Miles v. Tex. Cent. R.R. & Infrastructure, 20-0393

CourtSupreme Court of Texas
Writing for the CourtDEBRA H. LEHRMANN, JUSTICE
PartiesJames Fredrick Miles, Petitioner, v. Texas Central Railroad & Infrastructure, Inc. and Integrated Texas Logistics, Inc., Respondents
Decision Date24 June 2022
Docket Number20-0393

James Fredrick Miles, Petitioner,

Texas Central Railroad & Infrastructure, Inc. and Integrated Texas Logistics, Inc., Respondents

No. 20-0393

Supreme Court of Texas

June 24, 2022

Argued January 11, 2022

On Petition for Review from the Court of Appeals for the Thirteenth District of Texas

JUSTICE LEHRMANN delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Hecht, Justice Boyd, Justice Busby, and Justice Young joined. Justice Bland did not participate in the decision.



At the outset, it is important to recognize what this case is about and what it is not about. The case involves the interpretation of statutes relating to eminent domain; it does not ask us to opine about whether high-speed rail between Houston and Dallas is a good idea or whether the benefits of the proposed rail service outweigh its detriments. The narrow issue presented is whether the two private entities behind the project have been statutorily granted the power of eminent domain, a power otherwise reserved to the State and its political subdivisions because of the extraordinary intrusion on private-property rights that the exercise of such authority entails.

The owner of real property located along the proposed railway route sued both entities, seeking a declaratory judgment that they lack eminent-domain authority. The entities rely on the Texas Transportation Code's grant of eminent-domain authority to "legal entit[ies] operating a railroad" (railroad companies) and to "corporation[s] chartered under the laws of this state to conduct and operate an electric railway between two municipalities in this state" (interurban electric railway companies) for that authority. Tex. Transp. Code §§ 81.002(2), 112.002(5), 131.011-.012. The trial court held that the entities do not qualify as either railroad companies or interurban electric railway companies and granted summary judgment to the landowner. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the entities qualify as both. We agree with the court of appeals that the entities have eminent-domain power as interurban electric railway companies and need not address whether they also qualify as railroad companies. We therefore affirm the court of appeals' judgment.


I. Background

Texas Central Railroad & Infrastructure, Inc. (Texas Central Railroad) was formed in December 2012 as TXHS Railroad, Inc. In January 2015, Texas Central Railroad amended its articles of incorporation to change its name and to state that it was organized "to plan, build, maintain and operate an interurban electric railroad." In September 2017, Integrated Texas Logistics, Inc. (Texas Logistics) was formed "[t]o construct, acquire, maintain, or operate lines of electric railway between municipalities in this state for the transportation of freight, passengers, or both" and "[t]o operate and transact business as a railroad company." Texas Central Railroad and Texas Logistics (collectively, the Texas Central Entities) share office space, officers, employees, and contact information. As noted, the entities are jointly endeavoring to build a railway for a high-speed train between Houston and Dallas.

According to the Texas Central Entities' summary-judgment evidence, Texas Central Railroad "is primarily responsible for pre-construction activities related to design and right-of-way acquisition," has "overall construction responsibility," and is "responsible for the construction activities related to the tracks, stations, platforms, power systems, communication systems, and other infrastructures along the route." Texas Logistics, in turn, "will support and assist [Texas Central Railroad] and contractors in the procurement, storage, and timely delivery of the rolling stock [trains] and [construction] component parts," "procure, own, and operate any


[necessary] short line railroads," and ultimately "maintain the rail infrastructure and rolling stock."

In January 2016, Texas Central Railroad began conducting "on-the-ground surveys and examinations" of land in connection with evaluating proposed routes for the project. Two months earlier, in November 2015, Texas Central Railroad had contacted petitioner James Miles about surveying his property. Miles owns approximately 600 acres of property in Leon County along the project's "preferred" route, as determined by the Federal Railroad Administration, and the planned railway will essentially bisect Miles's property with a 100-foot right-of-way. Miles refused to consent to a survey of his property and sued Texas Central Railroad for a declaratory judgment that, among other things, Texas Central Railroad lacked eminent-domain authority. Texas Central Railroad counterclaimed for a declaratory judgment that it is a "railroad company" and an "electric railway" with eminent-domain power under Chapters 112 and 131 of the Transportation Code. Texas Central Railroad also sought to enjoin Miles from interfering with its access to the property for survey purposes. Texas Logistics intervened in the suit and sought similar relief.

The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, taking diametrically opposing views on both the proper interpretation of the statutes at issue and the status and wisdom of the project. The Texas Central Entities focused on the following accomplishments as of the date of the summary-judgment hearing in August 2018:

• Texas Central Railroad had spent over $125 million on the project.
• Nearly 100 technical experts were engaged on the project, along with 200 employees and contractors.
• Over 2,000 surveys had been completed, and hundreds of option contracts to purchase land needed for the railway had been executed.
• Texas Central Railroad signed an agreement with Amtrak to connect the railway with Amtrak's interstate rail system.
• The Texas Central Entities retained, as a consultant, Central Japan Railway Company, the company that built and successfully operates the high-speed train in Japan.
• Texas Logistics retained Bechtel, an engineering company that has completed more than 300 major train and subway projects, to manage the project.
• The Texas Central Entities had been engaged for several years with various state and federal regulators to obtain the necessary permits and safety rules. Specifically, the Federal Railroad Administration issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement and was considering Texas Central Railroad's petition for rules to govern the high-speed train's system and operations;[1] Texas Central Railroad was working with the Army Corps of Engineers to secure necessary permits; and Texas Central Railroad had petitioned the Surface Transportation Board to assert jurisdiction over the project.[2]

The Texas Central Entities contended that they satisfy the plain language of the statutory provision granting eminent-domain authority to interurban electric railway companies: they are both "corporation[s] chartered under the laws of this state to conduct and operate an electric railway between two municipalities [Houston and Dallas] in this state." Tex. Transp. Code § 131.011. They also contended that they qualify as railroad companies-legal entities "operating a railroad"-because the ordinary meaning of "operating" includes the Texas Central Entities' work of constructing, conducting, and maintaining a railroad between Houston and Dallas. Id. § 81.002(2).

By contrast, Miles emphasized that:

• Texas Central Railroad did not own any railroad tracks;
• Texas Central Railroad did not own any rolling stock (trains);
• Texas Central Railroad had not constructed any train stations;
• Texas Central Railroad had secured only a small fraction of the necessary financing for the project; and
• Texas Logistics had no employees, officers, or office space independent of Texas Central Railroad.

Miles contended that Texas Central Railroad (1) could not acquire eminent-domain authority merely by performing the equivalent of "checking a box"; (2) did not qualify as a railroad company because it was not presently "operating a railroad, i.e., a physical train on a set of physical tracks"; and (3) did not qualify as an interurban electric railway company because the interurban electric railways the statute references have been obsolete for over seventy years, the statute was not intended


to apply to high-speed rail, and any authority Texas Central Railroad otherwise had as an "interurban" expired.

The trial court granted Miles's summary-judgment motion, declaring that neither Texas Central Railroad nor Texas Logistics qualifies as a railroad company or an interurban electric railway company and dismissing the claims against Miles with prejudice. The trial court also awarded Miles attorney's fees. The Texas Central Entities appealed. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the Texas Central Entities have eminent-domain power as both railroad companies and interurban electric railway companies. 635 S.W.3d 684, 697 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi-Edinburg 2020). We granted Miles's petition for review and have received a substantial number of amicus briefs and letters in support of both Miles and the Texas Central Entities.

II. Standard of Review

"On cross-motions for summary judgment, each party bears the burden of establishing that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." City of Garland v. Dall. Morning News, 22 S.W.3d 351, 356 (Tex. 2000). When the trial court grants one motion and denies the other, as is the case here, we "determine all questions presented" and "render the judgment that the trial court should have rendered." Id.

Evaluating the propriety of summary judgment in this case requires us to engage in statutory interpretation, a legal question governed by well-settled principles:

In interpreting statutes, we must look to the plain language, construing the

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