In re Estate of Puig, 351 S.W.3d 301 (2011).

Estate Administration

Jurisdiction

Contesting Lack of Dominant Jurisdiction

 

According to a divorce decree, ex-wife was entitled to 60% of a parcel of community property. At the time of ex-wife’s death, ex-husband had not yet deeded over this 60% interest to wife. Ex-wife’s will was duly probated in the county court at law in ex-wife’s county of residence (Fort Bend). Independent administratrix then sued to have ex-husband deed over the property. When he refused, the court appointed a master in chancery to execute the deed. Later, other parties filed suit in district court in the county where the property is located (Webb) to set aside the portion of the divorce decree dealing with this property. The district court denied a plea to the jurisdiction and the appellate court denied a writ of mandamus. Independent administratrix appealed.

The Texas Supreme Court begin its analysis by determining that the Fort Bend county court at law had jurisdiction to hear the Webb county action as it dealt with the proper distribution of estate property. Because both the Fort Bend county court at law and Webb county district court had jurisdiction, the issue is which court has dominant jurisdiction. Because the Fort Bend county court a law action was initiated first, it had dominant jurisdiction. But, the proper method of resolving this type of jurisdictional dispute is a plea in abatement, not a plea to the jurisdiction. Accordingly, district court’s denial of a plea to the jurisdiction was not a abuse of discretion which resulted in the deprivation of an adequate appellate remedy. The court then denied the petition for a writ of mandamus.

Note: This case was governed by the jurisdictional provisions of the Probate Code as they existed prior to September 1, 2009.

Moral: “The proper method for contesting a court’s lack of dominant jurisdiction is the filing of a plea in abatement, not a plea to the jurisdiction.” Puig at 13.



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