Tx. Sup. Ct holds judgment void in land transfer even though city signed it.

TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION AND CITY OF EDINBURG v. A.P.I. PIPE AND SUPPLY, No. 10-1020 (Tex.  April 5, 2013)

In an inverse-condemnation dispute, two judgments (one in 2003 and one in 2004) conflict as to the extent of the state’s easement. In 2004 the original judgment party sold the property to API.  In 2005, TxDOT began its drainage project, and API, relying on the 2004 judgment, brought a takings claim for the value of the removed soil. TxDOT argued the 2004 judgment was void because it was an attempt, via nun pro tunc, to substantively change the 2003 judgment out of time. [For those who may not remember, a nun pro tunc is a mechanism to make clerical corrections to final judgments.]  The 2003 judgment gave the City fee-simple ownership, subject to a drainage easement granted to TxDOT.  The 2004 judgment gives API fee-simple ownership (via purchase from the original holder), subject to a drainage easement granted to the City (and, via subsequent conveyance, to TxDOT).   Attorneys for all parties (including TxDOT) signed the 2004 nun pro tunc judgment; however the judgment purported to declare the 2003 judgment “null and void.”

The Court first noted that the facts were relatively undisputed, the determination of which judgment controlled is a question of law, and since a property interest is required for a takings claim, this challenge could properly be brought via a plea to the jurisdiction. The Court next held that the 2004 judgment substantively and judicially changed the 2003 judgment which is not permitted via nun pro tunc. Since API does not own the land under the judgment, it cannot claim “good-faith purchaser” status. The Court went through a detailed analysis of the “good-faith purchaser” doctrine and ultimately held 1) the 2004 judgment “did not convey anything to anyone” despite TxDOT having signed it and 2) equitable estoppel does not apply against a governmental entity in this situation.

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