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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:FKM Partnership owns a 1.0792-acre tract of land adjacent to the University of Houston. From 1996 to 1998, FKM and UH negotiated for the joint development of the property. In early 1998, however, UH informed FKM that it wanted to buy the property, and subsequently made an offer for $205,250, which FKM refused. UH initiated a condemnation proceeding against FKM. Two days later, the UH Board of Regents agreed to acquire by condemnation 85,733 square feet of the property, to make a highway right-of-way lane, at a price not to exceed $582,890. The special commissioners appointed to assess damages to be paid to FKM came up with a price of $275,000. FKM timely objected, and the case was set for trial in February 2003. UH filed a motion to dismiss and a plea to the jurisdiction for partial summary judgment, saying the condemnation was for public necessity, and that UH complied with statutory prerequisites and had negotiated in good faith. Before the February 2003 trial, UH said it wanted to condemn a significantly smaller tract within the original 1.0792-acre tract than what it asked for in its original condemnation petition. FKM filed a motion to dismiss the second action, as well as a plea to the jurisdiction, arguing that UH did not: 1. demonstrate public necessity for the taking of the smaller tract; 2. comply with the statutory prerequisites; and 3. negotiate in good faith for the smaller tract. The county court dismissed the case for want of jurisdiction, ruling that UH did not have the legal right to acquire the smaller tract of land in the condemnation proceeding. The issue of FKM’s temporary damages was tried to a jury, which found FKM’s reasonable and necessary appraisal fees and expenses to be more than $67,000. FKM’s reasonable and necessary attorneys’ fees were more than $676,000 for past and possible future work. The jury further found $323,026 as damages for the University’s temporary possession of FKM’s property from July 6, 1999, to the date of trial. HOLDING:Reversed and remanded. The court reviews whether the county court-at-law had jurisdiction or not. The court finds that the Property Code provisions on eminent domain, as well as case law, indicate that the county court did not lose jurisdiction when UH amended its pleadings to condemn a smaller portion of land than was originally sought. Under the Property Code, the county court’s jurisdiction vests when a party files objections to the special commissioners’ findings, as FKM did. Once the objections are filed, the county court must try the case as it would any other civil case governed by the rules of civil procedure. Those rules permit parties to amend their pleadings and also to dismiss some or all of their claims. Nothing in the code specifies that a county court loses jurisdiction in eminent domain cases simply because the condemning authority seeks to dismiss part of its claim by amending its pleadings to take less than what it originally asked for. The court then reviews the case law that also says the condemning authority is allowed to amend its original request downward, though not upward and not for a new piece of land. After determining that UH’s amended petition would only reduce the amount of land to be condemned, the county court’s hearing on FKM’s damages should have been limited to determining FKM’s damages for the portion of land dismissed, in addition to its damages for the smaller tract of land UH still wishes to condemn. “Requiring the condemning authority to re-initiate condemnation proceedings in such a situation does more than make the landowner whole it punishes the condemning authority. The condemning authority must either dismiss the entire proceedings, pay damages and start the condemnation proceedings all over again, or take land that it neither wants nor needs. Either result is undesirable. The condemning authority cannot be forced to take land it neither wants nor needs.” The county court, on remand, should limit its hearing on damages to those related to the portion of land UH sought to dismiss and reserve the damages determination related to the smaller portion of land for the conclusion of the condemnation proceeding related to that tract. The court does not see any problem in the lack of a board of regents resolution approving pursuit of the smaller tract. However, the court does agree that there is no evidence the parties negotiated the sale of the smaller tract in good faith. The court instructs the trial court on remand to abate the proceeding to allow UH to satisfy Property Code requirements for condemning the smaller piece of land. OPINION:Wanda McKee Fowler, J.; Fowler, Edelman and Seymore, JJ. DISSENT:Charles W. Seymore, J. “[B]y finding that the county court has original jurisdiction, the majority thwarts jurisdictional prerequisites expressed or implied in the statute.”

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