Fort Worth Court of Appeals upholds jury award for partial taking and partial implied dedication in inverse-condemnation case

City of Justin, Texas v. Rimrock Enterprises, Inc., 02-13-00461-CV (Tex. App. – Fort Worth, April 2, 2015)

This is an inverse-condemnation suit where the Fort Worth Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part an award for the property owner. This is a 35 page opinion, which makes this summary a little longer.

The City had a road improvement project in its industrial park. Part of one of the improved roads, Colorado Avenue, crossed a tract of land owned by Rimrock Enterprises, Inc. Rimrock sued the City for inversely condemning its property, and the City claimed that the road had been impliedly dedicated to the public. The court examined the history of the property dating back to 1887. Part of the issue which arose was that Colorado road was a private “trail” which, until the 1950s was dirt. The road went through a gravel stage and chip seal stage. In the 1970s the then owner installed a fence but it did not extend to the eastern portion because the owner apparently did not want to deprive his neighbors of access to the road. At no point did a “private property” or “no trespassing” sign appear to prevent the public’s access to the roadway. In 2009 the City paved over the road along with numerous other roadways in the park. Rimrock sued for the portion of the road which crossed its property.  The jury found only part of Colorado Ave. had been implied dedicated and awarded Rimrock the value of the remainder. The City appealed in seven issues.

The court first addressed the City’s statute-of-limitations defense, which is 10 years for inverse-condemnation. While the City asserts the public used the roadway since the 1930s (argued time of accrual) there was no evidence the City, as an entity, took control of the property until 2009.  Since there is conflicting testimony on the accrual date, the court held the City failed to establish its entitlement to the statute-of-limitations defense. Next, evidence in the record reflects that due to the history of the “trail” a jury could infer only a portion of the roadway was impliedly dedicated to the public. The City’s argument any dedication means dedication of the entire right-of-way as a matter of law is misplaced since this case is about an implied dedication. The case law supporting a ruling as a matter of law comes from express dedications. The City very clearly intended to improve the roadway and had even asked Rimrock for a release of any areas which may intrude (which was refused). As a result, evidence exists for a jury to determine the City had an intent to take property specifically for public use. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in its instruction to the jury regarding how to calculate damages based on the value of the severed portion taken as opposed to the decreased value of the entire property. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to bifurcate the takings claim from the damages claims. However, as to Rimrock’s declaratory judgment claim, it only sought declarations of the same relief sought in the inverse-condemnation claim which was filed in an amended petition a year after suit originated. As a result, the declaratory judgment claim was apparently brought only for the purpose of obtaining attorney’s fees, which is improper. The trial court erred by granting the declaratory relief and thereby erred by awarding attorney’s fees. In the end, the court affirmed the jury award of Rimrock’s claims for inverse-condemnation but did not allow reimbursement for attorney’s fees.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel: Justice Meier and Justice Gabriel. Opinion by Justice Meier.  The attorney listed for Rimrock is Michael F. Pezzulli.  The attorneys listed for the City are Robert E. Hager and Alexis Allen.