Thompson Coe Appellate Attorneys Obtain Significant Mandamus Victory

December 20, 2018 Press Release

PECOS COUNTY, TX (December 17, 2018) Thompson Coe obtained Mandamus Relief for client Thomas Y. Pickett & Company in a significant discovery dispute before the Fifth District Court of Appeals. Plaintiff was a school district that alleged Pickett and several other defendants were negligent in undervaluing property in Pecos County and that the school district was supposedly deprived of ad valorem tax revenue as a result. The school district sought discovery from Pickett, including production of emails, texts, and documents relating to the valuation of crude oil mineral interests in Pecos County, and noticed depositions regarding the valuation of mineral interests. Pickett and other defendants filed objections and motions to quash and for protection, asserting that the sought-after information was confidential under Section 22.27 of the Texas Tax Code and contained proprietary and privileged trade secrets.

Following two hearings, the trial court ordered Pickett and other defendants to respond to the plaintiff’s discovery and for Pickett to produce a corporate representative for deposition within 21 days. Pickett and other defendants petitioned the Fifth District Court of Appeals for a writ of mandamus. Pickett argued—among other grounds—that the discovery orders were void because the trial court lacked jurisdiction as the school district had not exhausted the administrative remedies required under the Tax Code.

The Fifth District Court of Appeals granted Pickett’s petition and ordered the trial court to vacate its discovery orders based on the jurisdictional grounds. The panel unanimously held that the trial court’s orders were void because the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the school district’s common-law claims against Pickett. The court reasoned that the school district could not use a common-law cause of action to recover damages for an alleged undervaluation of property for ad valorem tax purposes. And the court concluded that the school district’s characterization of the suit as a common-law cause of action against the appraiser does not allow the school district to avoid the exclusive procedures and remedies in the tax code.

Thompson Coe partner Lee Thompson and associate Shelby Hall represented Pickett in the court of appeals. Partner Shawn Phelan represented Pickett in the trial court.