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Wise County v. Mastropiero

Court of Appeals of Texas, Second District, Fort Worth

August 8, 2019

Wise County, Texas; Commissioners Court of Wise County, Texas; and Danny White, County Commissioner, Precinct One, Wise County, Texas, Appellants
Katherine Mastropiero, Appellee

          On Appeal from the 271st District Court Wise County, Texas Trial Court No. CV18-06-475

          Before Birdwell, Bassel, and Womack, JJ.



         In 2018, appellee Katherine Mastropiero sued appellants Wise County, the Commissioners Court of Wise County, and Commissioner Danny White, seeking to compel them to maintain certain roads in her subdivision. Appellants filed a plea to the jurisdiction, which was denied. Appellants have appealed the denial.

         This appeal presents the question of whether the trial court may exercise jurisdiction under article V of the Texas constitution, which provides district courts with "appellate jurisdiction and general supervisory control" over a commissioners court that has failed to perform a clear duty or otherwise abused its discretion. Tex. Const. art. V, § 8. We conclude that Mastropiero's petition and evidence-which concern appellants' alleged dereliction of their duty to maintain public roads-establish the trial court's jurisdiction under article V. We therefore affirm.

         I. Background

         Mastropiero's live petition alleged that in March of 2000, Prairie View Enterprises ("the developer") began to develop Prairie View Estates, a subdivision in Wise County. Her action concerns Phase Two of the subdivision, the only portion with roads that the county has refused to maintain. The developer presented its "Phase Two Final Plat" for the subdivision to the county commissioners court. The plat described several roads and stated that the roads were "dedicate[d] to the public." Mastropiero alleged that the owners, residents, and members of the public have used the roads continuously ever since.

         According to her petition, the county sent an engineer to conduct a final inspection of the roads in August 2000. The engineer then sent a letter of compliance to the commissioners court, certifying that the developer had completed all "infrastructure improvements"-including the roads-according to county specifications.

         Mastropiero alleged that on August 28, 2000, the commissioners court held a meeting at which it approved the final plat for Phase Two. The minutes of the meeting stated the commissioners court had unanimously adopted a motion "to accept final construction of Prairie View Estates Phase Two . . . based on the letter of compliance" issued by the engineer. The final plat was then endorsed and filed in the county's records; Mastropiero submitted a copy of the county's rules which showed that filing the plat was the step after the county "accepts improvements." Mastropiero reasoned that Phase Two and its dedicated public roads were therefore finally accepted as county roads, requiring the county to repair and maintain the roads. But Mastropiero alleged that the county has not subsequently maintained the roads.

         Mastropiero alleged that consistent with that acceptance of the roads, no further action of the developer was required, and none was demanded by the commissioners court. Mastropiero claimed that the county therefore waived any other requirements, such as the county rule that required the developer to submit a maintenance bond to underwrite the cost of repairs for the first two years after the roads were accepted. It was undisputed that the developer did not submit a maintenance bond complying with this rule.

         In her suit, Mastropiero argued that appellants neglected their duty to maintain the roads and that Commissioner White in particular, as the supervisor of roads in her precinct, had neglected his duty to supervise and report on the roads. She sought declaratory relief in multiple forms, including declarations that the roads were entitled to county maintenance and that the maintenance bond requirement was invalid or waived, among others.

         Appellants filed a plea to the jurisdiction. After a hearing, the trial court denied appellants' plea and entered findings of fact and conclusions of law. Appellants filed this accelerated interlocutory appeal. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 51.014(a)(8).

         II. Discussion

         In their first issue, appellants argue that the declaratory judgments act does not provide the trial court with jurisdiction over Mastropiero's claims. In their second issue, appellants contend that Mastropiero cannot avail herself of jurisdiction under article V, section 8 of the Texas constitution, which provides that the district court has supervisory jurisdiction to review certain actions of the county commissioners court. Appellants assert that with the only two potential sources of jurisdiction eliminated, the trial court erred by denying their plea to the jurisdiction.

         A. Standard of Review

         Analysis of whether jurisdiction exists begins with the plaintiff's live pleadings. See Tex. Dep't of Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 226 (Tex. 2004). The plaintiff has the initial burden of alleging facts that affirmatively demonstrate the trial court's jurisdiction to hear the cause. Id. We construe the pleadings liberally, taking them as true, and look to the pleader's intent. Id.

         A party may present evidence to negate the existence of a jurisdictional fact alleged in the pleadings. Id. at 227. The trial court's review of the evidence generally mirrors the summary judgment standard. Tarrant Reg'l Water Dist. v. Johnson, 572 S.W.3d 658, 664 (Tex. 2019). If the evidence creates a fact question regarding the jurisdictional issue, then the trial court cannot grant the plea to the jurisdiction, and the fact issue will be resolved by the factfinder. Id. However, if the relevant evidence is undisputed or fails to raise a fact question on the jurisdictional issue, the trial court rules on the plea to the jurisdiction as a matter of law. Id. This is a question of law that we review de novo. Id.[1]

         B. Jurisdiction as to the ...

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