Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Walker v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

June 28, 2018

L. D. WALKER, Appellant
v.
THE STATE OF TEXAS, Appellee

          On Appeal from the County Civil Court at Law No. 4 Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 1040236

          Panel consists of Justices Boyce, Christopher, and Busby.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TRACY CHRISTOPHER JUSTICE.

         In this condemnation case concerning a partial taking, both sides objected to the special commissioners' damage determination. In the trial court, the State filed a "Motion to Exclude Noncompensable Remainder Testimony," which the trial court treated as a plea to the jurisdiction and granted. A landowner's representative filed this interlocutory appeal pursuant to Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code section 51.014(a)(8) (West Supp. 2017) (permitting an interlocutory appeal of the grant or denial of a governmental unit's plea to the jurisdiction). Because the State's motion to exclude testimony did not raise an issue that can be jurisdictional, the appeal does not come within the scope of the statute. We accordingly dismiss the appeal for want of jurisdiction.

         I. Background

         L. D. Walker, a trustee, is the representative of one of the owners of an 11.2508-acre tract along a frontage road near the interchange of I-45 and Grand Parkway in Spring, Texas.[1] The State petitioned to condemn a 0.865-acre portion of the tract to construct an elevated ramp connecting the two roadways, and the special commissioners assessed the owners' collective damages at $5, 635, 841.00. Walker and the State objected to the special commissioners' assessment of damages, and the case was set for trial before Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 4.

         Many months before trial, the State filed a "Motion to Exclude Noncompensable Remainder Testimony." In the motion, the State asked the trial court to exclude the testimony of Walker's experts who opined that after the taking, the remainder would no longer be suitable for mixed use and that its highest and best use instead would be light industrial. The State also sought to exclude expert valuation testimony based on that revised use. According to the State, Walker's experts contended that the change in the property's use after the taking was due to (a) loss of frontage-road proximity, (b) adjacency to an elevated direct connector, (c) access issues, and (d) project uncertainty. The State argued that these are really non-compensable issues of visibility, circuity of travel, and diminished market perception.

         The trial court did not rule on the motion, and shortly before trial, the State filed a motion for the trial court to reconsider making a ruling. On the last business day before trial was to begin, the trial granted the motion. Walker immediately moved for a continuance, and although the record contains no ruling on the motion, the trial did not begin as scheduled.

         Nine days after its ruling on the State's motion to exclude testimony, the trial court rendered a different ruling on the motion. The trial court wrote, "After considering the pleadings, the motion, any evidence, and arguments of counsel, the Court is of the opinion that the State's motion was in essence a plea to the jurisdiction, and the Court considered the motion as if it were a plea to the jurisdiction." The court stated "that all of [Walker's] remainder damages opinions are based on non-compensable damages as a matter of law, and that the Court does not have jurisdiction to hear evidence of such remainder damages opinions because they are non-compensable under Texas law." The trial concluded, "It is therefore ORDERED: The State's Motion to Exclude Non-compensable Remainder Testimony was considered as a plea to the jurisdiction, and said plea to the jurisdiction is GRANTED." Despite the ruling, no part of the case was dismissed.

         Walker appealed pursuant to Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code section 51.014(a)(8), but argued in his first issue that the State had failed to raise a jurisdictional issue. In a conditional second issue, Walker argued that if the availability of the damages he sought were jurisdictional, then the trial court erred in concluding that the damages were non-compensable as a matter of law. Because Walker's first issue is dispositive, we do not reach his second issue.

         II. Jurisdiction

         Whether we have jurisdiction over an appeal is a question of law which we review de novo. See Tex. A & M Univ. Sys. v. Koseoglu, 233 S.W.3d 835, 840 (Tex. 2007). An appeal generally is available only from a final order; however, the legislature may by statute grant us jurisdiction to hear an interlocutory appeal. See id. Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code section 51.014 is such a statute. As "a narrow exception to the general rule that only final judgments are appealable," we strictly construe section 51.014. Id. (quoting Bally Total Fitness Corp. v. Jackson, 53 S.W.3d 352, 355 (Tex. 2001)).

         Section 51.014(a)(8) grants us jurisdiction over an interlocutory appeal from the grant or denial of a governmental unit's plea to the jurisdiction, but whether a document is a plea to the jurisdiction is determined by its substance. Tex. Dep't of Criminal Justice v. Simons, 140 S.W.3d 338, 349 (Tex. 2004). If the document does not raise an issue that can be jurisdictional, then it is not a plea to the jurisdiction and the ruling does not fall within the scope of section 51.014(a)(8). Id.

         The State's motion to exclude testimony does not purport to raise a jurisdictional issue. Nevertheless, the State would have us agree with the trial court's decision to construe the motion to exclude testimony as a plea to the jurisdiction because "[a] claim for non-compensable damages is analogous to an invalid inverse-condemnation claim," and there is no waiver of sovereign immunity from an inverse-condemnation suit for non-compensable damages.[2] ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.