After Settlement of Claims Connected to Estate

Sabine Gas Trans. Co. v. Winnie Pipeline Co., 15 S.W.3d 199 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2000, no pet.).


Plaintiff sued Defendant and Executors of a deceased defendant’s estate alleging improprieties with respect to a contract. Executors moved to transfer the case to the probate court in which the deceased defendant’s estate was being administered under Probate Code § 5A(d). The court granted the motion and consolidated the contract claims with the probate proceeding. After Plaintiff settled with Executors, the probate court granted Plaintiff’s motion to have its claims against Defendant dismissed without prejudice for lack of jurisdiction. Defendant appealed.

The appellate court agreed that the probate court’s dismissal was erroneous but affirmed the dismissal because the error was harmless. The court began by recognizing that the instant case was different from Goodman v. Summit at West Rim, Ltd., 952 S.W.2d 930 (Tex. App.—Austin 1997, no pet.), because the deceased defendant’s estate was still a party to the probate proceeding even after the probate court dismissed the ancillary and pendent claims. The key issue in the instant case is whether “a probate court abuse[s] its discretion by holding that it loses jurisdiction over claims which it has ancillary or pendent jurisdiction when no other claims before the court have any relationship to those claims even though the estate administration is still pending?” Sabine at 201.

The court held that the probate court abused its discretion by finding that it lost jurisdiction over those claims while the estate was still pending because the statute does not expressly so provide. However, the court in its discretion may “dismiss the claims based on a finding that its continued entertainment of them would not promote ‘judicial efficiency and economy’” under Probate Code § 5A(d). Sabine at 201-02. Accordingly, the probate court’s error was harmless because it could have dismissed the claims without finding that it lost jurisdiction.

Moral: A court continues to have jurisdiction over claims which no longer have any relationship to the estate being administered if the estate administration is still pending. However, the court has the discretion to dismiss these claims.