Pearson v. State

Decision Date09 July 1958
Docket NumberNo. A-6627,A-6627
Citation159 Tex. 66,315 S.W.2d 935
PartiesJohn B. PEARSON, Jr., Petitioner, v. The STATE of Texas, Respondent.
CourtTexas Supreme Court

Tisinger & Sloan, Austin, Warner A. Hancock, Austin, of counsel, for petitioner.

Will Wilson, Atty. Gen. of Texas, James H. Rogers, Asst. Atty. Gen., Hofheinz, Sears, James & Burns, Houston, for respondent.

WALKER, Justice.

This is a condemnation proceeding in which neither party filed timely objections to the award of the commissioners. The attempted appeal of the landowner, John B. Pearson, Jr., who is petitioner here, from the judgment entered by the County Judge has been dismissed by the Court of Civil Appeals for want of jurisdiction. 307 S.W.2d 159. it is our opinion that the intermediate court had no jurisdiction of the appeal, and its judgment of dismissal will accordingly be affirmed.

An account of the events leading up to the appeal is necessary to an understanding of petitioner's argument. The initial statement filed with the county judge names petitioner and Texas Good Roads Association as the owners of the property sought to be condemned. Petitioner appeared at the hearing before the commissioners and waived notice. The Association, which held a lease on the premises, was not served with and did not waive notice or appear a the hearing. After considering the evidence introduced, the commissioners filed their decision with the county judge reciting the appearance of 'the defendant (sic) John B. Pearson, Jr. and Texas Good Roads Association by their attorneys of record,' that the market value of the land is $46,100, and that 'such sum is hereby awarded to the defendant.'

No objections having been filed within ten days, the amount of the award was deposited in the registry of the court. Petitioner went to the clerk's office for the purpose of withdrawing the money but declined to do so upon being advised that the check would be made payable to him and the Association. Although counsel for the State later filed a statement with the clerk that the money had been deposited subject to petitioner's order, the funds were not withdrawn.

The State then obtained a quitclaim deed from the Association and filed a motion to record the award and make it the judgment of the county court. Petitioner countered with a motion to strike the award and abate the proceedings on three grounds which will be noticed later. At the hearing held by the county judge on these motions, the parties stipulated certain facts and offered the testimony of several witnesses. The State introduced its quitclaim deed, and one of the commissioners testified that no evidence was introduced at their hearing as to the value of the Association's interest in the premises. The judgment from which this appeal is taken was then entered by the county judge. After reciting that the Association was not notified of the commissioners' hearing, that no evidence was offered as to the value of its interest in the premises, and that the commissioners had filed their decision awarding $46,100 to petitioner, it decrees that the State recover title to the property from petitioner, that petitioner recover the amount of the award from the State, and that the money deposited with the clerk be paid to petitioner.

Under the provisions of Arts. 1819 and 2249, Vernon's Annotated Texas Civil Statutes, appeals may be taken to the Court of Civil Appeals from final judgments in civil cases of which the district and county courts have or assume jurisdiction. An action to condemn and is a special statutory proceeding, wholly administrative in nature, at least until the commissioners' decision is filed with the county judge. The course which it takes after the filing of their award is governed by Sections 6 and 7 of Art. 3266, Vernon's Ann.Tex.Civ.Stat., which read as follows:

'6. If either party be dissatisfied with the decision, such party may within ten days after the same has been filed with the county judge file his objection thereto in writing, setting forth the grounds of his objection, and thereupon the adverse party shall be cited and the cause shall be tried and determined as in other civil causes in the county court.

'7. If no objections to the decision are filed within ten (10) days, the County Judge shall cause said decision to be recorded in the minutes of the County Court, and shall make the same the judgment of the court and issue the necessary process to enforce the same.'

By the express terms of Section 6, the filing of timely objections confers jurisdiction upon the county court to hear and determine the issues in the exercise of its judicial powers. It thus is clear that the proceeding becomes a civil case if objections are filed within the prescribed period, and either party has the right to appeal from a final judgment thereafter entered by the county court. Article 3268, Vernon's Ann.Tex.Civ.Stat., expressly recognizes the right to appeal 'from the decision of the county court', but there is no provision authorizing an appeal from a judgment entered on the award. In the present case neither party complied with the provisions of Section 6 of Art. 3266, and we must decide whether the proceeding, originally administrative in character, may be converted into a judicial action in any other manner.

The parties do not cite and we have not found a decision which can be regarded as squarely in point. A civil case has been defined as 'a proceeding in a court of justice by one party against another for the enforcement or protection of a private right, or for the redress or prevention of a private wrong.' See Lane v. Hewgley, Tex.Civ.App., 155 S.W. 348 (no writ). We have said that a statutory proceeding in which the controversy is not submitted to and determined by the court as a judicial tribunal 'is neither a suit at law nor a case in equity' even though the same culminates in a judgment. See Fortune v. Killebrew, 86 Tex. 172, 23 S.W. 976, 978. Several of our intermediate courts have also expressed the view that a condemnation proceeding becomes a judicial action only when an appeal is taken from the award of the commissioners. See Lewis v. Texas Power & Light Co., Tex.Civ.App., 276 S.W.2d 950 (wr. ref. n. r. e.); City of El Paso v. Ward, Tex.Civ.App., 213 S.W.2d 726 (no writ); City of Big Spring v. Garlington, Tex.Civ.App., 88 S.W.2d 1095 (no writ); Hardy v. City of Throckmorton, 62 S.W.2d 1104 (no writ). In one case it was pointed out that the timely filing of objections is necessary to remove the proceeding from the effect of the decision of a special tribunal to a regularly constituted court, but the opinion then concludes by saying that 'the proceedings do not become an action in the county court in the true sense until such objections are filed or until the time for filing same has expired and the judge is required to enter judgment on the award.' Sinclair v. City of Dallas, Tex.Civ.App., 44 S.W.2d 465, 466 (wr. ref.).

A condemnation proceeding is not within the general jurisdiction of the county court as defined by Art. 5, Sec. 16, of the Constitution, Vernon's Ann.St. and Arts. 1949 and 1950, Vernon's Ann.Tex.Civ.Stat. The jurisdiction of the court over such matters is special and depends upon the provisions of Art. 3266 quoted above, which were enacted by the Legislature pursuant to its authority under Art. 5, Sec. 22, of the Constitution. See Southern Kansas Ry. Co. of Texas v. Vance, 104 Tex. 90, 133 S.W. 1043. The power of the county court as a judicial tribunal in eminent domain proceedings is thus limited to that which has been conferred upon it by statute.

Section 7 of Art. 3266 requires the county judge, if no objections are filed within ten days, to cause the award to be recorded in the minutes and make the same the judgment of the court. No jurisdiction is conferred upon the court to do anything more than accept and adopt the award as its judgment, and this follows by operation of law and the ministerial act of the county judge. There is nothing which the court, as distinguished from the county judge in his administrative capacity, can hear and determine by the exercise of its judicial powers. It seems clear to us, therefore, that an order directing that the award be recorded and making the same the judgment of the court does not constitute a judgment in a civil case, and that there is no right of appeal therefrom. This conclusion is inescapable in view of the provision of Arts. 3266 and 3268 and is also consistent with our holdings in Parker v. Ft. Worth & D. C. Ry. Co., 84 Tex. 333, 19 S.W. 518, and Fortune v. Killebrew, supra. See, also, Temple v. Riverland Co., Tex.Civ.App., 228 S.W. 605 (no writ) and 28 Tex.Law Rev. 112.

Petitioner recognizes that a condemnation decree entered strictly in accordance with the award is not appealable. He argues, however, that the judgment entered in this case materially alters the award, and that the county court assumed jurisdiction and the proceeding became a civil case when the judge held a hearing and on the basis of evidence introduced entered an order decreeing that the entire amount of the award be paid to petitioner. While cases may arise in which it appears that the county court has assumed jurisdiction and thereby converted the proceeding into a judicial action, the right a appeal cannot be made to turn upon whether there is a material variance between the award and judgment. Such a rule would be confusing and uncertain in application and at best could afford only limited relief in unusual cases.

The present suit will serve to illustrate the narrow scope of possible appellate review in cases of this character. It is well settled that the jurisdiction of the appellate court as to the merits of a case extends no further than that of the court from which the appeal is taken. See Perkins v. United States Fidelity & Guaranty Co., Tex.Com.App., 299 S.W. 213. Petitioner has never complained of a...

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