Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin
David Matthew Prewett, Prewett Rentals Series 2752 Military LLC, Adrienne V. Prewett, Richard Coons, Jeannette Coons, Tami Jan, Ward Galbreath, Sumit Kapoor, Rachel Kapoor, Nakul Jeirath, Tasha Jeirath, Mark L. Reis, and Janis R. Reis, Appellants
Canyon Lake Island Property Owners Association, Sally W. Duncan, and A. Baker Duncan, Appellees
COUNTY COURT AT LAW NO. 1 OF COMAL COUNTY NO. 2018CVA0217,
THE HONORABLE RANDAL C. GRAY, JUDGE PRESIDING
Justices Goodwin, Baker, and Kelly
L. Kelly, Justice
April 2018, the appellants, a group of individuals owning
residential property in the Canyon Lake Island subdivision
(collectively, the "Homeowners"), sued the Canyon
Lake Island Property Owners Association in Comal County Court
at Law Number One. The Homeowners later added as defendants
Sally W. Duncan and A. Baker Duncan, who also own property in
to their petition, the Homeowners have been renting their
properties for terms less than 30 days using internet sites
such as "VRBO" and "HomeAway" and are now
being threatened with legal action by the Property Owners
Association and, in fact, have been sued by the Duncans in
district court. The Homeowners allege that the Property
Owners Association and the Duncans have informed them that
the subdivision's deed restrictions bar short-term
rentals and have demanded that they stop engaging in any
further short-term rental activity. The Homeowners seek a
declaration that "the [deed restrictions] do not bar
Plaintiffs' leasing according to any duration, limit,
minimum or maximum" and claim that they "seek
monetary relief of $100, 000 or less and non-monetary
Duncans subsequently filed a plea in abatement, asserting
that their previously filed action in district court acquired
dominant jurisdiction over the dispute. The Duncans also
filed a plea to the jurisdiction, claiming that the amount in
controversy exceeds the jurisdictional limit of the court.
Without ruling on the plea in abatement, the trial court
granted the plea to the jurisdiction, awarded attorney's
fees to the Duncans, and dismissed Homeowners' suit. The
Homeowners timely appealed to this Court. For the reasons set
forth below, we will affirm the county court's judgment
to the jurisdiction is a dilatory plea that challenges the
trial court's subject-matter jurisdiction without regard
to whether the asserted claims have merit. See Texas Dep
't of Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d
217, 225-26 (Tex. 2004); Bland Indep. Sch. Dist. v.
Blue, 34 S.W.3d 547, 554 (Tex. 2000). Because
subject-matter jurisdiction is a question of law, we review a
trial court's ruling on a plea to the jurisdiction
applying a de novo standard. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d at
burden is on the plaintiff to plead or present evidence of
facts that affirmatively demonstrate a trial court's
jurisdiction. See Heckman v. Williamson County, 369
S.W.3d 137, 149-50 (Tex. 2012). Typically, a plea to the
jurisdiction challenges the sufficiency of the plaintiffs
pleadings-that is, whether the plaintiff met his initial
burden to allege facts that affirmatively demonstrate the
trial court's jurisdiction to hear the cause. Mission
Consol. Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Garcia, 372 S.W.3d 629, 635
(Tex. 2012). When a plea to the jurisdiction challenges the
sufficiency of the plaintiff's pleadings, the court will
look to the pleader's intent, construe the pleadings
liberally in favor of jurisdiction, and accept the
allegations in the pleadings as true. Miranda, 133
S.W.3d at 227.
to the jurisdiction can also properly challenge the existence
of jurisdictional facts. Garcia, 372 S.W.3d at 635.
In these cases, the court must consider evidence submitted by
the parties when necessary to resolve the jurisdictional
issue raised. Blue, 34 S.W.3d at 555. The manner in
which the trial court analyzes the jurisdictional evidence
depends on whether the disputed jurisdictional facts do or do
not overlap with the merits of the plaintiff's case.
Miranda, 133 S.W.3d at 227. When the disputed
jurisdictional facts do not overlap with the merits of the
plaintiff's claims, as is the case here, the trial court
must review the evidence and make the necessary factual
findings to resolve the jurisdictional issue. Vernco
Constr., Inc. v. Nelson, 460 S.W.3d 145, 149 (Tex.
2015); University of Tex. v. Poindexter, 306 S.W.3d
798, 806-07 (Tex. App.-Austin 2009, no pet.). In the absence
of written findings of fact and conclusions of law, it is
implied that the trial court made all the findings necessary
to support its judgment. Worford v. Stamper, 801
S.W.2d 108, 109 (Tex. 1990). The trial court's fact
findings, explicit or implicit, may then be challenged on
appeal in the same manner as any other factual findings, for
legal and factual sufficiency. Poindexter, 306
S.W.3d at 806-07; see City of Keller v. Wilson, 168
S.W.3d 802, 827 (Tex. 2005) (legal-sufficiency standard);
Cain v. Bain, 709 S.W.2d 175, 176 (Tex. 1986)
state district courts, county courts at law are courts of
"limited jurisdiction." United Servs. Auto.
Ass'n v. Brite, 215 S.W.3d 400, 401 (Tex. 2007).
Jurisdiction in a county court at law is not presumed, and
therefore, "the authority to adjudicate the claims
presented must be established at the outset of the
case." Abdullatif v. Erpile, LLC, 460 S.W.3d
685, 691 (Tex. App-Houston [14th Dist] 2015, no pet.).
County Court at Law Number One is a statutory county court at
See Tex. Gov't Code §§ 25.0481, .0482.
Statutory county courts "ha[ve] jurisdiction over all
causes and proceedings, civil and criminal, original and
appellate, prescribed by law for county courts."
Id. § 25.0003(a); see also id.
§§ 26.042 (general civil jurisdiction and juvenile
jurisdiction of constitutional county courts), .043 (listing
specific types of cases in which constitutional county courts
do not have jurisdiction). Relevant to this dispute, the
jurisdiction of statutory county courts includes jurisdiction
over "civil cases in which the matter in controversy
exceeds $500 but does not exceed $200, 000, excluding
interest, statutory or punitive damages and penalties, and
attorney's fees and costs, as alleged on the face of the
petition." See id. § 25.0003(c)(1).
declaratory-judgment actions are not generally within the
jurisdiction of the Comal County courts at law, a plaintiff
seeking declaratory relief in the court must demonstrate that
the subject matter of the action falls within the
amount-in-controversy limits. See id. § 25.0482
(Comal County Court at Law provisions); but see id.
§ 27.034(a), (e) (granting jurisdiction to justice
courts "of suits relating to enforcement of a deed
restriction of a residential subdivision"
"regardless of the amount in controversy");
Garrett Operators, Inc. v. City of Houston, 360
S.W.3d 36, 44 (Tex. App-Houston [1st Dist] 2011, pet. denied)
(concluding that county court at law lacked jurisdiction to
consider claim for declaratory relief because such actions
"are not generally within the jurisdiction of Harris
County civil courts at law" and no proof was presented
that subject matter of action was within court's
jurisdictional limits). In the jurisdictional context, the
phrase "amount in controversy" means "the sum
of money or the value of the things sued for."
Tune v. Texas Dep't of Pub. Safety, 23 S.W.3d
358, 361 (Tex. 2000) (quoting Gulf C. & S.F. Ry. v.
Cunnigan,67 S.W. 888, 890 (Tex. 1902)). The amount in
controversy is generally determined by the allegations in the
plaintiffs petition and measured by the amount that the
plaintiff seeks to recover. Blue,34 S.W.3d 554.
"However, pleadings are not determinative when, as in
this case, "the issue in dispute is a license or right
rather than damages." Id. In such cases,
"[t]he subjective value of [the] privilege, if asserted
in good faith, establishes jurisdiction if ...