County’s expansion of project sufficient for “public use” requirement under condemnation law

Farabi, Inc. v. Harris County, Texas, 14-13-00443-CV (Tex. App. – Houston [14th dist.], July 24, 2014).

This is a condemnation suit where the property owner, Farabi, appealed the trial court’s grant of the County’s summary judgment motion and jury verdict.

The County created a pedestrian and bicycle trail project and attempted to negotiate an easement for the federally funded project on part of Farabi’s land. The City decided that since it needed the easement for the trial, it should acquire the entire property for a pocket park and trailhead.  After a condemnation hearing Farabi was awarded $88,000 which the County agreed to pay. Farabi objected to the award and argued the County had no right to take the entire property since the County failed to establish public necessity for the entire tract. After partial summary judgment was granted for the County on its right to take the entire tract, a jury awarded Farabi $176,000.  Farabi appealed.

The two components of “public use” are the County must intend a use for the property that constitutes a “public use” and  the condemnation is a “public necessity.” As the appealing party Farabi must negate any reasonable basis for determining what and how much land to condemn. The County not only established the property as a critical component of the trail project, the entire Farabi property was an ideal location for a pocket park as it was located across from a school and at the front entrance to a neighborhood, or for a trailhead where joggers or bicyclists could exercise.  The court does not require an express statement of the condemnation’s necessity within an official resolution, order, or minutes. The court considers all the evidence to determine whether the County in fact determined that the condemnation was a necessity. The fact the County initially was only interested in a 30 foot easement, but later moved to condemn the entire property after Farabi refused to negotiate is not a basis for an arbitrary and capricious holding. Finally, the court held Farabi failed to object and preserve his evidentiary challenges on appeal.  As a result, the trial court ruling is sustained.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel: Justice Boyce, Justice Christopher, Justice Brown. Memorandum opinion by Justice Brown. The attorney listed for the County is Bruce S. Powers.  The attorney listed for Farabi is Charles B. McFarland.