A court appointing a receiver has exclusive jurisdiction over property subject to the receivership. When does the court’s exclusive jurisdiction end? The court must either relinquish its jurisdiction or order the receiver to restore the property to those entitled to it.
Proper relinquishment of exclusive jurisdiction was the main issue of a recent San Antonio Court of Appeals case: Chimp Haven, Inc. v. Primarily Primates, Inc. You can read the opinion here.
In Chimp Haven, Primarily Primates, an animal sanctuary in Bexar County, obtained several chimpanzees from Ohio State University. After the chimpanzees arrived, Primarily Primates came under fire for management issues, which eventually led to a lawsuit with the Texas Attorney General in a probate court in Travis County.
During the proceedings, the probate court appointed a temporary receiver to manage the chimpanzees. After taking possession of the chimpanzees, the receiver petitioned the court to temporarily relocate the chimpanzees to Chimp Haven, a Louisiana-based sanctuary.
Eventually the Attorney General and Primarily Primates settled the case. The probate court issued a Corrected Order of Dismissal with prejudice, which stated that it would "retain jurisdiction for purposes of winding up the affairs of the receivership." Then, the probate court discharged the temporary receiver and dismissed the lawsuit.
When Primarily Primates asked Chimp Haven to return the chimpanzees, they refused. Primarily Primates sued Chimp Haven in the 224th Judicial District of Bexar County and won on summary judgment.
Did the trial court have subject-matter jurisdiction to decide ownership of the chimpanzees?
As you probably guessed, it did not. Why? Well, the probate court expressly declined to relinquish its jurisdiction in its Dismissal Order. So the court’s exclusive jurisdiction over the chimpanzees could only end if the court ordered the receiver to return the chimpanzees to Primarily Primates. This didn’t happen. Thus, Primarily Primates’s remedy was either to have initially asked the probate court to order the return of the chimpanzees or file its lawsuit against Chimp Haven in the probate court.