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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:In 1997, the Texas Department of Transportation filed a condemnation petition in a county court-at-law in Harris County, seeking to condemn a .3407-acre portion of a developed, 23-acre tract owned by petitioner PR Investments (PRI) bordering South Main Street (Highway 90A) in Houston. Petitioner Specialty Retailers Inc. leased an office complex and distribution facility on PRI’s property. TxDOT condemned the .3407-acre strip in order to construct a frontage road along PRI’s property as part of TxDOT’s project to widen South Main Street and convert it from a four-lane, divided highway to a six-lane, controlled-access highway. Under Texas Property Code �21.014, the court appointed three special commissioners to conduct an administrative hearing and assess the appropriate condemnation damages. TxDOT’s initial design plan for the frontage road (the Corder plan) included two one-way lanes that narrowed to a single lane at the driveway to PRI’s remaining property. Before the special commissioners’ hearing, however, and in response to concerns from PRI and Specialty Retailers about safe access to and from the property, TxDOT devised a new plan for striping and signing the road (the Sparks plan) that would provide a dedicated deceleration and acceleration lane for vehicles entering and exiting the property. The commissioners learned at the hearing that TxDOT would be following the Sparks plan, and there was no evidence that TxDOT was not committed to the Sparks plan at the time of the commissioners’ hearing. Specialty Retailers was satisfied with the Sparks Plan and did not participate in the hearing. PRI, however, offered evidence that the Sparks Plan would limit its ability to build additional driveways, thus impairing access and depressing the remaining property’s value. The commissioners assessed $166,000 in damages. TxDOT and PRI each appealed under �21.018, returning the case to the county court at law for trial de novo. Shortly before trial, TxDOT abandoned the Sparks Plan, which the commissioners had considered, in favor of the initial Corder Plan. TxDOT notified PRI of the change a few days before trial but did not notify Specialty Retailers. PR Investments and Specialty Retailers (petitioners) contended that TxDOT’s reversion to the Corder Plan materially altered the compensation issues before the trial court and rendered the earlier special commissioners’ proceeding a worthless exercise. The petitioners cited the Property Code provisions that the amount of damages assessed turned in part on “the effect of the condemnation on the value of the property owner’s remaining property” and that “the special commissioners shall admit evidence on . . . the use of the property for the purpose of the condemnation.” The trial court heard argument on whether it could or should proceed in light of TxDOT’s change in highway plans. It decided that TxDOT would not be allowed to try the case based on the Corder plan and that TxDOT could either dismiss the case and start over with a second administrative hearing or try the case based on the Sparks plan. TxDOT objected to this choice, because it believed the trial could proceed under the Corder plan and because it had no intention of actually building the relevant portion of the highway under the Sparks plan. Nonetheless, TxDOT stated that it would “proceed in protest” under the Sparks plan. This position led to further debate about whether the case should proceed under a fiction. In the course of arguing whether and how to proceed, TxDOT repeatedly moved for a continuance. The petitioners moved for sanctions and for dismissal of the case, arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction to proceed. From the bench the court granted the motion for sanctions and the motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. In its final judgment, the trial court dismissed the case without prejudice, awarded the petitioners $650,651.47 (all their expert-witness and attorneys’ fees and expenses), and ordered TxDOT to surrender possession of the .3407-acre tract. The court held that it “lacked jurisdiction to proceed” under the Corder plan, because “it was reasonable to conclude from the evidence and representations of counsel that the [Corder Plan] deprived the Property Owners of greater rights and imposed greater burdens on the remainder Property than did the [Sparks Plan].” TxDOT appealed. A panel of the 14th Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the trial court did not have jurisdiction to hear the case because the Corder plan had not been considered by the special commissioners. The panel also upheld the award of fees and expenses to the petitioners. Sitting en banc, the 14th Court of appeals withdrew the panel decision, and in a 5-4 decision reversed the trial court’s judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. The en banc court held that the trial court had jurisdiction to proceed under the Corder plan. It also held that fees and expenses were not properly awarded under �21.0195, Rules 13 and 215, Chapter 105 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code, or the trial court’s inherent power. The en banc court held that while TxDOT might have engaged in conduct warranting discovery sanctions, the award of fees and expenses was unjust and excessive; it remanded the case for further proceedings. HOLDING:Affirmed. The relevant statutes and case law, the court stated, do not require TxDOT to specify in its petition the precise signs, striping, lanes and the like that it intends to construct when it condemns property for road construction. Nor is TxDOT prohibited from changing those design specifics after the special commissioners’ hearing, even if the change of plans will affect the value of the property owner’s remaining tract, the court stated. Such a change of plans does not divest the trial court of jurisdiction to proceed after the special commissioners have ruled and to “try the case in the same manner as other civil causes.” In these circumstances, the court stated, the statutory scheme does not require TxDOT to start over with a new petition, a new hearing before the special commissioners and payment to the petitioners of all the fees and expenses they incurred in the first administrative proceeding. The petitioners argued that even if the trial court had jurisdiction to proceed with the case, it nevertheless had discretion to dismiss it given the circumstances. The court disagreed. The trial court had jurisdiction to try the case de novo and was obliged to exercise that jurisdiction, the court stated. The petitioners contended that even if the trial court had jurisdiction to hear the case, the 14th Court should not have reversed the trial court’s award of sanctions. They argued that the trial court’s dismissal of the case and award of all their fees and expenses were proper discovery sanctions. The court agreed with the 14th Court that a remand on the issue was warranted so that the trial court could reconsider its award of monetary sanctions in light of the court’s explanation of its jurisdiction. OPINION:Willett, J., delivered the opinion of the court.

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