Houston rancher takes land-rights case to US Supreme Court

Claims state’s Interstate 10 renovation led to flooding, loss of land

Houston Rancher Takes Land Rights Case to US Supreme Court
Richie DeVillier with aerial of Winnie (Institute for Justice, Google Maps)

A cattle rancher on the outskirts of Houston has taken a land rights case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Richie DeVillier’s ranch in Winnie, which has belonged to his family for 100 years, never had an issue with flooding until a few years ago, when the Texas Department of Transportation began renovating Interstate 10 near his property, the Texas Standard reported

Since then, DeVillier’s ranch has been prone to frequent flooding, killing animals, trees and vegetation as a result of the state’s actions, he claims. DeVillier is seeking compensation from the state for effectively taking his land for flood retention. Opening arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court kicked off today, after DeVillier lost his case before the Fifth Circuit Court.

The case extends beyond the question of whether DeVillier is entitled to compensation, according to Tara Grove, a legal expert from the University of Texas at Austin School of Law.

“What the Supreme Court has to figure out is if these plaintiffs can sue the State of Texas in federal court to complain about whether they have a taking, and the Supreme Court’s not going to get into whether the flooding of the land actually constituted a taking right. That needs to come later,” she told the outlet.

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The dispute centers around whether the land is protected under clauses of the state or U.S. constitution. Texas argues that federal court is not the appropriate venue for seeking compensation and suggests that the plaintiffs should pursue the matter in state court, emphasizing the protections offered by the Texas Constitution. 

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of allowing any plaintiff to sue under the Fifth Amendment for an alleged taking, it could have nationwide ramifications. However, Grove expressed skepticism, citing the Supreme Court’s recent reluctance to permit such actions without explicit congressional authorization. 

The outcome could provide clarity on the jurisdiction for similar cases and the balance between state and federal constitutional protections, the outlet reported.

—Quinn Donoghue 

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