law-jurisdiction-of-county-civil-court-at-law | $100K AIC ceiling | maximum amount of damages in controversy |
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COUNTY CIVIL COURTS AT LAW - JURISDICTIONAL LIMITS, LIMITATIONS

Under the Texas Government Code, “a statutory county court exercising civil jurisdiction concurrent with
the constitutional jurisdiction of the county court has concurrent jurisdiction with the district court in . . . civil
cases in which the matter in controversy exceeds $500 but does not exceed $100,000 . . . as alleged on the
face of the petition."  Tex. Gov't Code Ann. §25.0003 (Vernon Supp. 2009).  As alleged in this case, the
amount in controversy exceeds $500 but does not exceed $100,000.  Though the Texas Government Code
contains certain limitations concerning the jurisdiction of a Harris County civil court at law, none of these
limitations apply to the case at hand.  See Tex. Gov't Code Ann. §25.0003(b) (prohibiting jurisdiction of a
statutory county court over causes and proceedings concerning roads, bridges, and public highways); Tex.
Gov't Code Ann. §25.1032(a) (Vernon 2004) (prohibiting jurisdiction over
probate matters); Therefore, the
trial court had subject-matter jurisdiction over this case.  See
Palisades Acquisition XVI, LLC v. Chatman, ___
S.W.3d ___, No.
14-08-00108-CV, 2009 WL 1660485, at *3. The trial court erred in dismissing this case.  
FIA Card Services, NA f/k/a MBNA America Bank, NA v. Horn (Tex.App.- Houston [14th Dist.] Jun. 23, 2009)
(Frost)(
suit to confirm arb award under FAA permitted in county court at law, invocation of FAA not
jurisdictionally barred) (federal courts not given exclusive jurisdiction over such actions by Congress)
Decision: TRIAL COURT REVERSED AND CASE  REMANDED:
Opinion by
Justice Frost     
Panel members: Justices Frost, Brown and Boyce   
14-08-00024-CV FIA Card Services, N.A. fka MBNA America Bank, N.A. v. Valicia M. Horn   
Appeal from County Civil Court at Law No 1 of Harris County
Trial Court Judge:
Hon. Jack Cagle

IS INJUNCTIVE RELIEF AVAILABLE IN COUNTY COURT? - IT DEPENDS
Statutory county courts, like constitutional county courts, have the express power to issue writs of injunction.
See TEX. GOV'T CODE ANN. § 25.0004(a) (Vernon 2004) ("A statutory county court or its judge may issue
writs of injunction, mandamus, sequestration, attachment, garnishment, certiorari, supersedeas, and all writs
necessary for the enforcement of the jurisdiction of the court.") (emphasis added); see id. § 26.051 (Vernon
2004) (constitutional county courts). Nonetheless, neither type of county court has jurisdiction to issue a writ
of injunction unless the court already has jurisdiction over the controversy, either because of the subject
matter or because of the amount in controversy. See Repka v. Am. Nat. Ins. Co., 143 Tex. 542, 186 S.W.2d
977, 980-81 (1945); In re Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co., 12 S.W.3d 891, 898 (Tex.App.-Houston [14th
Dist.] 2000, orig. proceeding).  
Statutory county courts (like the trial court here) "ha[ve] jurisdiction over all civil matters and causes, original
and appellate, prescribed by law for county courts...." TEX. GOV'T CODE ANN. § 25.1032(a) (Vernon 2004);
see also id. § 25.0003(a) (Vernon 2004) ("A statutory county court has jurisdiction over all causes and
proceedings ... prescribed by law for county courts."). County courts, in turn, have jurisdiction "as provided
by law,"[3] which includes, with statutory and constitutional exceptions that are inapplicable here, "concurrent
jurisdiction with the district court in civil cases in which the matter in controversy exceeds $500 but does not
exceed $5,000, exclusive of interest."[4] Id. § 26.042(d) (Vernon Supp.2007). And statutory county courts at
law having concurrent civil jurisdiction with constitutional county courts also have concurrent jurisdiction with
the district court in "civil cases in which the matter in controversy exceeds $500 but does not exceed
$100,000...." Id. § 25.0003(c)(1) (Vernon Supp.2007).
Appellants' petition reveals that the trial court had no jurisdiction to issue the requested injunctive relief. First,
no amount in controversy is involved because the suit does not seek damages. Accordingly, no jurisdiction
lies by virtue of the amount-in-controversy jurisdictional provisions for county courts at law. See TEX. GOV'T
CODE ANN. §§ 25.0003(c)(1), 25.1032(a), 26.042(d); Repka, 186 S.W.2d at 980-81. Second, the petition
does not allege any special matter for which the Legislature has given jurisdiction to constitutional or
statutory county courts. Compare TEX. PROP.CODE ANN. § 21.001 (Vernon 2004) (establishing jurisdiction
over particular matter in county court at law by providing, "District courts and county courts at law have
concurrent jurisdiction in eminent domain cases."). In these circumstances, the trial court had no subject-
matter jurisdiction to issue the requested injunction. As the Texas Supreme Court has explained concerning
the authority of county courts to issue injunctive relief:
This general authority, however, is limited to cases where a money demand or its equivalent is involved
wherein the amount in controversy exceeds $200 and does not exceed $1,000, exclusive of interest. In no
event does such authority extend to actions in a court of chancery where the allegations of the petition are
not such as to bring the case within the original jurisdiction of any other court but are sufficient to invoke
equitable relief. In such instances the issuance of the writ is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the district
court under that clause of the Constitution which provides that the district court "shall have general original
jurisdiction over all causes of action whatever for which a remedy or jurisdiction is not provided by law or this
Constitution ..." Vernon's Ann. St. Const. art. 5, § 8.[[5]]
Repka, 186 S.W.2d at 980-81 (some citations omitted); accord In re Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co., 12 S.
W.3d at 898 ("In summary, ... when a county court already has jurisdiction over a controversy, either by the
subject matter or amount in controversy, it has exclusive power to dispose of the controversy; this power
includes the issuance of injunctions that are related to the controversy.").
For these reasons, we hold that the trial court did not err in dismissing appellants' request for injunctive relief.
Medina v. Benkiser (Tex.App.- Houston [1st Dist.] Dec. 31, 2009)(Hanks)(plenary jurisdiction)
(
trial court did not have authority to modify judgment after appeal and add an award attorney's fees; prior
appeal was not interlocutory, modified judgment found void)
Our opinion and judgment in Medina I constituted the final resolution of the controversy between the parties, and the trial court
lacked plenary power to award attorney's fees to appellees. By affirming the trial court's judgment, our judgment essentially
adopted the judgment of the trial court dismissing the case for lack of jurisdiction. Because the trial court did not award
attorney's fees to the appellees in its judgment--and the appellees did not raise this failure to award fees as an issue in
Medina I--our opinion and judgment in Medina I closed the door on the possibility of the appellees recovering their attorney's
fees in this case.
We sustain appellants' first issue and hold that the trial court lacked plenary power to modify the judgment and award
appellees' attorney's fees.
VACATE TRIAL COURT JUDGMENT AND DISMISS CASE: Opinion by Justice Hanks    
Before Justices Keyes, Alcala and Hanks   
01-08-00777-CV  Debra Medina, Mallory Miller, Jr., Dustan Costine, Chad Creighton, Richard Wyatt and Kay
Fisher v. Tina Benkiser and The Republican Party of Texas   
Appeal from County Civil Court at Law No 4 of Harris County
Trial Court Judge:
Hon. Roberta A. Lloyd

CAN AN AMENDED PETITION DEPRIVE THE COUNTY COURT OF JURISDICTION BASED
ON DAMAGES SOUGHT IN EXCESS OF $100,000?

We begin with the Cantus' third issue because it challenges the trial court's jurisdiction.  Subject-matter
jurisdiction is essential to a court's jurisdiction and and cannot be waived.  Tex. Ass'n of Bus. v. Tex. Air
Control Bd., 852 S.W.2d 440, 443-44 (Tex. 1993).  Determining whether a court has subject matter
jurisdiction is a question of law we review de novo.  See Tex. Dep't of Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d
217, 226 (Tex. 2004).  In this issue, the Cantus contend that when they filed an amended petition alleging
damages in excess of the jurisdictional limit of the county court at law, the trial court lost jurisdiction over their
case and so erred in failing to transfer it to a district court.  The record reflects that the Cantus filed a motion
to transfer on this basis but no ruling appears in the record.  The Cantus assert that the trial court refused to
rule on their motion.  

Initially, we note that the appellate record does not include as a filing the amended petition on which the
Cantus base their jurisdictional complaint.  The purported petition, which the Cantus refer to as “Plaintiff and
Involuntary Plaintiffs' Second Amended Petition and Request for Disclosure," appears in the record only as
an exhibit to the Cantus' motion for reconsideration of the trial court's determination that the Cantus were
vexatious litigants.  But Dominguez does not dispute that this petition was filed in the trial court, so we will
presume this petition was filed and address the Cantus' argument accordingly.  This petition bears a file
stamp purporting to show that it was filed on December 7, 2007; we will therefore refer to it as the “December
2007 petition."

As is relevant here, the trial court, the County Civil Court at Law No. 4 of Harris County (“Court No. 4"), has
jurisdiction over civil cases in which the matter in controversy exceeds $500 but does not exceed $100,000
“as alleged on the face of the petition."  See Tex. Gov't Code Ann. §§ 25.0003(c)(1), 25.1032(a) (Vernon
Supp. 2009).  The amount in controversy is ordinarily determined by looking at the allegations in the
plaintiff's original petition.  See Peek v. Equip. Svc. Co. of San Antonio, 779 S.W.2d 802, 804 (Tex. 1989);
Isbell v. Kenyon-Warner Dredging Co., 113 Tex. 528, 261 S.W. 762, 763 (1924); Williams v. Le Garage De
La Paix, Inc., 562 S.W. 2d 534, 535 (Tex. Civ. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1978, writ ref'd n.r.e.).  We must
presume jurisdiction unless the lack of jurisdiction affirmatively appears on the face of the petition.  Peek,
779 S.W.2d at 804.  As a general rule, when jurisdiction is once lawfully and properly acquired, no later fact
or event can defeat the court's jurisdiction.  Isbell, 261 S.W. at 763.  Further, the fact that an amended
petition alleges damages in excess of the jurisdictional limits of the county court does not deprive that court
of the jurisdiction it properly acquired when the original petition was filed.  Id. at 763.

The earliest petition in the appellate record is designated as “Plaintiff's Second Amended Petition and
Request for Disclosure" and was filed on October 25, 2007 (the “October 2007 petition").  In the October
2007 petition, Tony Cantu affirmatively states that “[t]his Court has jurisdiction over the claims and parties,
and the amounts in controversy are with the Court's jurisdiction limits."  Further, a review of the prayer shows
that Tony Cantu sought money damages totaling $61,900, plus various types of damages for which no
amount is specified.  Based on Cantu's representation that the amount in controversy was within the court's
jurisdictional limit, and his prayer for damages that does not affirmatively exceed $100,000, we conclude that
the trial court properly acquired jurisdiction over the case.  See Isbell, 261 S.W. at 763; Williams, 562 S.W.2d
at 535.

In their brief, the Cantus argue that the trial court lost jurisdiction when the December 2007 petition was filed
because this petition shows that the money damages sought “plus the exemplary damages" exceed the trial
court's jurisdiction.[1]  The Cantus do not point to any specific portion of the petition or cite any to authority
other than a general reference to Government Code section 25.003.  A review of the December 2007
petition reveals that Elsa Cantu was named as a plaintiff, and the Cantus asserted the same claims made in
the October 2007 petition as well as several new claims.  The Cantus also sought specified money damages
totaling $96,900 - within the trial court's jurisdiction - plus unspecified amounts for other alleged damages.[2]  
Although the Cantus argue that we should consider the exemplary damages sought, exemplary damages are
not considered for purposes of calculating the amount in controversy.  See Tex. Gov't Code Ann. § 25.0003
(c)(1) (providing that interest, statutory or punitive damages and penalties, and attorney's fees and costs are
excluded from the determination of the amount in controversy); see also Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. §
41.001(5) (Vernon 2008) (exemplary damages include punitive damages).

Additionally, in the December 2007 petition the Cantus again affirmatively represent that the trial court had
jurisdiction over the claims and parties, and that the amounts in controversy were within the court's
jurisdictional limits.  And the Cantus repeated this assertion two additional times in their first and second
amended responses to Dominguez's motion to have them declared vexatious litigants, both of which were
filed after the December 2007 petition was filed.  Arguably, then, based on the allegations of the petition, the
money damages specifically requested, and the Cantu's own repeated representations, the damages sought
remained within the trial court's jurisdiction.  But even assuming the Cantus sought damages in excess of the
trial court's jurisdictional limit in the December 2007 petition, the filing of the December 2007 petition did not
cause the trial court to lose the jurisdiction it originally acquired.  See Isbell, 261 S.W. at 763-64; Williams,
562 S.W.2d at 536; see also Cook v. Jaynes, 366 S.W.2d 646, 647 (Tex. Civ. App.-Dallas 1963, no pet.).  
Therefore, we overrule the Cantus' third issue.
Cantu v. Dominguez (Tex.App.- Houston [14th Dist] Sep. 10, 2009)(Brown)
(
vex lit no security posted, lawsuit against attorney, jurisdictional limits of county court)
AFFIRMED: Opinion by
Justice Brown   
Before Justices Seymore, Brown and Sullivan  
14-08-00156-CV  Tony Cantu and Elsa Cantu v. Ben Dominguez   
Appeal from County Civil Court at Law No 4 of Harris County
Trial Court Judge:
Roberta Anne Lloyd

The record reflects that the county court made no determination as to Ryals's authority to administer the
Trust.  Further, a county court has no jurisdiction to construe a trust agreement.  See Tex. Prop. Code Ann.
§ 115.001(a)(1) (Vernon Supp. 2008) (
A district court has original and exclusive jurisdiction
over all proceedings by or against a trustee and all proceedings concerning trusts,
including proceedings to construe a trust instrument.
).  Therefore, Ryals's res judicata and
collateral estoppel arguments fail because the issue of whether Ryals has authority to manage the Trust was
not fully and fairly litigated in the previous suit, nor could it have been raised in the county court.  
Ryals v. Ogden  (Tex.App.- Houston [14th Dist.] Aug. 25, 2009) (Boyce)
(
temporary injunction appeal, multiple proceedings in different courts, unclean hands doctrine inapplicable,
res judicata does not apply, other court did not have jurisdiction, collateral attack on prior judgment).  
AFFIRMED: Opinion by
Justice Boyce    
Before Justices Anderson, Frost and Boyce  
14-07-01008-CV  Kenneth Ryals, Managing Trustee of East Texas Investment Trust v. Lisa Ogden, Steven
Gayle and Wayne Westbrook   
Appeal from 55th District Court of Harris County
Trial Court Judge:
Judge (now Justice) Jeffrey V. Brown


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