Condemnation mandamus

In re Energy Transfer (Published): In a condemnation case, unless and until someone objects to the commissioners’ award, mandamus is the only way to complain of a judgment that doesn’t match what you think the commissioners ordered.

As long as condemnation domain cases remain before the commissioners, they are an administrative proceeding. Once the commissioners make an award, the trial court must enter judgment conforming to the award as an administrative act. The case only becomes a judicial proceeding if and when a party objects to the commissioner’s award.

Energy transfer felt that the landowner improperly presented (and the trial improperly signed) a judgment that had some “extras” that were not awarded by the commissioners. In particular, an abandonment clause, an indemnity clause, and a provision that Energy Transfer would be perpetually liable for restoration of the property. Even though Energy Transfer didn’t like those clauses, they didn’t want to object to the commissioners’ award and thereby open the matter up to a full-blown jury trial.

But since Energy Transfer did not invoke a judicial proceeding, they couldn’t pursue the judicial remedy of appeal to complain of the extras. Instead, mandamus was the only remedy available. On mandamus review, the Tyler court of appeals found no evidence that the commissioners had considered the extras. And since they weren’t considered by the commissioners, the commissioners could not have included them in their award. In the words of the Tyler court of appeals: “where a trial court fails to enter a judgment conforming to the commissioners’ award in a condemnation proceeding, that judgment is void.” Mandamus issues.

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