Estate Administration


Transfer from District Court to County Court at Law

In re Stark, 126 S.W.3d 635 (Tex. App.—Beaumont 2004, orig. proceeding [mand. denied]).


Testatrix’s estate was pending in a County Court at Law. Beneficiary brought an action in District Court against a variety of persons including the independent executors of Testatrix’s estate. The District Court granted a motion to transfer Beneficiary’s action to the County Court at Law where the administration was pending. Beneficiary then brought this mandamus action to force the District Court to withdraw the transfer order.

The appellate court denied mandamus. The court began by rejecting Beneficiary’s claim that a district court lacks the authority to transfer a case to a statutory county court. The court explained that such a transfer is authorized under the Government Code when permitted by local rules as was the case here.

The court next addressed Beneficiary’s claim that the transfer was improper because Beneficiary was seeking a constructive trust remedy which is not available in a county court at law. The court stated that “the mere request for a constructive trust will not necessarily oust the dominant jurisdiction of a statutory county court sitting in probate. * * * A district court properly declines to exercise its jurisdiction over matters incident to an estate when, although a constructive trust is requested, the statutory county court has the power to afford adequate relief.” Id. at 640. In this case, the estate contained sufficient assets to pay the damages Beneficiary was seeking.

Note: A strong dissent argued that because Beneficiary was seeking a constructive trust over certain real property and that every parcel of real property is unique, Beneficiary would suffer irreparable injury if instead of recovering the property, the court awarded only monetary damages.

Beneficiary’s final argument was that the District Court should have retained the case because it also involved a charitable trust and Trust Code § 115.001 gives the District Court exclusive jurisdiction over trusts when the county does not have a statutory probate court. The court rejected this argument because Beneficiary’s claims were tort claims not within the meaning of the section because they are of a totally different character than the enumerated actions.

Moral: An action which might presumably be handled in District Court in a county without a statutory probate court such as to impose a constructive trust of deal with tort claims against a trust, may actually end up being heard in a county court at law.