica L. Milios has over 20 years of appellate experience. She spent 17 years at the Texas Attorney General’s Office, where she began her career as a trial lawyer before ultimately moving to an appellate practice in the Office of the Solicitor General. There, Danica served 3 years as Deputy Solicitor General.
Since 1887, Jackson Walker has grown to become a full-service national firm serving clients from six Texas offices. With about 30% of the firm’s approximately 500 attorneys practicing litigation, JW has one of the largest trial practices in the Southwest and has been identified among the top law firms “Most Feared in Litigation” by BTI Consulting Group in 2022 and 2023 for demonstrating a “fearless nature, urgency, relentlessness, and an aggressive strategy.” To explore the firm’s experience representing clients in condemnation and eminent domain litigation, visit the Trial & Appellate Litigation practice page.