Texas high court sides with landowners in surface rights case

Ruling clarifies surface owners have protections against those who may own interest in mineral estate as well as surface estate.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of Coyote Lake Ranch LLC in its case against the city of Lubbock, Texas. The court ruled that the accommodation doctrine that applies to mineral estates shall also apply to surface estates — a decision praised by the Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Assn. (TSCRA).

“The Supreme Court’s decision is a major victory for landowners across Texas,” TSCRA president Richard Thorpe said. “This ruling clarifies surface owners have protections against those who may own an interest in not only the mineral estate but also the surface estate.”

In 1953, the city of Lubbock bought the rights to Coyote Lake Ranch’s groundwater. In 2012, Coyote Lake Ranch took issue with the city's plan to drill an additional 20 groundwater test wells in the middle of the ranch, followed by 60 additional groundwater wells across the ranch. The owners of the ranch said the construction of these wells would have impeded the travel of their irrigation systems and destroyed grazing for their cattle. The ranch argued that the accommodation doctrine, used in the oil and gas industry, should also apply in this case.

Coyote Lake Ranch filed its case with the Bailey County District Court, where a temporary injunction against the city halted construction of the groundwater wells in November 2013. In response to the injunction, the city filed an appeal in the Amarillo Court of Appeals, and the court ruled in favor of the city in June 2014.

Coyote Lake Ranch eventually petitioned the Texas Supreme Court to hear their case. TSCRA filed an amicus brief in November 2014 in support of Coyote Lake Ranch, urging the Supreme Court to hear the case. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the case on Oct. 14, 2015, and the court ruled in favor of the ranch today. The decision states that the city of Lubbock has the responsibility to use only the amount of surface “reasonably necessary” to its operations and only do this with “due regard” for the rights of the surface owner. 

“TSCRA appreciates Coyote Lake Ranch, the Supreme Court of Texas and other leaders who have worked tirelessly on this case. TSCRA will continue to be actively engaged in private property rights issues and work to preserve and protect landowners’ constitutional rights,” Thorpe concluded. 

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