News & Insights
Case Updates from the First Court of Appeals – June 2023
June 12, 2023
Six Brothers Concrete Pumping, LLC v. Texas Workforce Commission, No. 01-22-00357-CV, 2023 WL 3311165 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] May 9, 2023, no pet. h.)
This case is interesting because it deals with whether a mandatory venue provision found in a statute implicates the court’s subject-matter jurisdiction.
In this case of first impression, the First Court held that the mandatory venue provision in Chapter 61 of the Labor Code is a “statutory prerequisite to a suit,” within the meaning of Texas Government Code § 311.034, and, therefore, is a jurisdictional requirement.
This holding is important. Whether certain statutory provisions are or are not jurisdictional is a hotly contested topic in the law, and both Texas and federal courts have been grappling with this issue for some time now.
The facts of this case are straightforward. A former employee of Six Brothers Concrete Pumping (“Six Brothers”) filed a wage claim with the Texas Workforce Commission (“TWC”) under Chapter 61 and was awarded $1,000 in unpaid wages. Six Brothers filed a suit challenging that finding in Harris County district court.
TWC filed a plea to the jurisdiction. It argued that Chapter 61 imposed a mandatory venue provision requiring that suit be filed in Montgomery County and that this provision was jurisdictional. Six Brothers maintained that the mandatory venue provision was not jurisdictional and that TWC had waived the venue objection by filing an answer. The district court sided with TWC and dismissed the case.
The First Court began its analysis with sovereign immunity, which implicates a court’s subject-matter jurisdiction. Chapter 61 provides an administrative mechanism for dispute resolution regarding wages paid to an employee. But if a party decides to challenge the administrative outcome in district court, it contains a mandatory venue provision. The suit must be brought in the county of the wage claimant’s residence. Here, that county was Montgomery County.
Chapter 61 waives sovereign immunity for the purposes of the lawsuit, but the waiver is limited. A party can bring the suit if it satisfies the procedural requirements.
Under Texas Government Code § 311.034, the Legislature has clarified that statutory prerequisites to a suit, including notice provisions, are jurisdictional in nature. A statutory prerequisite is a requirement that: (1) is found in the relevant statute, (2) is required by the relevant statute, and (3) must be met before the suit is filed.
The First Court acknowledged that generally venue is not jurisdictional. But it went on to analyze whether the mandatory venue provision in Chapter 61 nonetheless was jurisdictional because it qualified as a statutory prerequisite under § 311.034.
The First Court found the first two prongs of the test were easily satisfied. But it held that a closer analysis was required as to the third prong, i.e., whether a mandatory venue provision must be met before the suit is filed. Examining the language of the mandatory venue provision, the First Court held that the use of the word “must” created a condition precedent to suit. In other words, the venue provision has to be met before suit is filed.
Accordingly, the First Court held that the mandatory venue provision qualified as a statutory prerequisite under § 311.034 and was therefore jurisdictional. As a result, the First Court affirmed the trial court’s order granting the plea to the jurisdiction and dismissing the case.
City of Webster v. Moto Kobayashi Trust, No. 01-22-00628-CV, 2023 WL 3311470 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] May 9, 2023, no pet. h.)
This is another interesting case regarding subject-matter jurisdiction—although it deals with the distinction between the subject-matter jurisdiction of a Harris County civil court at law as opposed to that of a Harris County district court.
Under Government Code § 25.1032(c), Harris County civil courts at law have exclusive jurisdiction of inverse condemnation claims. The issue was whether the public-nuisance abatement statute—found in Local Government Code § 214.001—creates an independent statutory takings claim that falls within the district court’s jurisdiction and thus escapes the clutches of § 25.1032(c)’s exclusive jurisdiction provision. The First Court held that it does not.
Local Government Code § 214.001 allows a city to enact an ordinance requiring, inter alia, the demolition of a building if the building is found to be a public nuisance. In this case, the City of Webster did just that as to certain buildings owned by Moto Kobayashi Trust.
Local Government Code § 214.001 allows the owner to appeal to a district court and contend that the city’s decision is illegal. The property owner did so. In connection with this district-court appeal, the property owner also alleged an inverse condemnation claim and a takings claim.
Although Government Code § 25.1032(c) requires an inverse condemnation claim to be brought in Harris County civil courts at law, the property owner argued that there was an exception because other courts have suggested that an inverse condemnation claim in this context must be brought in the same proceeding as the appeal under the public-nuisance abatement statute.
The First Court rejected this argument and held that none of the other courts were dealing with the unique circumstances regarding jurisdiction of inverse condemnation claims in Harris County. Moreover, the First Court also rejected an argument that Local Government Code § 214.001 recognizes or creates any independent statutory takings claim.
Because the property owner should have brought its inverse condemnation claim in a Harris County civil court at law, instead of district court, the First Court reversed the trial court’s order denying the plea to the jurisdiction. The First Court rendered judgment dismissing the inverse condemnation claim without prejudice to the property owner refiling the claim in the proper court.