TCJL today filed an amicus curiae brief with the Texas Supreme Court in In re Breviloba, LLC (No. 21-0541). The case arose from a condemnation petition filed by Breviloba, a subsidiary of Enterprise Products Operating LLC, in the Walker County Court at Law in connection with the construction of a pipeline. The property owner filed counterclaims and amended counterclaims alleging fraud and conspiracy, all of which were rejected by the trial court. It then added a counterclaim seeking damages of $4 million and moved to transfer the case to district court. When the trial court denied the motion to transfer, the property owner sought a writ of mandamus from the Tenth Court of Appeals in Waco. In a 2-1 decision, the court of appeals held that the Walker County Court at Law had to transfer the case because the claimed damages exceeded the $200,000 jurisdictional limit for statutory county courts. SCOTX granted Breviloba’s request for an emergency stay of the court of appeals’ mandamus order.
At issue in the case is whether the general statutory grant of jurisdiction to county courts at law, §25.0003, Government Code, trumps the specific grant of concurrent jurisdiction to those courts in eminent domain cases under §21.002, Property Code. TCJL’s brief argues that a condemnation petition filed under Chapter 21, Property Code, in a proper statutory county court controls, even if the property owner claims damages in excess of the jurisdictional limit. Chapter 21 mandates transfer to a district court only in cases involving title issues or other matters that the trial court determines cannot be fully adjudicated. Neither of those conditions exist here. Even though §25.0003 refers to jurisdictional limits, it also specifically exempts cases where another law gives the county court at law jurisdiction. The trial court determined that it could fully adjudicate the property owner’s damages claim as part of the eminent domain proceeding properly initiated under Chapter 21. Any other reading of the two statutes encourages forum shopping, encourages litigation, and raises the cost of the eminent domain process–all against the express will of the Texas Legislature.
SCOTX has requested a response to Breviloba’s Petition for a Writ of Mandamus by July 12.