Justia Texas Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental Law
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The question presented to the Supreme Court in this case was whether Texas recognizes a legal right to stigma damages, which represent damage to the reputation of realty. Plaintiff, a ranch owner, sued Defendant, the owner of a metal processing facility, for nuisance, trespass and damages after the Commission found that Defendant had committed an unauthorized discharge of industrial hazardous waste that had affected Plaintiff’s property. As to damages, Plaintiff sought only a loss of the fair market value of the ranch and relied on an expert witness who testified that, in her opinion, the ranch had suffered a loss of market value due to stigma resulting from fear, risk, and negative public perceptions. A jury found that Defendant was negligent and that negligence caused the property to lose $349,312 of its market value. The trial court entered judgment on the verdict, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that even if Texas law permits recovery of stigma damages, Plaintiff’s evidence was legally insufficient to prove them. View "Houston Unlimited, Inc. Metal Processing v. Mel Acres Ranch" on Justia Law

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A mineral lessee operated two wells on two contiguous tracts of land. When one of the wells stopped producing, the lessee pooled parts of the two mineral leases. Landowners subsequently bought a tract of land that included the road the lessee used to access the producing well. The road was across the surface of the lease without production. After traffic on the road increased, the landowners filed suit against the lessee, claiming that the lessee had no legal right to use the surface of their tract of land to produce minerals from the operating well. The trial court determined that the lessee did not have the right to use the road to access the producing lease and granted declaratory and injunctive relief. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) once pooling occurred, the pooled parts of the two contiguous tracts no longer maintained separate identities insofar as where production from the pooled interests was located; and (2) therefore, the lessee had the right to use the road to access the pooled part of the tract of land containing the producing well. View "Key Operating & Equip., Inc. v. Hegar" on Justia Law

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This proceeding arose from an application to amend an existing water-quality permit filed by the owner and operator of a dairy farm located in the North Bosque River watershed. The City of Waco and Bosque River Coalition opposed the proposed permit. After the executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality determined that the application and draft permit met the requirements of applicable law, the Coalition asked to intervene as a party in a contested case hearing. The Commission denied the request, finding that the Commission lacked standing, and issued the permit. The district court affirmed, but the court of appeals reversed, finding that the Coalition was an "affected person" as defined by the Texas Water Code and thus was entitled to a contested case hearing. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, pursuant to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality v. City of Waco, the companion to this case, the Coalition's status as an affected person was not determinative of the right to a contested case hearing because the Water Code expressly exempted the proposed amendment from contested case procedures. View "Tex. Comm'n on Envtl. Quality v. Bosque River Coalition" on Justia Law

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The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (Commission) granted an amendment to a dairy concentrated animal feeding operation's water-quality permit. A downstream city (City) sought to intervene in the permit process and obtain a contested case hearing, claiming that the dairy's operations under the amended permit would adversely affect the quality of the municipal water supply. By rule, an affected person may request a contested case hearing when authorized by law. The Commission granted the amended permit without a contested case hearing. The City appealed, claiming it was an "affected person" entitled to a contested case hearing. The district court affirmed, but the court of appeals reversed, concluding that the City was an affected person entitled to a hearing. The Supreme Court reversed and rendered judgment for the Commission, holding (1) a person affected by a proposed water-quality permit has the right to request a hearing, but the Commission has discretion to deny the request under certain circumstances; and (2) sufficient evidence supported the Commission's determination that the proposed amended permit did not foreclose Commission discretion to consider the amended application at a regular meeting rather than after a contested case hearing. View "Tex. Comm'n on Envtl. Quality v. City of Waco" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff owed the surface estate of a forty-acre tract. Defendant, the lessee of the tract's severed mineral estate, constructed a well site on Plaintiff's tract without Plaintiff's approval. Plaintiff filed suit seeking an injunction requiring Defendant to remove the well, asserting that Defendant failed to accommodate his existing use of the surface so Defendant's acts exceeded its rights in the mineral estate and constituted a trespass. The trial court granted summary judgment for Defendant, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, even assuming that the failure of Defendant's operations to accommodate Defendant's existing use would have been sufficient to support injunctive relief, Plaintiff failed to raise a material fact issue as to whether Defendant failed to accommodate his use. View "Merriman v. XTO Energy, Inc." on Justia Law

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Southern Crushed Concrete (SCC) filed a municipal permit application with the City of Houston to move a concrete-crushing facility to a new location. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (Commission) had previously issued a permit authorizing construction of the facility at the proposed location. The City, however, denied the permit because the concrete-crushing operations would violate a city ordinance's location restriction. SCC sued the City, arguing that the ordinance was preempted by the Texas Clean Air Act (TCAA), which provides that a municipal ordinance may not make unlawful a condition or act approved or authorized under the TCAA or the Commission's rules or orders. The trial court granted summary judgment for the City, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the ordinance was preempted by the TCAA and unenforceable. View "S. Crushed Concrete, LLC v. City of Houston" on Justia Law