On April 20, an intermediate Court of Appeals for the First Court of Appeals, sitting in Houston, reversed the trial court and directed that court to reinstate an environmental enforcement action that had purportedly been settled by agreement of the officials of Brazoria County, Texas and the defendants. Brazoria County had brought an environmental enforcement action against the defendants for violating state and county regulations regarding sewage disposal and the use of on-site sewage facilities. The State had objected to these settlement reached by Brazoria County and the defendants, but the trial court overruled the State’s objections and entered final judgment resolving the case and attaching the Agreed Judgments as exhibits to its judgment. The case is The State of Texas v. Brazoria County and Daniel Infante, Humberto Lumbrero, Isidro Dejesus Luna, and Ma Dejesus Luna.
By law, the State of Texas, acting by and through the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ) was a “necessary and indispensable party” to these proceedings, and the TCEQ participated in this proceeding as an “aligned party.” Notwithstanding these state law requirements, Brazoria County and the defendants negotiated a settlement without the participation of the State of Texas, and the trial court accepted this agreement, overruling the State of Texas’ objections and refusal to sign the settlement, and entered final judgment.
The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that none of the parties had complied with the requirements of the Texas Water Code that govern such proceedings.
We conclude that, because the State did not consent to the ‘agreed judgments’ that formed the basis of the trial court’s final judgment and, because no other proceedings had occurred to resolve the merits of the case, the trial court erred in rendering its judgment.
The final judgment of the trial court was set aside and the matter was returned to the lower court for further proceedings.