Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Homer Stark was the son of Lutcher and Nita Hill Stark. He and his brother were allegedly the sole beneficiaries of Nita’s will when she died, and Lutcher was the sole executor. Lutcher remarried, but when that died, he remarried a third time, to Nelda Childers. Nelda and Lutcher established a charitable trust, called the Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation. Upon Nelda’s death, her estate, valued at approximately $192 million, was sent to probate in the Orange County Court at Law. Homer initially intervened in that action, but he dismissed the case without prejudice to his subsequently asserting claims again in either the Orange County Court at Law or another court. Homer then brought suit in the 128th District of Orange County against Nelda’s estate, the foundation and several others. He alleged breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, conspiracy, wrongful removal from the board of the foundation, promissory estoppel – fraud , and the cancellation of a release he signed when he dismissed the prior litigation. Among the relief he sought was actual and exemplary damages, an accounting of documents withheld in the prior litigation, cancellation of the release, a constructive trust upon all assets he should have inherited that are part of the estate or are part of the foundation, interest and attorneys’ fees. Claiming that all of Homer’s claims are incidental to the administration of Nelda’s estate, the defendants in Homer’s suit moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction or to transfer and consolidate the action into the county court at law proceeding. The also claimed that the county court at law had dominant jurisdiction over Homer’s claims emanating from his initial intervention in the estate administration. Homer responded that his claims against the foundation and its trustees could only be brought in district court, that the district court had concurrent jurisdiction in the claims that relate to Nelda’s estate, and that the county court at law would not have jurisdiction to impose a constructive trust. The district court granted the defendants’ motion to transfer and consolidate. Homer filed for a writ of mandamus to direct the district court to vacate its order. HOLDING:Writ denied. The court first rejects Homer’s contention that district court’s never have the authority to transfer a case to a statutory county court. Government Code �74.093 authorizes district and statutory judges to create local rules governing transfers that are otherwise jurisdictionally sound. Though Government Code �74.121 specifically mentions only transfers from statutory courts to district courts, the court here does not find that rule in conflict with rules allowing transfer in the other direction promulgated under �74.093. The Civil Trial Rules of the Courts of Orange County permit transfers from one type of court to the other to facilitate the orderly and efficient disposition of litigation. Examples of the cases that may be transferred include: “(1) any case arising out of the same transaction or occurrence as did an earlier case, particularly if the earlier case was dismissed for want of prosecution or voluntarily dismissed by the plaintiff at any time before final judgment; and (2) any case involving one or more of the same parties in an earlier case and requiring a determination of any of the same questions of fact or law as those involved in the earlier case.” Homer’s intervention action falls into both categories. The court finds that county courts at law have dominant jurisdiction over an estate and matters incident to it when the estate is filed in that court. Noting that county courts at law do not have jurisdiction to impose constructive trusts, the court nonetheless finds that a mere request for a constructive trust will not override that jurisdiction. Furthermore, the county court has the power to afford adequate relief. The court speculates that out of the $192 million in estate assets and a ranch Homer wants, “it would seem that the county court at law could adequately compensate Homer for any loss that he may have suffered.” Homer’s claim that the ranch he wants has more than monetary value does not sway the court because he did not offer any testimony at the hearing on the motion to transfer concerning the ranch’s sentimental value. Absent such testimony, it was not unreasonable for the trial court to conclude that Homer would have an adequate remedy for his claims in the county court at law. Consequently, the court rules the district court did not abuse its discretion in transferring Homer’s suit to the county court at law. The court rejects the dissent’s reliance on the fact that property (such as the ranch) is unique and cannot be adequately compensated for through a monetary award. “We think it is reasonable to conclude that under some circumstances monetary damages afford adequate relief for the loss of real estate and under some circumstances it does not. There is no evidence in the record of the transfer hearing indicating that this case is one in which monetary damages do not afford adequate relief.” The court then finds that the claims Homer leveled against the trust and the trustees are torts. They are not the type of claim against a charitable trust contemplated by Property Code �115.001(a), which places jurisdiction over charitable trusts in district court. The types of claims contemplated by �115.001(a) have to do with the trust itself or the operation of the trust. OPINION:Hill, J.; McKeithen, C.J., Burgess and Hill, JJ. DISSENT:Burgess, J. The dissent would conditionally grant the writ. The dissent takes issue for the majority’s faulting a lack of testimony about the ranch’s sentimental value because the transfer hearing was only to present the lawyers’ arguments. Homer’s pleading of a constructive trust was sufficient to establish jurisdiction over that claim in district court. And, finally, because every piece of real estate is unique, Homer was not required to present testimony of the ranch’s uniqueness.

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 3 articles* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.