Luke Ellis

Luke Ellis

email: lellis@jmehlaw.com
phone: (512) 215-4078
fax: (512) 628-7169
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Luke Ellis represents property owners when private property is taken by the government and other condemning authorities. Texas Super Lawyers has recognized Luke as one of Texas’s top trial lawyers concentrating on eminent domain and condemnation. He teaches the course on eminent domain and land takings at the University of Texas School of Law and has testified before the Texas Legislature to promote eminent domain reform.

Luke concentrates his practice on representing clients against new highway and roadway-widening projects, particularly properties with commercial, retail, industrial, and special uses. His practice also concentrates on representing clients whose property has been negatively impacted by high-voltage electric-transmission lines, pipelines, high-speed rail, and other public-infrastructure projects. Luke’s cases have involved takings of office buildings, restaurants, hotels, convenience stores, gas stations, shopping centers, industrial properties, mines, quarries, existing and developing residential subdivisions, ranches, recreational tracts, and vacant land. Luke only represents property owners facing condemnation and eminent domain proceedings, not the governmental or private entities that take property.

Luke is a trial lawyer with experience—having led trial teams and personally conducted voir dires, opening arguments, witness examinations, and closing arguments. In addition to his trial work, Luke has personally handled countless special commissioners’ hearings and contested hearings. Luke has obtained successful results in complex condemnation and eminent domain cases across major metropolitan areas of Texas, including greater Houston, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, El Paso, Rio Grande Valley (McAllen/Brownsville/Harlingen), Waco, and Wichita Falls. Luke has offices in Austin and Houston (by appointment only).

Luke is committed to defending property owners’ constitutional rights in condemnation matters. Additional communities where Luke has defended property owners against land takings include Addison, Baytown, Bastrop, Bellmead, Belton, Bruceville-Eddy, Brenham, Bryan, Burton, Cleburne, College Station, Corpus Christi, Cotulla, Denton, Decatur, Georgetown, Elm Mott, Fredericksburg, Hewitt, Hillsboro, Lampasas, Leander, Mansfield, McKinney, Mount Pleasant, McKinney, New Braunfels, Pflugerville, Richland Hills, Round Rock, Robinson, San Marcos, Seguin, Shenandoah, and Tyler, Texas. Luke has appeared in condemnation and eminent domain lawsuits in Bastrop County, Bell County, Bexar County, Brazoria County, Cameron County, Collin County, Comanche County, Dallas County, Denton County, Ellis County, El Paso County, Erath County, Freestone County, Hays County, Hidalgo County, Gillespie County, Grayson County, Guadalupe County, Grimes County, Harris County, Hill County, La Salle County, Lampasas County, Leon County, Kerr County, Mills County, Montague County, Montgomery County, McLennan County, Nueces County, Tarrant County, Travis County, Van Zandt County, Wise County, Wood County, and Williamson County.

Luke is an honors graduate of both the University of Texas and the University of Texas School of Law, where he was a member of the Texas Law Review.  Following graduation, he served as a law clerk on the Texas Supreme Court. He is admitted to practice in Texas, New York, and the U.S. District Courts for the Southern, Northern, Western, and Eastern Districts of Texas.

Luke has actively contributed to his community during his years as a lawyer. He served on the board of directors for Austin Habitat for Humanity for seven years (2006-2012) and served two terms as board president. He participated in a post-tsunami home building project in Sri Lanka with Habitat for Humanity International and is a founding member, former chair, and advisory board member of Austin Habitat Young Professionals. He previously served as a co-chair and guest lecturer for the People’s Law School, an annual Austin Bar Association event designed to teach people about their legal rights. A 2007 graduate of Leadership Austin, Luke served on the advisory committee for the first ever Leadership Austin Emerge class. Luke is the author of the Austin Chronicle’s “The Common Law,” an informational monthly column about everyday legal issues, and for five years he hosted News8Austin’s weekly television news segment of the same name.

Mr. Ellis has received several awards recognizing both his exceptional abilities as an eminent domain lawyer and his substantial contributions to the community.

• Texas Super Lawyers – Condemnation and Eminent Domain (2015)

• Texas Super Lawyers – “Rising Star” – Condemnation and Eminent Domain (2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014)

• Austin’s Outstanding Young Lawyer – Austin Bar Association (2009)

• Austin Under 40 Award Winner – Legal Category (2008)

• Austin United Way’s 2007 Young Professional of the Year

Luke grew up in Houston. He was lucky enough to meet his wife Peni while volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. Peni and Luke live in Austin with their three children and are active in the Austin community.

Education

B.A., Political Science, University of Texas at Austin, 1997 (with honors).

J.D., University of Texas School of Law, 2002 (with honors, Texas Law Review).

REPRESENTATIVE MATTERS

Favorable jury verdict as lead counsel in pipeline easement condemnation case in Johnson County, Texas. Obtained jury verdict approximately 20 times greater than the pipeline company’s offer. The private, for-profit pipeline company took a 2.9445-acre easement from land owned by family-held limited partnership. The land had existing pipeline easements and a mineral lease. The pipeline company offered $79,979 as just compensation. The property owner argued for $1,630,000 in just compensation. The jury awarded $1,630,000 in total compensation, which after pre-judgment interest was included, resulted in a final judgment exceeding $2,100,000. The major issues in the case were the property’s highest and best use and the damages to the remaining land outside the pipeline easement. The case is currently on appeal.

Favorable jury verdict as lead counsel in high-voltage electric power line easement condemnation case in Wichita County, Texas. Obtained final judgment approximately 8 times greater than the power line company’s initial offer. Oncor Electric Delivery Company, L.P. took a 33.65-acre easement for construction of a 345kV high-voltage power line. Oncor originally offered $54,731 as just compensation. The property owner, with Luke as lead counsel, argued for $393,165 in just compensation. The jury awarded $393,165 in total compensation, which after pre-judgment interest was included, resulted in a final judgment of $445,365. The major issues in the case were the tract’s highest and best use and the damages to the remaining land outside the power line easement. Oncor did not file an appeal. The recovery to the client, after attorneys’ fees and litigation expenses, was $304,405.79.

Favorable settlement against the State of Texas (TxDOT) as lead counsel in condemnation case involving the expansion of IH-35 through an industrial use property in McLennan County.

Favorable result against the State of Texas and Hays County as lead counsel in condemnation case involving proposed expansion of FM 1626 through a special use property. The government agreed to withdraw the proposed taking, and the landowner retained valuable property rights.

Favorable settlements for multiple landowners as lead counsel against high voltage electric power companies such as Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), CenterPoint Energy, Oncor Electric Delivery, Lone Star Transmission, Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC), South Texas Electric Coop (STEC) (Lampasas, Guadalupe, Collin, Comal, Denton, Williamson, Mills, Comanche, Erath, Johnson, Wise, Wichita, Bell, La Salle Counties).

Favorable settlement against the State of Texas (TxDOT) as lead counsel in condemnation case involving the expansion of IH-35 through a nationally-branded hotel in Dallas County.

Favorable settlement against the State of Texas (TxDOT) as lead counsel in condemnation case involving the expansion of US 290 through a major big-box retail complex in Harris County.

Favorable settlement against numerous pipeline companies as lead counsel in condemnation cases in Greater Houston (Harris and Chambers Counties) for pipeline easement corridor takings.

Favorable settlements as lead counsel for property owners against numerous pipeline companies in Greater Dallas-Fort Worth (Tarrant, Johnson, Ellis, Denton, Wise, Van Zandt Counties) for pipeline easement takings.

Favorable settlement against the State of Texas (TxDOT) as lead counsel in condemnation case involving the expansion of IH-35 through a convenience store and gas-station property in McLennan County.

Favorable settlement against the State of Texas (TxDOT) as lead counsel in condemnation case involving the expansion of IH-35 through a nationally-branded fast food restaurant in Bell County.

Favorable settlement against the State of Texas in condemnation case involving the new construction for SH-45-SE tollway project in Travis County, Texas.

Favorable settlement against Williamson County in condemnation case involving the new Ronald Reagan Boulevard construction through an existing limestone quarry.

Favorable settlements for multiple landowners in Travis County facing water and wastewater pipeline easement acquisitions.

PUBLICATIONS AND PRESENTATIONS

University of Texas School of Law – “Eminent Domain and Condemnation” – Adjunct Professor (Spring Semester 2016)

“High-Speed Rail & Centerpoint Power Line – Right to Take and Valuation Challenges in a Texas Eminent Domain Case,” hosted by the Waller County Advocacy Group, February 27, 2016

“Eminent Domain – High-Speed Rail & Centerpoint Power Line,” hosted by the Waller County Advocacy Group, January 13, 2016

“Property Owner and Land Rights Conference,” College Station, May 9, 2015

“Texas Pipeline Easement Condemnations – Issues to Consider,” PUG Permian Basin Oil & Gas Conference, Fort Worth, May 19, 2015

Texas Legislature — Testimony In Support of S.B. 474 (March 9, 2015) Find testimony for SB 474 here. (Testimony on SB 474 begins at the 19:45 minute mark).

“Texas Condemnation: Problems and Solutions From the Property Owner’s Perspective,” 13th Annual Policy Orientation for Texas Legislature, Austin, January 8, 2015

“STEC Electric Powerlines—The Fundamentals of Eminent Domain,” Town Hall Meeting, Cotulla, January 7, 2015

“Rio Grande Valley—The Fundamentals of Eminent Domain,” Town Hall Meeting, McAllen, January 6, 2015

“TRWD Water Pipelines and Eminent Domain,” Town Hall Meeting, Mansfield, December 16, 2014

“High Voltage Power Lines and Eminent Domain From the Landowner’s Perspective,” Hill Country Alliance Workshop, Fredericksburg, September 6, 2014

“Legal Issues for Texas Civil Engineers – Eminent Domain and Condemnation,” Austin Civil Engineers Presentation, August 13, 2014

“The Fundamentals of Eminent Domain,” Hidalgo County Bar Association Luncheon, July 2, 2014

“Property Rights and Eminent Domain,” Hood County Bar Association Luncheon, Granbury, May 23, 2014

“Property Rights and Eminent Domain,” Somervell County Town Hall Meeting, Glen Rose, May 24, 2014

“Land Ownership as a Keystone Right: Five issues in Condemnations for Pipeline Easements,” co-presented with Justin Hodge, Dallas Bar Association Luncheon, Dallas, June 18, 2013

“Landownership as a Keystone Right: Eminent domain and easements,” San Antonio Bar Association-Natural Resources Section Luncheon, San Antonio, January 9, 2014

“Texas Condemnation The Good and The Bad: From the Landowner’s Perspective,” 12th Annual Policy Orientation for Texas Legislature, Austin, January 9, 2014

“Landownership as a Keystone Right: Five Issues in Condemnations for Pipeline Easements,” co-authored with Justin Hodge, 39th Annual Ernest E. Smith Oil, Gas and Mineral Law Conference, Houston, March 2013

“Eminent Domain 101—The Nuts and Bolts of How the Condemnation Process Works,” Flick Commercial Real Estate Report, Sept.–Oct. 2007

Lecturer, CLE International – Texas Eminent Domain Conference (2007 & 2008)

QUOTES

Times Record News – Wichita Falls, Texas

February 18, 2015

After a three-day trial in Wichita County Court at Law No. 1, jurors awarded Edward Clack $393,165, the full amount he requested. Judge Gary Butler entered a judgment of $445,365, which includes interest and court costs. Oncor may appeal.

“This judgment sends a clear message, Texas landowners should understand that they have a constitutional right to collect fair damages when power lines lower the value of their land. Landowners only get one opportunity to recover, but the easements remain forever,” said Austin-based eminent domain attorney Luke Ellis in a news release.

http://www.timesrecordnews.com/news/local-news/burk-man-wins-oncor-suit_68500920

Star-Telegram — Fort Worth, Texas:
August 12, 2014
Luke Ellis, an Austin attorney specializing in eminent domain cases, said operators refuse to show in court why their pipelines should be common carriers, claiming it is proprietary information.

Getting that information can be difficult.

“There needs to be more meat on the bone to prove common carrier status,” Ellis said. “There isn’t any routing process that exists. … They can just pick the way they want.”

Brady and Ellis suggest that a system similar to that used by the Texas Public Utility Commission for locating power lines might be warranted.

Everyone affected by a power line location is notified and has a chance to talk about it. Hearings are held before anything happens. The PUC has used this process for years, they said.

Cannon, however, said there is nothing to keep a landowner from going to the courthouse.

“The rule does not change the landowners’ right to take this to District Court, if they want to,” Cannon said.

Ellis said that is true. But though he persuaded a Johnson County jury this year to order a pipeline operator to pay $1.6 million for an easement to cross property in Mansfield — 20 times more than the company offered originally — that case started in 2007 and appeals may take two more years, he said.

In the meantime, the pipeline was built and buried.

Read more: “New Rules Proposed on Eminent Domain Process for New Pipelines.”

Stop the Pipeline:
July 22, 2014

“This verdict sends a strong message that pipeline easements often cause significant damages to property beyond the easement area,” says Austin-based eminent domain attorney Luke Ellis of Johns Marrs Ellis & Hodge LLP, who represented the family partnership at trial. “Unfortunately, many Texas landowners don’t realize that they have a constitutional right to seek just compensation for such damages.”

Read more: “Texas Court Finds that Pipelines do Devalue Land, and Awards Family $2.1 million in Damages.”

KGNS — Laredo, Texas:
June 18, 2014

Luke Ellis, who represented the Johnson County landowner in its case against Peregrine, said, “I think that juries are becoming much more sensitive to the potential negative impacts that pipeline easements can cause to property.”

Read more: “Pipeline Companies Paying More to Cross Private Land.”

Houston Chronicle — Houston, Texas:
May 22, 2014

Disputes between pipeline companies wanting to pay the lowest possible price and landowners demanding the maximum possible remuneration have led to a booming business for Luke Ellis and other attorneys who specialize in eminent domain cases. Ellis says too many landowners don’t get compensated for the damages to the adjacent property they own, which could lose value by having a pipeline nearby.

“We’re seeing a much larger number of pipeline acquisition and takings cases, and we’re certainly seeing a lot more landowners becoming more knowledgeable about what their rights might be,” Ellis said. “The typical impediment to getting a case resolved is a drastically different view of how the pipeline damages the remaining property.”

Ellis said cases typically go to trial before a county court-of-law jury. Both sides present evidence for why their valuation is the best.

Read more: “Pipeline Companies Should Pay for Full Value of Easements.”

Star-Telegram — Fort Worth, Texas:
May 20, 2014

“One of the big issues was determining how much land does the landowner own and its value,” Ellis said. The case was eventually settled.

Those kinds of challenges would certainly come into play in a battle with the bureau.

“I would tell folks to be patient, but if it appears the federal government is going forward to assert claims, I would tell folks they need to hire a lawyer,” Ellis said.

If the agency moves forward with its assertion that this has always been public land, Ellis said, title searches would probably have to be conducted all the way back to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Landowners would be wise to pool resources for a costly legal battle, some suggest.

“You’ve got to win on two fronts,” Ellis said. “On a takings claim, you’ve got to prove an ownership right to this property. And if you win on that front, you’ve got to prove what are your damages.”

Read more: “Red River Ranchers Fear Losing Land to Feds.”

Texas A&M Agriculture Law Blog — College Station, Texas:
April 20, 2014

This case is important for all landowners because it indicates that when property is taken for an easement, the compensation due must consider not only the value of the strip of property taken, but also includes monetary impacts on the remaining land.

Luke Ellis, attorney for the landowners, explained that although this case did not involve agricultural land, the same issue can arise when dealing with condemnation of farms or ranches. Specifically, all landowners should seek compensation not only for the taking of the easement itself, but for adverse impacts that will have on the remaining property including the loss of the right to exclude others from coming and going on private property, the loss of development potential, and any onerous terms that are imposed on the landowner by the easement agreement.

Read more: “Important Victory for Texas Landowners in Eminent Domain Case.”

Powell Shale Digest — Fort Worth, Texas:
April 1, 2014

According to a statement issued by Eagle Ford’s attorney, Austin lawyer Luke Ellis, “this verdict sends a strong message that pipeline easements often cause significant damages to property beyond the easement area.” Ellis said “many Texas landowners don’t realize that they have a constitutional right to seek just compensation for such damages.” Peregrine plans to appeal, according to a statement from Ellis’ firm.

Read more: “Jury Awards Landowner $1.6 million for Pipeline Easement Land Devaluation.”

Cleburne Times Review — Cleburne, Texas:
March 27, 2014

Under the terms of the agreement, “not one shovel full of dirt” can be turned in the easement area without receiving approval from Peregrine, Ellis said.

That and other factors decrease the overall value of the property, which fronts a major roadway and is zoned commercial, attorneys for the family argued.

Anyone wanting to purchase and develop the property faces additional costs in several ways because of the restrictions placed on the land by Peregrine, Ellis said, including building parking lots and bringing in utilities necessary to commercially develop the property.

Ellis said his firm is representing another Johnson County landowner in a similar case also against Peregrine, which will also be heard in County Court at Law No. 2. That case involves land close to the Eagle Ford Land parcel, but not sitting on a main thoroughfare.

Read more: “Landowners Awarded $2.1M in Pipeline Case.”

SpectraBusters — Blog:
March 26, 2014

“This verdict sends a strong message that pipeline easements often cause significant damages to property beyond the easement area,” says Austin-based eminent domain attorney Luke Ellis of Johns Marrs Ellis & Hodge LLP, who represented the family partnership at trial. “Unfortunately, many Texas landowners don’t realize that they have a constitutional right to seek just compensation for such damages.”

Read more: “Pipelines, Property Values and Insurance.”

The Harbinger — Blog:
March 24, 2014

Ellis said, “This verdict sends a strong message that pipeline easements often cause significant damages to property beyond the easement area.” He said two other recent Texas cases have upheld similar claims.

Read more: “$1.6 Million Damages Awarded to Landowner for Gas Pipeline.”

Star-Telegram — Fort Worth, Texas:
March 24, 2014

Ellis said, “This verdict sends a strong message that pipeline easements often cause significant damages to property beyond the easement area.” He said two other recent Texas cases have upheld similar claims.

Read more: “Landowners Awarded $2.1 million in Pipeline Easement Case.”

The Business Journals — Cleburne, Texas:
March 24, 2014

“This verdict sends a strong message that pipeline easements often cause significant damages to property beyond the easement area,” says Austin-based eminent domain attorney Luke Ellis of Johns Marrs Ellis & Hodge LLP, who represented the family partnership at trial. “Unfortunately, many Texas landowners don’t realize that they have a constitutional right to seek just compensation for such damages.”

Read more: “Texas Landowners Win $2.1 Million Judgment Against Pipeline Company Over Lower Property Value.”