With today’s orders, the Texas Supreme Court issued one opinion. The Court did not choose any new cases for oral argument.

The opinion was in The State of Texas and the Texas Department of Transportation v. NICO-WF1, L.L.C., No. 11-0312 , which was argued barely two weeks ago (on October 16, 2012).

Dedication of land for public use: In for a penny, in for a pound

The word of the day is “purpresture.”

The dispute comes from Los Fresnos, Texas (Google Map), and involves a street dedication made in 1928. The dedication was for a swath of land 100 feet wide, and it specified that the 15 outermost feet of the dedication was for sidewalks. When the road was built, it stayed within the 70 feet that the dedication left available for the center street.

Now, the State has plans to widen the roadway beyond the 70 feet — but within the full 100 feet that was part of this overall dedication. Some of the buildings adjacent to this street had, in the intervening decades, expanded out into this outermost “sidewalk” area. They argued in response that the dedication for street use was only 70 feet, so that if the State wants to make the street wider (and thus require them to alter the buildings), it would have to condemn the land.

The court of appeals agreed with the landowners, concluding that the original dedication had limited how each portion of the easement could be used.

The Texas Supreme Court reversed. It based its decision on the rule that, while landowners can impose “reasonable” conditions on land dedicated for public use, they cannot impose any condition that is “inconsistent with the grant.” As is often the case, how the case ends up depends on the Court’s starting assumption. Here, that assumption was about whether the purpose of this dedication was centered on the street itself (giving more flexibility to the State) or was for sidewalks as well as streets (each of which has some different public use that might have motivated a dedication).

The Court concluded that this particular dedication, despite any conditions written into its text, was really about the street, not the sidewalks. For that reason, a condition purporting to limit the width of that street to just 70 feet was void. And, thus, the State already holds the easement for the full 100 feet — and need not condemn any additional property or (perhaps more important to everyone here) pay any additional compensation to the landowner whose building will now have to be adjusted or removed.

I’m not sure if a future landowner could accomplish the objective by having two separate dedications — one for a street and a separate one for a sidewalk. But until the Court provides a little clarity about how to distinguish “reasonable” conditions from void ones, I would seek careful advice when choosing how close to an existing street you can place new construction.