Estate Administration


Class Certification

Shell Cortez Pipeline Co. v. Shores, 127 S.W.3d 286 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2004, no pet.).


A statutory probate court certified a class in a complex case involving the alleged underpayment of carbon dioxide royalties. Defendants appealed.

The appellate court first determined that it had jurisdiction to address the issue whether the statutory probate court had subject matter jurisdiction over the class claims. The court then found that the statutory probate court lacked jurisdiction. The court rejected plaintiff’s claim that the statutory probate court had jurisdiction under Probate Code § 5A(c) (1999 version) because one of the named plaintiffs was an inter vivos trust. The court explained that for § 5A(c) to grant jurisdiction to the statutory probate court, the district court must first have jurisdiction over the case under Trust Code § 115.001. The court examined the lengthy list of claims which included actions such as breach of contract and conspiracy, and determined that none of these actions actually involved an inter vivos trust. “[T]he mere fact that an inter vivos trust has the same or similar claims as the members of the class does not transform the class claims into actions that involved the trust.” Shell at 294.

The court also rejected the claim that the probate court had jurisdiction under Probate Code § 5A(d) (1999 version) which conferred ancillary or pendent jurisdiction over claims that bear some relationship to the estate pending before the court. In this case, there was no estate pending in probate court, no close relationship between non-probate class claims and pending probate matters, and the resolution of the class claims would not aid in the efficient administration of anything related to the trust.

Note: See also Mobil Oil Corp. v. Shores, 128 S.W.3d 718 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2004, no pet. h.).

Moral: A statutory probate court does not have jurisdiction over a case merely because one of the parties is a trust.

Important Note: The 2005 Texas Legislature effectively overruled Shell by amending Probate Code § 5(e) to provide that the statutory probate court has jurisdiction over all actions “by or against a trustee.” The change applies only to an action filed on or after September 1, 2005.