State trial court lacks jurisdiction over property dispute when U.S. government has a potential interest in the property

Rio Grande City Consolidated Independent School District v. City of Rio Grande, et al., 04-17-00346-CV (Tex. App. – San Antonio, June 27, 2018)

In this property dispute, the San Antonio Court of Appeals affirmed-in-part and reversed-in-part a trial court’s order granting the City’s plea to the jurisdiction.

The Rio Grande City Consolidated Independent School District (“District”) asserts it owns a 0.64 acre tract of land. It sued the City of Rio Grande (“City”) for trespass to try title and declaratory judgment. The U.S. government filed an intervention to preserve its interest in the property.  The City filed a plea/MSJ which the trial court granted. The District appealed.

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1346(f), federal district courts have exclusive original jurisdiction in trespass to try title claims where the U.S. government has an interest in property. As a result, the state trial court lacked jurisdiction to hear the title claim. The school district amended its pleading after the plea was filed to allege an unconstitutional taking. The plea/MSJ was not amended. Because the record shows the school district’s unconstitutional taking claim was not addressed in the plea to the jurisdiction/summary judgment motion, the trial court erred in disposing of this claim.

If you would like to read this opinion, click here.  Panel consists of Justice Angelini, Justice Barnard, and Justice Martinez. Memorandum Opinion by Justice Angelini.  The docket page with attorney information is found here.