Interpretation of ordinance involving boundaries between two cities is not a “political question” but a matter of statutory construction says Texas Supreme Court

City of Ingleside v City of Corpus Christi, 14-0548 (Tex. July 24, 2015)

This declaratory-judgment action involves a boundary dispute between the City of Ingleside and the City of Corpus Christi over the scope of an ordinance establishing the adjacent bay waters’ “shoreline” as the common border. At issue is whether wharves, piers, docks, and other objects affixed to Ingleside’s shore and projecting into bay waters are wholly on the land or water side of the “shoreline” boundary. Ingleside sued Corpus Christi seeking a declaration that “structures, both natural and man-made, that are attached to and part of the fast land, and are functionally part of the land, are entirely within the jurisdiction of” the land side of the “shoreline.” The City of Corpus Christi filed a plea to the jurisdiction which the trial court denied.  The court of appeals reversed holding the trial court lacked jurisdiction because the boundary dispute is purely a “political question . . . not subject to judicial review.”  The Texas Supreme Court disagreed holding the declaratory-judgment action requires the court to interpret relevant boundary ordinances not select the appropriate boundary line.  The Court, however, remanded to consider the remaining jurisdictional challenges brought by the City, since the Court of Appeals did not reach them after determining a political question existed.

After going through some history, the Court held the procedural validity of a territorial annexation may be judicially determined—but a legislative decision to annex territory and the reasons underlying such a decision are not subject to judicial scrutiny. Ingleside does not seek a declaration involving the wisdom or purpose behind the ordinances, but seeks a judicial interpretation of the word “shoreline” which is a matter of statutory construction. As a result, the Court of Appeals incorrectly determined the dispositive issue as one of being a political question.  The remaining jurisdictional challenges must be reconsidered by the Court of Appeals.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Per Curiam Opinion. The docket sheet with attorney information can be found here.