Appeal from the 190th District Court Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Cause No. 2014-47690
consists of Justices Christopher, Brown, and Wise.
case concerns TransCanada Keystone Pipeline, LP's
attempts to acquire the right to construct and operate a
pipeline through the land submerged beneath Muleshoe Lake,
which is located on a tract of land owned by Wayne Hoang Nhut
Doan. TransCanada believes that the submerged land is owned
by the Port of Houston Authority of Harris County, Texas
("the Port Authority"), and so purchased a license
from the Port Authority for the project and constructed the
pipeline. Doan asserts that the land belongs to him. Doan
sued in a Harris County district court, asserting a takings
claim against the Port Authority, a trespass-to-try-title
claim against two Port Authority employees, and a trespass
claim against TransCanada. TransCanada raised a condemnation
counterclaim. After a nonjury trial, the district court held
that Doan is the sole remaining owner of the submerged land,
allowed TransCanada to condemn an easement through the
submerged land, awarded Doan $139 as just compensation for
the easement, and denied all relief on Doan's trespass
claim against TransCanada. On appeal, Doan contends that in
Harris County, the county civil courts at law have exclusive
jurisdiction over condemnation claims in which the amount of
the condemnor's bona fide offer for the property is no
more than $200, 000, and thus, the ruling on that claim is
void. He further contends that the district court erred in
denying his motion to abate the case until such time as
TransCanada made a bona fide offer of more than $200, 000 for
the property. In a conditional cross-appeal, TransCanada
argues that the district court erred in finding that the Port
Authority's live pleading sufficiently disclaimed
ownership of the property and in holding that Doan is the
property's sole owner.
agree that in Harris County, the civil courts at law have
exclusive jurisdiction over condemnation claims where the
amount of the condemnor's bona fide offer is no more than
$200, 000. Moreover, the same statute grants the Harris
County civil courts at law exclusive jurisdiction over all
takings claims. Thus, the district court's rulings on
these claims are void for lack of subject-matter
jurisdiction. Regarding the district court's purported
denial of Doan's motion to abate, we conclude that the
issue has not been preserved for appeal. As for
TransCanada's challenge to the district court's
finding that Doan "is the sole remaining owner of the
property, " the court recited that it had considered the
evidence, and in the absence of a reporter's record, we
must presume that the evidence supports the finding.
modify the judgment to vacate for lack of jurisdiction the
district court's rulings on TransCanada's
condemnation claim against Doan and on Doan's takings
claim against the Port Authority. As modified, we affirm the
district court's judgment.
wished to build a pipeline crossing beneath Muleshoe Lake,
which is located on a tract of land owned by Doan in Harris
County. Believing that the submerged land ("the
Property") is owned by the Port Authority under the
public-trust doctrine, TransCanada paid the Port Authority
nearly $43, 000 for a ten-year renewable license to
construct, maintain, and operate the pipeline within the
Property, which is referred to in the license as "Port
property." Having obtained a license from the Port
Authority to construct the pipeline through the Property,
TransCanada did not offer to pay Doan for an easement for the
same use of the Property.
also needed an easement across the lake's dry banks, but
it was unable to agree with Doan on a price. Three months
after obtaining its license from the Port Authority,
TransCanada filed a condemnation petition in Harris County
Court at Law No. 4 to obtain a permanent, non-exclusive,
50-foot-wide right-of-way and easement across the lake's
dry banks. The trial court appointed special commissioners to
determine the Property's value, but before the special
commissioners' hearing, TransCanada and Doan agreed to a
$100, 000 purchase price for the easement. The parties
further agreed that their settlement of the condemnation
claim across the lake's dry banks did not resolve the
disputed ownership of the Property, that is, the land
submerged beneath the lake.
a year later, Doan sued TransCanada in Harris County's
190th District Court, later adding as defendants the Port
Authority and its employees Roger Guenther and Mark Vincent.
In his live pleadings before trial, Doan asserted (a) a
takings claim against the Port Authority, (b)
trespass-to-try-title claims against Guenther and Vincent,
and (c) a trespass claim against TransCanada for its use of
the Property. TransCanada denied that Doan owned the
Property, but pleading in the alternative, TransCanada
asserted a counterclaim for condemnation.
First Amended Answer, the Port Authority denied having
claimed that it "owns or has title to or has taken or
intends to take possession" of the Property. "To
the contrary, " the Port Authority added, "the Port
Authority has determined that affirmatively claiming and
litigating ownership of the submerged land in question is not
in the Port Authority's or the public's best
interest." In a single summary-judgment motion, the Port
Authority, Guenther, and Vincent moved for a take-nothing
judgment on the respective claims against them, on the
grounds both of immunity and that they allegedly had taken no
action to claim ownership of the Property. The district court
granted the motion without stating the grounds.
later, Doan moved to abate TranCanada's condemnation
counterclaim on the ground that TransCanada had not made a
bona fide offer to acquire the property. TransCanada,
however, agreed to make a bona fide offer, and it moved
jointly with Doan for a continuance for that purpose.
TransCanada had the Property appraised and made a bona fide
offer to purchase an easement from Doan for $139. Doan
rejected the offer, and the case proceeded to trial on
ownership and value.
Doan announced ready for trial, he pointed out to the
district court section 25.1032(c) of the Texas Government
Code, under which Harris County civil courts at law have
exclusive jurisdiction over statutory eminent-domain
proceedings in which the amount of the condemnor's bona
fide offer is no more than $200, 000.The trial court overruled the
the nonjury trial, the district court found that (a)
"the pleading by the Houston Port Authority is a
sufficient disclaimer" of the Port Authority's
ownership, (b) Doan is the sole owner of the Property, and
(c) the fair market value of the Property at the time of the
taking was $139. The district court rendered judgment in
accordance with these findings, granting TransCanada its
requested easement and overruling Doan's combined motion
to modify the judgment and motion for new trial. Doan has
appealed, and TransCanada has filed a conditional
issues Doan argues that the district court lacks
subject-matter jurisdiction over TransCanada's
condemnation counterclaim, and that the district court erred
in refusing to abate the case until TransCanada made Doan a
bona fide offer large enough to bring the proceeding outside
the Harris County civil courts at law's exclusive
jurisdiction under Texas Government Code section 25.1032(c).
conditional cross-appeal, TransCanada asks that if we
conclude the district court lacked jurisdiction over the
condemnation counterclaim, we also find that the trial court
erred in finding, based solely on language in the Port
Authority's pleading, that the Port Authority disclaimed
ownership of the Property and that Doan established his
ownership of the Property.
Jurisdiction Over TransCanada's Condemnation Counterclaim
begin with Doan's challenge to the district court's
subject-matter jurisdiction over TransCanada's
condemnation claim. The existence of subject-matter
jurisdiction is a question of law, which we review de novo.
See Wheelabrator Air Pollution Control, Inc. v. City of
San Antonio, 489 S.W.3d 448, 451 (Tex. 2016).
jurisdictional challenge turns on the construction of several
statutes, and the proper construction of a statute is
likewise a question of law subject to de novo review. See
TIC Energy & Chem., Inc. v. Martin, 498 S.W.3d 68,
74 (Tex. 2016). When interpreting a statute, our primary
objective is to give effect to the legislature's intent.
See TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Co. v. Combs, 340 S.W.3d
432, 439 (Tex. 2011); see also Tex. Gov't Code
Ann. § 312.005 (West 2013). We identify that intent by
looking first to the statute's plain language. See
Lippincott v. Whisenhunt, 462 S.W.3d 507, 509 (Tex.
2015) (per curiam). A statute's clear and unambiguous
language is determinative of the legislature's intent.
See TIC Energy & Chem., 498 S.W.3d at 74-75. We
presume that the legislature purposefully chose which words
to include in the statute and which to omit. See
Lippincott, 462 S.W.3d at 509. We give a statute's
undefined terms their plain and ordinary meaning, and we
construe the statute in a way that avoids rendering any word
or provision meaningless. See Hous. Belt & Terminal
Ry. Co. v. City of Houston, 487 S.W.3d 154, 164 (Tex.
2016). We do not consider statutory provisions in isolation,
but read the statute as a whole. See In re Mem'l
Hermann Hosp. Sys., 464 S.W.3d 686, 701 (Tex. 2015)
statutes appear to conflict. If a general provision conflicts
with a special or local provision, we will construe them to
give effect to both, if possible. Tex. Gov't Code Ann.
§ 311.026(a) (West 2013). But, if the general provision
and the special or local provision cannot be reconciled, then
"the special or local provision prevails as an exception
to the general provision, unless the general provision is the
later enactment and the manifest intent is that the general
provision prevail." Id. § 311.026(b).
begin with the statute at the center of the parties'
jurisdictional dispute, Texas Government Code section
25.1032, and with the binding precedent construing it.
Texas Government Code section 25.1032
Harris County, a specific, local statute-Texas Government
Code section 25.1032-addresses jurisdiction over condemnation
claims and takings claims:
A county civil court at law has exclusive jurisdiction in
Harris County of eminent domain proceedings, both statutory
and inverse, if the amount in controversy in a statutory
proceeding does not exceed [$200, 000]. . . . The amount in
controversy is the amount of the bona fide offer made by the
entity with eminent domain authority to acquire the property
from the property owner voluntarily.
Tex. Gov't Code Ann. § 25.1032(c) (West Supp.
2016). The monetary limit on the county civil
court at law's exclusive jurisdiction over statutory
eminent-domain proceedings was added in 2015. Because the
amount of TransCanada's bona fide offer is far below that
limit, cases construing the prior version of the statute,
which had no such limit, are equally applicable here. Chief
among this binding precedent is Taub v. Aquila Southwest
Pipeline Corp., 93 S.W.3d 451 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th
Dist] 2002, no pet).
facts in Taub are very like those of this case. In
Taub-as here-the putative property owner filed a
trespass action against the condemnor pipeline company in a
Harris County district court, and-as here-the pipeline
company counterclaimed for condemnation. See id. at
454. As in this case, the condemnor in Taub argued
that the district court had jurisdiction over the
counterclaim pursuant to Texas Property Code section 21.003:
A district court may determine all issues, including the
authority to condemn property and the assessment of ...