Face Challenges Confidently

058 Tarrant County Water Control and Improvement District Number One v. Haupt, Inc.,

Friday, September 4th, 2015

Richard F. Brown

The following is not a legal opinion. You should consult your attorney if the case may be of some significance to you.
Tarrant County Water Control and Improvement District Number One v. Haupt, Inc., 854 S.W.2d 909 (Tex. 1993), explores the rights of the mineral owner and the surface owner in the same tract when the owners have conflicting interest. The Water District flooded most of Haupt’s land to create a reservoir for drinking water. Haupt contended it was entitled to compensation for “inverse condemnation” (governmental interference without a condemnation proceeding). The trial court upheld the Water District. The Appeals Court held for Haupt, but the Appeals Court did not consider the “accommodation doctrine.”
Held: Reversed and remanded to the Appeals Courts to consider the accommodation doctrine before determining that an inverse condemnation has occurred. It is well-established in Texas that the mineral estate is the dominate estate, and the mineral owner may generally use so much of the surface as is reasonably necessary to extract the minerals. However, over the last 20 years, the Texas Supreme Court has developed the accommodation doctrine, which is:

Where there is an existing use by the surface owner which would otherwise be precluded or impaired, and where under established practices in the industry there are alternatives available to the lessee whereby minerals can be recovered, the rules of reasonable usage of the surface may require the adoption of an alternative by the lessee.

The burden of proof is on the surface owner. Thus, if the Water District has proven that Haupt’s use of the surface is not reasonably necessary because other non-interfering and reasonable ways and means of producing the minerals exist, the use of which will permit the surface owner to continue the existing use of the surface, then inverse condemnation has not occurred.
The significance of the case is that it extends the accommodation doctrine into condemnation proceedings and because the Court continues to determine that “reasonable” alternative exist without giving much regard to increased costs to the mineral owner.