JURISDICTION AFTER MANDATE, OR, “WE REALLY MEANT IT.”

In re F.A. Brown’s Construction, LLC
Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-18-00804-CV (September 18, 2018)
Justices Lang-Miers (Opinion, linked here), Fillmore, and Stoddart
The Dallas Court of Appeals granted mandamus when a trial court failed to follow its mandate from an earlier appeal. In the process, it explained the scope of a trial court’s jurisdiction when faced with a mandate, and the scope and duration of both courts’ jurisdiction when the trial court doesn’t follow the mandate.

Brown’s Construction sued Ken-Do Contracting for breach of contract. Brown alleged venue in Dallas; Ken-Do argued for transfer to Ellis County. The trial court sustained venue in Dallas, and the case proceeded to judgment there after a jury trial. On appeal, the Fifth Court found neither party had made the necessary venue showing, reversed the judgment, and remanded with specific instructions for the trial court “to conduct further proceedings on the issue of venue.” The trial court then peremptorily ordered the case transferred to Johnson County—a venue sought by neither party— without “conducting further proceedings,” as directed by the mandate. When Brown filed a motion to reconsider, the trial court acknowledged its transfer order was in error, but denied the motion because, it said, its plenary jurisdiction had expired. Brown then sought mandamus. Ken-Do acknowledged the transfer order was erroneous, but opposed mandamus, arguing that neither the trial court nor the Court of Appeals had jurisdiction to do anything about it—in part because of the trial court’s loss of plenary power and also because Johnson County lies outside the Appeals Court’s territorial jurisdiction, making it impossible for the Court of Appeals to order the transferee court to return the case to Dallas.

What a mess, right? But the Dallas Court promptly cleaned it up.

What is at stake here, the Court of Appeals explained, is an appellate court’s authority to enforce its judgments—in this case, the earlier judgment and mandate directing the trial court to “conduct further proceedings on the issue of venue” and only then to act on the issue. On remand, the trial court’s jurisdiction was limited to effectuating the mandate issued by the Court of Appeals. The appeals court retains jurisdiction for as long as necessary to ensure the trial court follows its instructions. Delays in the trial court—even those that would seem to deprive that court of plenary jurisdiction generally—do not impair the appeals court’s jurisdiction to ensure compliance with its prior mandate, by way of mandamus, or the trial court’s jurisdiction to effectuate that renewed directive. The Court of Appeals therefore granted mandamus, ordering the trial court to vacate its transfer order and to conduct the further proceedings on venue as ordered originally.

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