Trial court abused its discretion by dismissing eminent domain proceeding

City of Dallas v. Highway 205 Farms, LTD et al, 05-13-00951-CV (Tex. App. – Dallas, July 22, 2013).

This is a condemnation case where the trial court dismissed the case at the administrative stage, but the 5th Court of Appeals issued a mandamus ordering its reinstatement.

The City filed a statement in the county court at law seeking to condemn a portion of appellees’ property in Kaufman County for a raw water pipeline project. Plaintiff filed a motion to dismiss arguing the matter had been pending for eighteen months with no activity and the City had failed to prosecute the case with due diligence. The City responded that because the case was still in the administrative stage of a condemnation proceeding, the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to dismiss the case. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss and the City appeals.

The Dallas Court of Appeals held an eminent domain action is not within the general jurisdiction of the county court and that any power to act in such a proceeding is derived from the eminent domain statute. The Legislature has devised a two-part procedure for an eminent domain action involving first an administrative proceeding, and then, if necessary, a judicial proceeding.  The subject matter jurisdiction of the judiciary is only triggered after a party files an objection to the commissioners’ award. During the administrative phase, the statute expressly limits the trial court’s authority to appointing the commissioners, receiving their opinion as to value, and rendering judgment based on the commissioners’ award. The administrative phase is completely separate from any judicial proceeding that may later take place, and the property code does not provide the trial court with authority to oversee an ongoing administrative proceeding. The trial court has no authority to control the timing of the special commissioners’ hearing as the power to set the time and place of the hearing is expressly delegated to the commissioners and the trial court cannot interfere.  As a result, it was an abuse of discretion for the trial court to dismiss the matter and it was ordered reinstated.

If you would like to read this opinion click here.  Panel: Justice Fillmore, Justice Evans and Justice Lewis.  Memorandum opinion by Justice Evans. The attorneys listed for the City are Barbara E. Rosenberg, Thomas P. Perkins Jr., Brandi Youngkin, Christopher D. Bowers, James B. Pinson and Warren M. S. Ernst.  The attorneys listed for Highway 205 Farms are Hayley Ailshie, Charles A. Salazar, Kimberly S. Keller, Edward “Eddie” Vassallo.