Face Challenges Confidently

480 Love v. Texas Exp. Pipeline, LLC

Friday, September 4th, 2015

Richard F. Brown

The following is not a legal opinion.  You should consult your attorney if the case may be of significance to you.
Love v. Texas Express Pipeline, LLC   held that the court in an appeal challenging a natural-gas pipeline condemnation proceeding has no jurisdiction when there was no timely objection filed to the finding of the Special Commissioners.  Texas Express Pipeline, LLC (“TEP”) initiated a condemnation proceeding on real property located in Robertson County, Texas to facilitate the transportation of natural-gas liquids from the Texas Panhandle to the Gulf Coast.  A property search by TEP concluded that Milton Hammond, deceased, last owned the property in question.  TEP initiated a thorough search to locate Hammond’s heirs, assigns, and legal representative, but TEP was unable to locate any person or entity with legal interest in the property.  Subsequently, TEP filed a petition for condemnation and the trial court appointed “‘three disinterested real property owners who reside in the county as special commissioners to assess the damages of the owner of the property being condemned.’”    TEP also filed a motion to have the court appoint an attorney ad litem to represent the interests of the unknown owner(s).
The Special Commissioners’ meeting was scheduled for November 29, 2012, and the Special Commissioners gave public notice of the hearing in the October 17, 2012, October 24, 2012, October 31, 2012, and November 7, 2012, editions of the Robertson County News.  The Special Commissioners convened the hearing and after hearing arguments from both sides, the Special Commissioners awarded $4,300 in damages to the unknown owners and granted TEP an easement through and across the property.  Two weeks later the trial court entered an order granting TEP statutory possession of the easement.  No objection having been timely filed, the trial court entered a “Judgment of Court in Absence of Objections to Award of Special Commissioners” on February 27, 2013, which granted TEP legal ownership over the easement.  On March 28, 2013, Love filed an objection to the award claiming that he was Hammond’s grandson.  The trial court conducted a hearing on Love’s objection but ultimately concluded that Love’s objection was not timely and that the court was without jurisdiction to order temporary relief.
Love argued that he was “not properly served with notice,” which invalidates “the ruling of the Special Commissioners and the subsequent judgment entered by the trial court . . . .”    The court rejected Love’s argument finding that the notice provided by TEP and the Special Commissioners complied with the requirements under the law and that Love’s failure to timely object rendered the trial court’s judgment non-appealable.    The Texas Property Code requires that objections to a Special Commissioners’ findings be “‘filed on or before the first Monday following the 20th day after the day the commissioners file their findings with the court.’”    If no objections are timely filed, the trial court must “‘adopt the commissioners’ findings as the judgment of the court, record the judgment in the minutes of the court, and issue the process necessary to enforce the judgment.’”    The court described the trial court’s function as “ministerial” and concluded that after a failure to timely object, the trial court has no jurisdiction except to “‘accept and adopt the award of the special commissioners as its judgment.’”    Thus, “because Love attempts to appeal from a judgment that is not appealable, [the appellate court] lack[s] jurisdiction over this matter.”
This case seems to be a straight forward recitation of the procedural steps for a pipeline condemnation and the consequences of failing to timely object to the Special Commissioners’ ruling in a condemnation proceeding.