TCAA, in conjunction with the Texas Municipal League, files amicus briefs and comments in support of cities on many issues. To keep up to date on the status of these issues, go to http://www.tml.org/p/AMICUSBRIEFUPDATE_41015.pdf .
Inverse Condemnation: City of Cedar Hill v. Anderton, No. 15-0214 in the Supreme Court of Texas. This case, on its face, appears to relate solely to an impermissible expansion of a non-conforming use under a city’s zoning ordinance. But the court of appeals’ opinion implicates much more, specifically the failure to apply the Texas Supreme Court’s precedent. The key issue is whether an enforcement action brought by a city to enforce its ordinances is, by itself, enough to form the basis of an inverse condemnation claim. According to the Supreme Court, the answer is “no.” The Court’s recent opinion in City of Houston v. Carlson, 451 S.W.3d 828 (Tex. 2014) holds that a court lacks jurisdiction to decide a regulatory takings claim based solely on the effects of a city’s enforcement actions. The letter brief in support of the city’s petition for review was filed on April 7, 2015.
Vehicle Impoundment: RQ-0014-KP, Whether municipalities or local law enforcement agencies are authorized to impound a motor vehicle for lack of proof of insurance or financial responsibility. The Texas Municipal League and the Texas City Attorneys Association argued to the attorney general that cities do have authority to adopt policies pursuant to Chapter 601, Transportation Code, to impound a vehicle for lack of financial responsibility and condition the release on presentation of evidence of financial responsibility. The comments explained that: (1) the Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Act (Act) generally prohibits a person from operating a motor vehicle in this state unless financial responsibility is established for that vehicle; (2) failure to establish responsibility generally leads to the presumption that the vehicle has been operated in violation of the Act, which is an offense; and (3) such an offense may provide the probable cause necessary to arrest an individual and, depending on the totality of the circumstances, to impound a vehicle. The comments also explained that the Act expressly requires the impoundment of a vehicle by a city in some circumstances, and allows release of the vehicle after the presentation of evidence of valid financial responsibility. The comments were filed on March 25, 2015.
Condemnation: Trant v. Brazos Valley Solid Waste Mgmt. Agency, Inc., No. 14-14-00507, in the Fourteenth Court of Appeals of Texas. TML and TCAA filed an amicus brief in support of the Brazos Valley Solid Waste Management Agency. The Trants entered into an option contract for land with the Cities of Bryan and College Station in 2000. The cities exercised the option to purchase the land and then formed the Brazos Valley Solid Waste Management Agency, Inc., to operate a landfill on the property. Ten years after the purchase of the property, the cities sought to place a firing range to train police officers on the landfill property. The Trants objected to the placement of the firing range, claiming that using the property for anything other than a landfill violated the option contract. The Trants argue that the sale of land was essentially a condemnation, so Article I, Section 17 of the Texas Constitution waives governmental immunity. The TML and TCAA brief emphasizes that a contract for sale is not a condemnation proceeding and asks the court to affirm the trial court’s decision that there was no waiver of immunity. The brief was filed on March 16, 2015.
Utility Relocation: Oncor Elec. Delivery v. Richardson, No. 05-14-00843 in the Dallas Court of Appeals. The issue in this case is whether Oncor should be responsible for the cost of relocating poles and equipment to accommodate a public improvement to widen alleys in the City of Richardson. While some of the arguments made by both parties are specific to the language in the City of Richardson’s franchise and right-of-way ordinance, two arguments apply to all cities: (1) both the Public Utility Regulatory Act and Texas common law require utilities such as Oncor to bear certain relocation costs; and (2) a utility’s tariff cannot shift the burden of relocation costs away from the utility to the city. The Steering Committee of Cities Served by Oncor and the Texas Municipal League, in this joint brief, urged the court to find that both Texas common law and the Texas Legislature require utilities such as Oncor to bear relocation costs. The brief was filed on March 16, 2015.