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Enbridge Pipelines (East Texas) L.P. v. Saratoga Timber Co., Ltd.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg

June 29, 2017


         On appeal from the 88th District Court of Hardin County, Texas.

          Before Chief Justice Valdez and Justices Rodriguez and Benavides.


          ROGELIO VALDEZ Chief Justice.

         Appellant Enbridge Pipelines (East Texas), L.P. appeals from the trial court's grant of a plea to the jurisdiction in favor of appellees Saratoga Timber Co., Ltd. (Saratoga), Batson Corridor, L.P. (Batson), and Timbervest Partners Texas, L.P. (Timbervest). By two issues, Enbridge contends that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to rule on Saratoga's and Batson's pleas to the jurisdiction. We dismiss this appeal as to Saratoga as moot, and we affirm the judgment.

         I. Background

         In 2006, Saratoga conveyed to Batson "an exclusive easement, right-of-way and surface uses corridor . . . for the construction, reconstruction, maintenance, repair, resizing use and operation of one or more pipelines." Batson recorded the pipeline easement in the public records of Hardin County, Texas in October 2006. In January 2007, Enbridge filed a statement and petition for condemnation in trial court cause number 47, 333 in the 88th Judicial District Court of Hardin County, Texas seeking a permanent and a temporary easement on the same property where Batson's easement was located. The trial court appointed special commissioners "to assess the damages in accordance with the law." Saratoga did not appear at the hearing, and the special commissioners granted Enbridge a pipeline easement on the real property and awarded Saratoga $33, 500 in damages.[2]

         In March 2007, Saratoga filed a plea to the jurisdiction and objections to the decision and award of the commissioners.[3] In January 2008, Enbridge filed its alternative pleading adding Batson as a defendant in the condemnation proceeding. Batson filed a plea to the jurisdiction. The trial court granted both pleas. This appeal followed.

         II. Applicable Law

         The United States and Texas Constitutions prohibit the taking of any property without just compensation; thus, "[t]he owner of any legal right or interest in land must therefore be adequately compensated when the land is taken." Zinsmeyer v. State, 646 S.W.2d 626, 628 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 1983, no writ).

In condemnation proceedings where the property sought is subject to a lease, the judge or jury first determines the market value of the entire property as though it belonged to one person. Then the fact finder apportions the market value as between the lessee and the owner of the fee.

Urban Renewal Agency v. Trammel, 407 S.W.2d 773, 774 (Tex. 1966). As an easement constitutes an interest in land, the easement owner is entitled to compensation if the easement is extinguished by a taking. Zinsmeyer, 646 S.W.2d at 628.

         Condemnation of private property involves a two-part process. Amason v. Nat. Gas Pipeline Co., 682 S.W.2d 240, 242 (Tex. 1984). During the first phase, the party seeking condemnation initiates an administrative proceeding by filing a petition for condemnation in the trial court. Hubenak v. San Jacinto Gas Transmission Co., 141 S.W.3d 172, 179 (Tex. 2004); Amason, 682 S.W.2d at 242. Once a petition is filed, the trial court appoints three disinterested freeholders as special commissioners to assess the damages, and they "convene a hearing and determine the value of the property condemned and any damage to the remainder." Hubenak, 141 S.W.3d at 179.

         Because trial courts do not have general jurisdiction of an eminent domain proceeding, after the commissioners make their findings, the trial court is statutorily limited to only rendering judgment on the commissioners' award. In re State, 85 S.W.3d 871, 874 (Tex. App.-Tyler 2002, orig. proceeding) (op. on reh'g); In re Energy Transfer Fuel, LP, 250 S.W.3d 178, 180‒81 (Tex. App.-Tyler 2008, orig. proceeding). However, if either party files objections to the award in the trial court, "'the trial court shall cite the adverse party and try the case in the same manner as other civil cases.'" Hubenak, 141 S.W.3d at 179 (quoting Tex. Prop. Code Ann. § 21.018 (West, Westlaw through 2017 R.S.)). Filing the objections converts the administrative proceeding into a normal pending trial cause, the commissioners' award is vacated, and a trial de novo is conducted. Hubenak, 141 S.W.3d at 179. The objections "wip[e] out entirely the award of the commissioners and preven[t] any judgment from being entered based upon such an award." In re State, 85 S.W.3d at 877 (quoting Culligan Soft Water Svc. v. State, 385 S.W.2d 613, 615 (Tex. Civ. App.-San Antonio 1964, writ ref'd n.r.e.)).

         III.Saratoga's Interest in ...

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