The Amarillo Court of Appeals recently concluded that when a probate proceeding is filed in a court that does not have jurisdiction, a judgment from the court is void, rather than voidable. In Winfield v. Pietsch, Dale Winfield, Gloria Johnson, and James Winfield filed suit in district court in Randall County seeking to challenge a Will executed by Jena Beth Winfield. Karen Sue Pietsch filed a special exception to challenge the jurisdiction of the district court, but she never sought to have the proceedings dismissed on that basis. Instead, she sought and obtained a summary judgment. Dale Winfield, Gloria Johnson, and James Winfield then appealed.
On appeal, Pietsch sought dismissal on the ground that the district court was without subject-matter jurisdiction, which rendered the judgment void. The court of appeals observed that Probate Code Section 5(c) vested jurisdiction in the county courts, rather than in district court over applications, petitions, and motions regarding probate or administration. Accordingly, the court holds that the district court’s judgment was void. The court’s opinion may be found here.
As a final note, I would point out that some courts of appeals have treated this probate code section as creating concurrent jurisdiction and creating dominant jurisdiction issues where there is more than one proceeding pending–such as where a prior estate administration has been opened. This treatment appears to be a result of the Texas Supreme Court’s opinion in Bailey v. Cherokee Cty. Appr. Dist., 862 S.W.2d 581 (Tex. 1993), which contains some confusing language. Hopefully the supreme court will one day clarify its Bailey opinion.