Back in 2004, the State of Texas filed an animal cruelty proceeding against Marsha Chambers, who was apparently breeding the dogs for sale. The jury found that the animals had been treated cruelly, and the justice court transferred their ownership to the Dallas SPCA. Chambers has spent the years since then futilely pursuing collateral litigation challenging the justice court’s order. In March 2012, that quest led to the filing of a suit alleging a constitutional taking of the animals, seeking $575,000 in damages for the value of the animals and lost income. The State filed a plea to the jurisdiction, which was granted by the trial court and affirmed by the Court of Appeals. According to the Court of Appeals, Chambers had failed to plead a claim capable of evading the State’s sovereign immunity, because she had not adequately pleaded that the alleged taking had been made for a “public purpose.” Seizing neglected or mistreated animals serves to protect the welfare of the animals, not to confer a benefit on the public. Because the pleading did not establish a constitutional takings claim, the trial court properly dismissed the case, and that judgment was affirmed.
Chambers v. State, No. 05-12-01178-CV
In 2011, the Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of an inverse condemnation suit, holding that the former owners of the property did not have a compensable interest merely because they had the right to repurchase it if the City of McKinney ceased using it as a park. That right was invoked when the city decided to build a library on a portion of the property, but the city defended the subsequent takings suit by arguing that the substance of the claim was really a breach of contract for which no sovereign immunity had been waived. On petition for review, the Texas Supreme Court has rejected that argument, holding that the former owners’ deed conveyed a “defeasible estate” to the City, and that the former owners retained a “conditional future interest” in the property. According to the Supreme Court, that was not simply a contractual right, but a property interest that was indeed compensable as a taking. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and remanded the case to the trial court to determine whether and to what extent building the library had actually constituted a taking of the property.
El Dorado Land Co., L.P. v. City of McKinney, No. 11-0834
The Texas Supreme Court has granted the petition for review in an inverse-condemnation case from the Dallas Court of Appeals. In El Dorado Land Co., L.P. v. City of McKinney, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s determination that the plaintiff had failed to plead a compensable interest in a deed restriction for a piece of real property. El Dorado had sold the property to the city on the condition that it only be used for a community park, but ten years later the city built a library on it instead. According to the court of appeals, El Dorado could not sue for condemnation because it did not have a vested interest in the property at the time of the taking, despite a contractual option to repurchase the property if the city ever breached the deed restriction. That was so, the court of appeals held, because “a claim for inverse condemnation under article I, section 17 of the Texas Constitution has traditionally involved interests in real property and not the alleged taking of property interests created under contract.” The Supreme Court will now have the opportunity to determine whether a contractual option to purchase is a sufficient interest in property to support a takings claim. The case is set for oral argument on January 9, 2012.
You can find the parties’ briefs here.