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In re Estate of Wells

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

June 13, 2019

IN RE ESTATE OF J.B. WELLS JR., DECEASED

          On appeal from the County Court of Gonzales County, Texas.

          Before Chief Justice Contreras and Justices Longoria and Perkes

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GREGORY T. PERKES JUSTICE

         This is an accelerated appeal concerning whether the trial court had jurisdiction over appellee Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary's (Seminary) claims against appellants, the City of Gonzalez (the City), its mayor Connie L. Kacir, and city council member Gary Schroeder. Seminary filed suit seeking to enforce its reversionary interest in property that was conditionally deeded to the City for use as a public park. Seminary alleged causes of action for inverse condemnation, trespass-to-try-title as to the individual appellants only, and declaratory relief. The City, Kacir, and Schroeder filed a plea to the jurisdiction, which the trial court denied.

         By four issues, which we construe as three, appellants argue the trial court erred in denying their plea to the jurisdiction because: (1) the inverse condemnation claim against the City is not viable because no constitutional taking occurred; (2) the trespass-to-try-title claim against the city council members is barred by the City's governmental immunity because the officials were sued in their official capacity; and (3) Seminary's request for declaratory relief is also barred by the City's governmental immunity. We affirm.

         I. Background

         In 1961, J.B. Wells Jr. conditionally bequeathed 123 acres of land "for public park purposes" to the City in his will and trust, as follows:

(2) I direct my trustees to grant and convey the 123 acre tract of land known as the Santa Anna tract located around my Santa Anna Mound Deer Park and bounded by Highway 183 and the right of way of the former State Highway No. 29 with the exception of a twenty-three acre triangular shaped parcel of land cut off by a partition fence in the corner of said tract nearest the Guadalupe River Bridge, the remainder of that portion of said 311 acre Santa Anna Mound tract of land on the same side of the relocated Highway No. 183, as the Santa Anna Mound and Deer Park and containing 123 acres of land, more or less, to the City of Gonzales, Texas, for public park purposes, subject to the conditions herein set out.
. . . .
(a) Said land shall forever be used for the purpose of establishing, operating and maintaining a public park therein, and for such purpose only and shall never be sold.
(b) Said land and grounds shall always be known as "Wells Park" it being my wish to establish the park as a permanent memorial to my father, Jim Bailey Wells, and my mother, Josephine Henry Wells, both pioneer citizens of Gonzales County, Texas.
(c) Such grant and conveyance shall reserve to my ancestors the right to create and maintain on said land, at the expense of my estate, a suitable monument or monuments to the memory of my father and mother. . . .
(d) My camp lodge and its fenced grounds shall be maintained in good condition, and the beautiful live oak tree on the grounds and the shrubbery and trees shall be well cared for. The building shall be maintained in good repair and shall be used as a museum for my various collections of guns, revolvers, pistols, fishing reels, fishing rods, hunting knives, etc., and many other items of like nature and shall be used for this purpose only. These collections and items shall be kept on display there.
(e) My Santa Anna Mound Deer Park shall be maintained in its natural condition of natural woodland and shall never be cleared of trees and shrubs. It shall be kept clean of dead timber and necessary replacements shall be trees and shrubs native to this section of Texas. It shall be kept as a game sanctuary for native Texas white tail deer, of which a few shall be kept in the park.
This land shall be deeded or transferred to the City of Gonzales under the provision that it may not be sold or transferred under any condition whatsoever.
. . . .
If the City of Gonzales . . . should sell all or any part of the real estate hereinabove devised to them in the final settlement of my estate, then the purchase money shall immediately revert to and become the property of the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary or its successor. In the event that the City of Gonzales . . . should use income bequeathed to [it] in the final settlement of my estate for purposes other than those designated in my will, then, and in such event, such income shall immediately ...

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