The 14th Court of Appeal in Houston shut down an effort by Grimes County to stop Texas Central Partners LLC and its affiliates from taking surveys along the company’s planned high-speed rail route that would also cut through Madison County.
A panel of three judges - Chief Justice Kem Thompson Frost and justices Tracy Christopher and Frances Bourliot – ruled on July 25 that a lower court had erred in granting summary judgment and issuing a permanent injunction in Grimes County’s common-law public-nuisance suit against Texas Central Partners and Pacheco Koch Consulting Engineers, Inc. The county had claimed surveys performed by the two companies had unreasonably interfered with the public's use of roads, according to the ruling by the appeals court.
“After contractors doing surveying work for a project of appellant/defendant Texas Central Partners, LLC, placed pins and markings in various county roadways, Grimes County sued Texas Central and defendant Pacheco Koch Consulting Engineers, Inc. (the "Texas Central Parties"), asserting a single claim for common-law public nuisance,” the justices said in the ruling.
“We are encouraged that the court of appeals reversed the trial court’s injunction against Texas Central, holding that the County submitted defective evidence and failed to meet its burden of proof,” Holly Reed, Managing Director External Affairs for Texas Central said in an e-mail Monday.
Jon Fultz, the lawyer representing Grimes County could not be immediately reached for comment.
According to court documents, State Rep. Ben Leman of Anderson (then Grimes Country Judge) had alleged in an affidavit “that employees or agents of Pacheco Koch were discovered to have driven metal pins into the roadway surface of one or more county-maintained roadways, including Grimes County Roads 178, 215, 302, and 313.
“These employees and agents also had painted markings in one or more county-maintained roadways. This conduct caused damage to these roadways.”
Neither company, Leman said in the affidavit, had requested permission to place the pins or change road markings. He also said that Pacheco Kock employees impaired right-of-way on many roads by “having individuals exit their vehicles in such rights of way, having such individuals walking, standing, or working in such rights of way and roadways.”
The 506th District Court of Grimes County ruled in favor of the county, issuing summary judgment and a permanent injunction from performing surveys or other studies that damage, alter or impair county rights-of-way. Texas Central, though not Pacheco Koch, appealed the ruling.
The Appeals court justices said the lower court erred in overruling objections by Texas Central about statements in affidavits by Leman and country road and bridges administrator Greg Blake that the survey crews intentionally interfered with traffic on county roads and put individuals at risk.
“Because these statements are conclusory, they cannot support a summary judgment in Grimes County's favor, and the trial court abused its discretion in overruling Texas Central's objections,” the justices said in the ruling. The court also said the county had not conclusively proven the existence of a public nuisance.
“Because the summary-judgment evidence does not conclusively establish a common-law public nuisance, the trial court erred in granting Grimes County's summary-judgment motion.”
Texas Central says it will continue with its practices going forward, saying there are commonplace procedures.
“Texas Central and its contractors have observed, and will continue to observe, safe and professional survey practices,” Reed said. “The County’s lawsuit singles out a company who is performing standard survey practices that are also used across the State by TxDOT, roadbuilders and construction companies. Texas Central utilized a 1.5 inch pin and paint and restored the site back in a satisfactory manner which was signed off by the County.”