Pipeline shipments being unloaded in Brewster County, near Alpine, TX, in early February. (Travis Bubenik/KRTS)
This week, the United State’s Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on a case in which a Texas landowner sued a pipeline company claiming their use of eminent domain was unconstitutional.
In a Louisiana courtroom on Wednesday, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in the case John P. Boerschig, Appellant vs. Trans-Pecos Pipeline, LLC.
Boerschig sued Trans-Pecos last year to prevent part of the company’s pipeline from crossing into his 11,000-acre ranch just south of Marfa, Texas.
Boerschig claimed the company’s use of eminent domain violated his right to due process. But a federal judge in Presidio County later that year dismissed the lawsuit, citing the anti-injunction act which bars federal courts from blocking proceedings in state courts.
Those proceedings were condemnation lawsuits that Dallas-based Energy Transfer and its subsidiary Trans-Pecos Pipeline, LLC filed to condemn land for the project.
However, Boerschig’s lawyer, Renea Hicks, argued before an appellate court that the proceedings at the state level were administrative and the anti-injunction act therefore didn’t apply.
Judges with the 5th Court wondered what would happen if they ruled in Boerschig’s favor, asking, “Where does that take you though?”
“It takes us to, if we convince the Judge to issue the injunction that we’re right on our constitutional claim then they have to dispossess themselves of [Boerschig’s] property that they’ve taken, they’re acting illegally,” Hicks replied.
In part, Tom Zabel, the lawyer representing Trans-Pecos Pipeline, LLC., argued that if the case is sent back to the district court and Boerschig wins an injunction, he would then enjoin what is now considered a state judicial proceeding. But even if that didn’t happen, Zabel said, the state proceedings were more than administrative.
“There is no question that a condemnation case is a civil proceeding from a time it is filed to the time it finishes,” Zabel told the judges.
At the end of the nearly hour-long oral arguments, the appeals court said the panel would review the arguments for what one judge called “a complex case, to put it mildly.”