Texas Causes of Action & Affirmative Defenses

Texas Causes of Action & Affirmative Defenses

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Friday, May 11, 2012

How does the condemnation process work?

The process of land condemnation in Texas involves several steps. If the condemnor and condemnee cannot agree on the value of the condemned property, the condemnor must file a petition in condemnation in either the district court or county court at law. Tex. Prop. Code Ann. § 21.003 (West 2004).
The trial court will then appoint three special commissioners who hold an administrative hearing and file in the trial court an award that reflects the special commissioners' determination of the value of the condemned land. Tex. Prop. Code Ann. §§ 21.014, 21.015 (West Supp. 2011); § 21.018 (West. 2004). The condemnor must pay the amount of the award to the condemnee or deposit that amount in the registry of the trial court. If either party is dissatisfied with the award, the party may file objections with the trial court. Tex. Prop. Code Ann. § 21.018(a). After citing the adverse party, the trial court then tries the case in the same manner as other civil cases. Id. at 21.018(b). Once objections are filed and citation is served, the special commissioners' award is vacated and may not be reinstated. Amason v. Natural Gas Pipeline Co., 682 S.W.2d 240, 242 (Tex. 1984); see also State v. Carlton, 901 S.W.2d 736, 739 (Tex. Civ. App.-Austin 1995, no pet.) (filing of objections coupled with service of citation on the adverse party signals the end of the administrative proceeding and prevents reinstatement of the special commissioners' award). Service of citation triggers the condemnor's legal obligation to proceed to trial and prove its right to condemn the property. Denton Cnty. v. Brammer, 361 S.W.2d 198, 200 (Tex. 1962).
SOURCE: DALLAS COURT OF APPEALS - 05-10-00601-CV – 5/9/2012
When, as here, the amount of the special commissioners' award deposited by the condemnor into the registry of the court is withdrawn by the condemnee, the issue for litigation is adequate compensation. See State v. Jackson, 388 S.W.2d 924, 925-26 (Tex. 1965). Since adequate compensation is an issue on which the condemnee has the burden of proof, withdrawal of funds deposited in the registry of the court has the effect of shifting the burden of proof and the burden of proceeding to trial to the condemnee. Stuart v. Harris Cnty. Flood Control Dist., 537 S.W.2d 352, 354 (Tex. Civ. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1976, writ ref'd n.r.e.); see also Phillips v. Sw. Bell Tel. Co., 559 S.W.2d 464, 465 (Tex. Civ. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1977, no writ) (in condemnation proceeding, where the only questions submitted relate to market value and damages, the condemnee has the right to open and close the jury argument). However, the shifting of the burden does not cause the condemnee to become the plaintiff in the trial court. Brammer, 361 S.W.2d at 200.
The controversy between the parties in this case arose because the County sought to take the Partnership's real property. The County initiated the condemnation process by petitioning the trial court to appoint special commissioners to determine the value of the Partnership land to be taken. The Partnership did not agree with the award of the special commissioners, and it was entitled to a judicial determination concerning the value of the land. The Partnership's challenge to the special commissioners' awards caused the matter to transition from a special condemnation proceeding to a cause pending in the county court to be tried and determined as other civil cases. Since at that point in the process the special commissioners' award was vacated, it was necessary that the County obtain a judgment from the trial court authorizing the taking of the Partnership's real property at a price that reflected the fair market value of the property. See Tex. Prop. Code Ann. § 2.018(b). Accordingly, the County was the plaintiff in the lawsuit and the Partnership was the defendant. Brammer, 361 S.W.2d at 200.
This conclusion is fatal to the County's jurisdictional argument because under Texas law, the forfeiture of a limited partnership's right to transact business does not “prevent the limited partnership from defending an action, suit, or proceeding in a court of this state.” Tex. Bus. Orgs. Code Ann. § 153.309(b)(2) (emphasis added); See Footnote 4 Manning v. Enbridge Pipelines (E. Tex.) L.P., 345 S.W.3d 718, 723 (Tex. App.-Beaumont 2001, pet. denied) (forfeiture of the limited partnership's right to transact business does not prevent it from defending an action, suit, or proceeding in this state). Because the partnership was the defendant in the consolidated condemnation action and was not precluded by the laws governing Texas limited partnerships from defending the action, the County's claim that the trial court was without subject matter jurisdiction must fail. We resolve the County's first issue against it.

SOURCE: DALLAS COURT OF APPEALS - 05-10-00601-CV – 5/9/2012

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