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In re McClellan Creek Ranch, LLC

Court of Appeals of Texas, Seventh District, Amarillo

May 23, 2019

IN RE MCCLELLAN CREEK RANCH, LLC, RELATOR

          OPINION ON ORIGINAL PROCEEDING FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS

          Before QUINN, C.J., and CAMPBELL and PARKER, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JUDY C. PARKER JUSTICE

         McClellan Creek Ranch, LLC, relator, brings this mandamus action challenging an "Order Denying Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Plea in Intervention" issued by Judge Phil N. Vanderpool, respondent. We will conditionally grant relief on the order denying relator's motion to strike.

         Background

         In June of 2017, McClellan purchased an undivided interest in the surface estate of six sections of land in Gray County commonly known as the Pursley Ranch. In December of 2017, McClellan filed a petition seeking partition of the surface estate of the ranch. McClellan alleged that it is proportionately the largest single owner of the ranch, with an undivided one-quarter interest in each of the ranch's six sections and an additional undivided one-half interest in two of those six sections. McClellan asserted that the ranch is capable of equitable division and sought such a partition.

         McClellan's cotenants, the "Pursley defendants," answered, alleging that partition in kind would result in a substantial prejudice to them. They filed a counterclaim for declaratory judgment, requesting the trial court to declare that the Pursley Ranch is "heirs' property" subject to the requirements of the Uniform Partition of Heirs' Property Act of Chapter 23A of the Texas Property Code. The trial court subsequently entered an order confirming that the action is subject to the Act and appointing an appraiser. An "as is" market value appraisal of the ranch was completed and provided to the court in December of 2018.

         On January 8, 2019, Pursley Gas Company, a partnership of mineral interest owners that operates wells on the Pursley Ranch, filed a plea in intervention. Pursley Gas sought declaratory judgment to determine and declare its surface rights at the time of partition in the property comprising the Pursley Ranch. McClellan filed a motion to strike the plea in intervention, asserting that Pursley Gas has no justiciable interest in the partition lawsuit. After the trial court denied its motion to strike, McClellan filed a petition for writ of mandamus, claiming that the trial court had no discretion to deny the motion.

         Intervention Standard

         Under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, "Any party may intervene by filing a pleading, subject to being stricken out by the court for sufficient cause on the motion of any party." Tex.R.Civ.P. 60. The party opposing intervention bears the initial burden of challenging the intervention by filing a motion to strike. Guar. Fed. Savs. Bank v. Horseshoe Operating Co., 793 S.W.2d 652, 657 (Tex. 1990). Once a motion to strike has been filed, the burden shifts to the intervenor to show a justiciable interest in the lawsuit. Mendez v. Brewer, 626 S.W.2d 498, 499 (Tex. 1982).

         "[T]he 'justiciable interest' requirement is of paramount importance: it defines the category of non-parties who may, without consultation with or permission from the original parties or the court, interject their interests into a pending suit to which the intervenors have not been invited." In re Union Carbide Corp., 273 S.W.3d 152, 155 (Tex. 2008) (orig. proceeding) (per curiam). The interest asserted by the intervenor may be legal or equitable, but generally must be more than "a mere contingent or remote interest." Law Offices of Windle Turley, P.C. v. Ghiasinejad, 109 S.W.3d 68, 70 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2003, no pet.). "[I]n order to be a justiciable interest, there must be an actual controversy between parties who have conflicting personal stakes." Tex. Dep't of Pub. Safety v. Kelton, 876 S.W.2d 450, 452 (Tex. App.-El Paso 1994, no writ). Under the Supreme Court's decision in In re Union Carbide, a justiciable interest exists if the intervenor could have brought the pending action, or any part thereof, in his own name. See In re Union Carbide, 273 S.W.3d at 155; see also Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa. v. Pennzoil Co., 866 S.W.2d 248, 250 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 1993, no writ) (holding that "a motion to strike a plea in intervention is akin to a special exception or to a motion for summary judgment, asserting that, as a matter of law, the opposing party could not have brought the action or would not be able to defeat recovery.").

         The standard of review for determining whether a trial court properly struck a petition in intervention is abuse of discretion. Mendez, 626 S.W.2d at 499. A trial court abuses its discretion if it acts without reference to any guiding rules and principles. Downer v. Aquamarine Operators, Inc., 701 S.W.2d 238, 241-42 (Tex. 1985).

         Analysis

         No ...


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