County boundary dispute improperly transferred away from neutral district court says 13th Court of Appeals

San Patricio County, Texas v. Nueces County, Texas and Nueces County Appraisal District 13-14-00293-CV (Tex. App.- Corpus Christi, May 12th 2016)

This is a case mainly for county attorneys dealing with a dispute between two counties regarding a boundary dispute.

In 2003, after years of litigation between San Patricio County and Nueces County, the trial court in Refugio County entered judgment (the “2003 Judgment”) establishing a common boundary between the two counties as “…the east bank of the Nueces River, the northerly shorelines of Nueces Bay and Corpus Christi Bay, and the westerly shoreline of Redfish Bay..”  In 2009, San Patricio County brought this current lawsuit seeking a declaration that the Disputed Properties were within San Patricio County under the terms of the 2003 Judgment and that the 2003 Judgment bound Nueces County and the appraisal district (“NCAD”). After a transfer of venue, all parties filed opposing motions for summary judgment. The trial court granted the summary judgments in favor of the Nueces County and NCAD defendants and denied San Patricio County’s motion. San Patricio County appealed.

Regarding the first issue of the venue dispute, the Texas Legislature amended the county-boundary statute in 1897 to include a section that conferred jurisdiction upon a neutral district court to establish a boundary between counties and to determine where the boundary is located. See Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code Ann. § 72.009(a)–(b); Presidio Cnty. v. Jeff Davis Cnty., 77 S.W. 278, 279 (Tex. Civ. App. 1903, writ dismissed).  The court went through a historical analysis of the statute and determined the venue statute conferred jurisdiction on a neutral county to determine a boundary dispute. Nueces County and NCAD contend that the underlying dispute between the two counties “is not a boundary dispute” for the purpose of applying §72.009 but one of statutory construction regarding the 2003 judgment.  However, the court held “… there is nothing in the language of §72.009 that suggests that the existence of a prior judgment renders a future disagreement over where properties are located within each county’s boundary anything other than a boundary dispute.” This is of particular importance when, as here, one is considering water boundaries and the effect of natural and artificial modifications, including wharves and piers. The fact that the proper interpretation of a judgment is relevant to the resolution of the current dispute does not change the nature of the dispute. The court also noted that the denial of Presidio County’s original mandamus, without comment on the merits, is not to be use in a “law of the case” argument as no determination on the issues was actually provided by the court.  As a result, the trial court improperly transferred venue from a neutral district court to a district court located within the boundary of one County.  Therefore, that court’s order granting summary judgment is reversed, with instructions to vacate, set aside the judgment, and transfer the case to Refugio County.

To read this opinion click here. Panel: Chief Justice Valdez, Justice Rodriguez and Justice Longoria. Opinioned issued by Justice Rodriguez. Attorneys for Nueces County are Aidan Perales, Douglas E. Chaves and Laura Garza Jimenez. The attorneys for the Nueces County Appraisal District are Tom C. Wheat and Audrey Mullert Vicknair. Attorneys for San Patricio County are Patricia L. Hayden, John J. Hightower, Corey Ouslander and Eric C. Farrar.

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