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Muhammad v. Plains Pipeline, L.P.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Twelfth District, Tyler

June 21, 2017

GRADY L. MUHAMMAD A/K/A GRADY L. CHOICE, APPELLANT
v.
PLAINS PIPELINE, L.P., A TEXAS LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE COUNTY COURT AT LAW NO. 2 SMITH COUNTY, TEXAS (TR.CT.NO. 64, 930-A)

          Panel consisted of Worthen, C.J., Hoyle, J., and Neeley, J.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JAMES T. WORTHEN CHIEF JUSTICE.

         Grady L. Muhammad a/k/a Grady L. Choice complains of a condemnation proceeding involving easement rights granted to Plains Pipeline, L.P. for the construction and operation of a pipeline through and across real property located in Smith County, Texas. In two issues, Muhammad appeals the trial court's final judgment of condemnation. We dismiss the appeal for want of jurisdiction.

         Background

         On December 15, 2015, Plains filed a petition in condemnation action against Muhammad seeking easement rights to real property located in Smith County, Texas. On January 14, 2016, the trial court appointed three disinterested real property owners residing in Smith County to serve as special commissioners and assess damages by reason of the acquisition through eminent domain. On March 3, the special commissioners held a hearing to assess the damages at which Muhammad appeared in person. The special commissioners awarded $3, 191 in damages.[1] The award was filed with the court on March 18. No party objected to the award.

         On April 29, Plains filed a motion for judgment in the absence of objections. On June 2, the court held a hearing at which it entered a judgment of condemnation adopting the special commissioner's recommendation of $3, 191 in damages. This appeal followed.[2]

         Jurisdiction

         An eminent domain proceeding is not within the general jurisdiction of the court; any power to act is special and depends upon the eminent domain statute. In re Energy Transfer Fuel, LP, 250 S.W.3d 178, 180-181 (Tex. App.-Tyler 2008, orig. proceeding); see also Gulf Energy Pipeline Co. v. Garcia, 884 S.W.2d 821, 822 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 1994, orig. proceeding). The initial filing of the petition and commissioner's hearing is an administrative proceeding that converts into a normal pending cause only when objections to the commissioners' award are filed. In re Energy Transfer Fuel, LP, 250 S.W.3d. at 181. The law allows for a party dissatisfied with the special commissioner's award a certain amount of time to file objections. Musquiz v. Harris Cty. Flood Control Dist., 31 S.W.3d 664, 666-67 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2000, no pet.).

Specifically, the property code provides the following:
A party to a condemnation proceeding may object to the findings of the special commissioners by filing a written statement of the objections and their grounds with the court that has jurisdiction of the proceeding. The statement must be filed on or before the first Monday following the 20th day after the day the commissioners file their findings with the court.

Tex. Prop. Code. Ann. § 21.018(a) (West 2014). If no party to the condemnation proceeding files timely objections to the special commissioner's findings, then the court having jurisdiction shall adopt the commissioners' findings as the judgment of the court. See In re Energy Transfer Fuel, LP, 250 S.W.3d at 181; Tex. Prop. Code Ann. § 21.061 (West 2014). Absent objections from either party, the trial court's function is ministerial; it lacks jurisdiction to do anything except render judgment based upon the commissioners' award. In re Energy Transfer Fuel, LP, 250 S.W.3d at 181.

         No appeal can be taken when the trial court renders judgment based on an award to which neither party filed objections, because it is the judgment of the special tribunal. Rose v. State, 497 S.W.2d 444, 445 (Tex. 1973) (holding that such a judgment is ministerial and is not a judgment in a civil suit, because the proceedings did not reach the stage of "a case in court"); see also Ford v. Dallas Indep. Sch. Dist., No. 05-04-01714-CV, 2005 WL 1552647, at *1 (Tex. App.-Dallas July 5, 2005, no pet.) (mem. op.) (dismissing appeal, in part, for want of jurisdiction when no timely objections were made to commissioners' award); see also Restitution Revival v. Waco Indep. Sch. Dist., No. 10-02-00248-CV, 2003 WL 22359189 at *1 (Tex. App.-Waco Oct. 15, 2003, pet. denied) (mem. op.) ("It is well settled that a judgment which a court renders on the basis of an award to which there have been no objections is the judgment of a special tribunal and is not, therefore, a judgment from which an appeal will lie[]"); Musquiz, 31 S.W.3d at 667.

         In this case, the record demonstrates that neither party filed objections to the special commissioners' award.[3] Accordingly, because no objections were made to the commissioners' award, we have no jurisdiction to consider this appeal. See Rose, 497 S.W.2d at 445; see ...


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