Mandatory venue provision to sue county trumps probate’s jurisdiction.

Mandatory venue provision to sue county trumps probate’s jurisdiction.

In Re San Jacinto County, 14-13-00723-CV (Tex. App. – Houston [14th Dist.], September 19, 2013).

This is a mandamus case of interest to litigators.  Two competing venue provisions were examined and the 14th Court of Appeals determined the venue provision requiring suits against a county controls. For any non-lawyers out there, that means when you sue a county, you have to sue them in the county they are located regardless of any other statute saying otherwise.

George Polk is the named independent executor and a beneficiary of the deceased. He submitted the estate to the probate court in Harris County. The deceased had gifted land to San Jacinto County but Polk brought a declaratory judgment action asserting such a gift did not include the mineral estate. The suit was brought in the probate court since it has venue over matters related to probate matters pursuant to Tex. Prob. Code §6A. San Jacinto County filed a motion to transfer venue arguing Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §15.015 states when you sue a county, venue is mandatory in that county. The trial court denied the motion and the County brought its mandamus suit in the Court of Appeals.

The Houston Court of Appeals first held that unlike other mandatory venue provisions, §15.015 is not limited to venue described in that chapter but is mandatory period. Reading between the lines – suits against a city, for example, would end up with a different result because of the different language in §15.0151. Additionally, the court held a declaratory judgment was a “suit” for purposes of §15.015 and therefore the trial court abused its discretion by denying the transfer.

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