Ninth Court affirms eminent domain powers of TransCanada Keystone Pipeline

By David Yates | May 23, 2013

A Texas appeals court has ruled that a Beaumont judge did not err when he granted a foreign company’s petition to condemn land for the construction of a crude oil pipeline.

TransCanada is constructing the Keystone Pipeline to carry crude from Alberta, Canada, to the Texas Gulf Coast, court papers say. 

A group of Southeast Texas rice farmers balked at the land sale, so in June 2011 TransCanada filed a petition for condemnation against Texas Rice Land Partners, James and David Holland and Mike and Walter Latta.

On Sept. 24, 2012, Judge Tom Rugg, who was presiding over the Jefferson County Court at Law No. 1 at the time, ruled that TransCanada is a common carrier and therefore had the right to seize land in Jefferson County for the pipeline through the power of eminent domain.


A month later, Texas Rice Land Partners filed the petition for a writ of mandamus, court records show.

On May 23 the Texas Ninth District Court of Appeals denied TRLP’s petition for writ of mandamus to reverse a lower court’s ruling that TransCanada is a common carrier with eminent domain powers.

Justices in Beaumont heard oral arguments on March 7.

In its opinion, authored by Justice Charles Kreger, the Ninth Court found TransCanada produced “undisputed evidence” substantiating its common carrier status.

“We conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion in granting TransCanada’s motion for writ of possession,” the opinion states. “We deny (TRLP’s) petition for writ of mandamus.”

In its appeal, Texas Rice Land Partners argued that the “trial court abused its discretion by refusing to require TransCanada to establish its authority as a common carrier before granting TransCanada possession of Texas rice property.”

“TransCanada does not have the power of eminent domain because it is not a common carrier and the pipeline is not a common carrier pipeline.”

Conversely, TransCanada argued in court papers that the pipeline is a common carrier pipeline available for public use and that the foreign company is a common carrier.

During a Sept. 12 hearing, Terry Wood, the attorney for the rice farmers, attempted to link the TransCanda case to a ruling made by the Texas Supreme Court in August 2011 denying Denbury Green common carrier status in a pipeline project of its own.

However, the Denbury pipeline would have carried CO2, not crude oil.

TransCanada is represented in part by Thomas Zabel, attorney for the Houston law firm Zabel Freeman.

Jefferson County case No. 118867

Appeals case No. 09-12-00484

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