Judgment Against Sister Affirmed

The court affirmed the trial court’s judgment declaring Wilhoite’s quitclaim deed void and awarding Sims damages and attorney’s fees. The parties are sisters that each inherited a half interest in their grandfather’s house. In 2007, Sims signed a quitclaim deed transferring the interest in the property to Wilhoite for no consideration. Sims testified they agreed that after the house was sold, they would share the money from the sale equally; Wilhoite testified that Sims gifted her interest. Sims performed repairs on the house in 2008 and moved into the house in 2010 and performed maintenance. Sims testified that Wilhoite agreed to put those costs towards Sims’s interest in the house. In 2011, Wilhoite attempted to evict Sims for unpaid rent. Sims filed suit in district court seeking a declaratory judgment that the quitclaim deed was voidable and claims for statutory fraud and breach of contract. The jury found that Sims did not gift the property, that Wilhoite committed statutory fraud, and that Wilhoite breached her agreement to reimburse Sims for one-half of her repair and maintenance expenses.

The court first held that Wilhoite did not have adverse possession of the house by mere color of title through the quitclaim deed, and therefore the court was correct in refusing to apply a three-year limitations period. Second, neither agreement – to share in the proceeds from sale or reimburse for expenses – were contracts for the sale of real estate, so both were outside of the statue of frauds. Next, the court held that the declaratory judgment was proper, despite Sims’ failure to pursue a trespass to try title action, because the it merely canceled the deed and made no determination of title to the property. Finally, Sims’ counsel’s statement that her son was “protecting us in Afghanistan” was not an incurable argument. Thus, the court affirmed.

Wilhoite v. Sims, No. 05-12-00228-CV

Hospital District Not Immune from Breach of Contract Suit

The court affirmed a denial of the Dallas County Hospital District’s plea to the jurisdiction requesting dismissal of a breach of contract claim on the basis of governmental immunity, but reversed the decision with regards to a quantum meruit claim. The District entered into a written lease and purchase contract with Hospira for certain medical equipment and supplies. Several months after the end of the lease term, Hospira invoiced the District for the remaining amounts due under the lease. After unsuccessful attempts to recover the shortfall, Hospira sued the District asserting that immunity from suit had been waived by section 271.152 of the local government code. The District argued that its immunity from suit had not been waived under section 271.152 because it was not a local government entity as defined in section 271.151. The trial court denied the District’s plea to the jurisdiction, and the District filed an interlocutory appeal.

On appeal, the court noted that section 271.152 waives governmental immunity from suit for breach of contract claims against local governmental entities, defined as “a political subdivision of this state, other than a county or a unit of state government” and including a “special-purpose district.” The District contended that it is excluded from this definition because it is a “unit of state government” pursuant to the government code, but that code specifically excludes special purpose districts from the definition. Thus, the District could not assert immunity from the breach of contract claim. The court also held, however, that section 271.152 did not waive immunity from suit for Hopsira’s alternative claim based on quantum meruit. The statute expressly applied only to breach of contract.

Dallas County Hospital District v. Hospira Worldwide, Inc., No. 05-12-00902-CV

Forcible Detainer Is Independent of Title Dispute

The court affirmed a judgment in favor of FNMA in this forcible detainer action. After Henning defaulted on a promissory note, FNMA purchased the property in foreclosure and demanded that Henning vacate. FNMA filed a forcible detainer proceeding and received a judgment awarding it possession.

After losing on appeal to the county court at law, Henning appealed to the district court arguing that the lower courts lacked jurisdiction because this was a suit over title to land. The court noted that a forcible detainer action only determines immediate right to possession. Further, a separate lawsuit to determine title does not deprive a court of jurisdiction over a forcible detainer action unless determining who has the right to immediate possession necessarily requires resolution of the title dispute. Because it was not necessary for the trial court to determine whether the foreclosure was valid and to resolve the title dispute before awarding possession to FNMA, it had jurisdiction.

Henning v. Federal National Mortgage Association, No. 05-12-00726-CV

Stand Athwart History, Yelling ‘Sue’

The court reversed a judgment in favor the Texas Historical Commission and the City of Dallas related to demolition of a historical building and rendered a take nothing judgment for TWE. In March 2006, the City granted TWE a permit to demolish an historical Railway freight station in the West End of Dallas. The City later determined that the permit was improperly issued and revoked it. The City contended that they told TWE of the revocation and placed notice at the property. TWE proceeded with demolition. The City and THC sued TWE under the Local Government Code for demolishing a historic building without proper municipal approval and for fraud. The jury found against TWE on all claims, but the trial court granted TWE’s motion to disregard, in part, and awarded only civil penalties and damages under the Government Code.

The Government Code provides a cause of action for a city against someone who adversely affects a historic structure, but only if the City has already filed a verified listing of historic structures with the county clerk. The Code goes on to provide a cause of action for the THC if the city fails to pursue the cause of action under that same section. On appeal, the court held that the THC’s cause of action also required that the City file the required listing, which was not done, and therefore the THC’s action failed. Also, the statutes under which the City sought civil penalties did not specifically provide civil penalties. One allowed the City to adopt such penalties, which it never did, and the second addressed the enforcement of health and safety ordinance, not historical structure zoning. Thus, the trial court erred by assessing penalties against TWE.

TWE v. City of Dallas and Texas Historical Commission, No. 05-11-00582-CV

Don’t Ignore Motions for Summary Judgment

The Court affirmed a summary judgment in favor of Frost Bank on counterclaims related to a loan default. TAM failed to pay off a loan it received from Frost by the maturity date stated in the written loan agreement. Frost setoff part of the amount due with money from TAM’s operating account and sued for the remainder. TAM counterclaimed, alleging that Frost had orally extended the maturity date in a meeting with TAM’s representative and that Frost’s wrongful setoff caused TAM significant damage. Frost moved for, and TAM failed to challenge, traditional summary judgment on its breach of contract claims, which the court granted based primarily on the written loan agreement. It then granted no-evidence summary judgments dismissing TAM’s counterclaims related to the alleged oral extension. TAM appealed, challenging the trial court’s judgment on TAM’s counterclaims for breach of contract, promissory estoppel, negligent misrepresentation, fraud, conversion, and wrongful setoff.

On appeal, the court held that because TAM did not challenge the traditional summary judgment on Frost’s breach of contract claim, the trial court’s judgment as to the enforceability of the written agreement between TAM and Frost was binding. Thus, TAM’s corresponding counterclaims for breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation, and fraud, which were based on the alleged oral extension, failed due to the written agreement’s enforceability. The court agreed that there was no evidence that TAM relied on the alleged oral extension in its decision to deposit more money into the operating account, so TAM’s promissory estoppel claim also failed. And because TAM’s conversion and wrongful setoff claims required that TAM be entitled to possession of the funds in the operating account, and thus relied on the success of at least one of TAM’s other failed counterclaims, those claims likewise failed.

Trevino & Associates Mechanical v. Frost National Bank, No. 05-11-00650-CV

Chapter 51 Applies Regardless of Lender’s Measure of Damages; FMV Must Be Measured on Date of Foreclosure

The court reversed a trial court’s judgment in favor of PlainsCapital Bank for damages and attorney’s fees resulting from Martin’s loan default based on Chapter 51 of the Property Code. In 2008 Martin defaulted and the Bank foreclosed upon and purchased the underlying property at auction for $539,000. Martin owed the Bank nearly $800,000. In 2009, over a year later, the Bank sold the property for $599,000 and sued Martin for the deficiency. Martin sought a damages offset under Property Code § 51.003 based on the value of the property, introducing expert testimony at trial that the property’s fair market value at the time of foreclosure was $850,000. The Bank argued that § 51.003 did not apply because it was not seeking to apply the foreclosure sale price as a credit but instead what the Bank actually received from the property: the 2009 sales price. The trial court agreed, holding § 51.003 inapplicable and crediting Martin $599,000 toward the deficiency.

On appeal, the court held that § 51.003 applies, regardless of the lender’s requested measure of damages, when (1) §51.002 foreclosure sale occurs, (2) the foreclosure sale price is less than the debt, and (3) an action is brought to recover the “deficiency,” or the amount owed on the debt after application of the collateral’s value. The court noted that the lender may not receive the benefit of a § 51.002 foreclosure sale but then “opt out” of § 51.003’s offset to the borrower. Additionally, the price received in the 2009 sale was legally insufficient evidence under § 51.003 because the Bank failed to link that price to the property’s value on the date of foreclosure. The court refused to render judgment based on Martin’s evidence, however, noting that the Bank refuted this value with its own expert testimony but indicating that the 2009 sales price was not evidence of the property’s fair market value at foreclosure.

It should be noted that the court did not hold that a later sales price of property can never be evidence of its fair market value. Rather, it is important for the lender to tie the actual sales price closely to § 51.003’s definition of fair market value, including a showing how it reflects the property’s value on the date of foreclosure.

Martin v. PlainsCapital Bank, No. 05-10-00235-CV

Back Home Again in Indiana… Again

The court withdrew its previous opinion in this case, which dismissed the appeal for want of jurisdiction, and entered a new opinion affirming the trial court’s judgment denying Whitehead’s motion to vacate entry of a foreign judgment against him. The previous opinion held that Whitehead could not maintain a restricted appeal because he had participated in the hearing on the motion to vacate, despite not participating in the proceedings in Indiana that resulted in the underlying judgment. The new opinion holds that Whitehead’s lack of participation in the Indiana proceedings meets the relevant requirement to maintain a restricted appeal. The court affirmed the entry of the Indiana judgment, however, because there was no error by the Texas trial court. The certification of the Indiana judgment was accomplished by the stamped “certified copy” on the final page, meeting the authentication requirements of Texas Rule of Evidence 902.

Whitehead v. Bulldog Battery Corporation, No. 05-12-00449-CV (Memorandum Opinion on Rehearing)

Forcible Detainer Judgment Reversed

The court reversed a county court’s judgment in favor of a resident in a forcible detainer action and rendered judgment of possession in favor of the bank. After acquiring the property at a foreclosure sale and attempting to remove Mr. Carman, OneWest file a forcible detainer action. At trial OneWest provided the deed of trust, the substitute trustee’s deed, and notices to vacate the property that were served on Carman. The trial court found that OneWest did not have the right to possess, but noted that it could go through the process again with the correct paperwork. On appeal, the court held that OneWest had a claim to immediate possession of the property based on the deed of trust, which stated that Carman would become a tenant-at-sufferance in the case of a foreclosure and that OneWest could remove Carman from the property. This served as an independent basis on which the trial court should have determined that OneWest was entitled to immediate possession of the property.

OneWest Bank v. Carman, No. 05-12-00100-CV

No Reconsideration of Recusal

The court granted a writ of mandamus to preventing an administrative judge from granting a rehearing of her recusal order. Relator Amos filed a motion to recuse the trial judge presiding in her criminal case, and the administrative judge assigned to hear the motion orally found “the appearance of impropriety, the appearance of prejudice . . . sufficient” to justify recusal. The administrative judge ordered recusal and transferred the case to a new judge. The trial judge filed a motion for reconsideration challenging the merits and arguing that she had not received notice of the hearing and the opportunity to present or challenge evidence. The administrative judge granted the motion for reconsideration and set a new hearing on the motion to recuse. Amos filed a petition for writ of mandamus seeking relief.

The court held that once a judge refers a motion to recuse to another judge, the challenged judge can take no further action, especially to influence the outcome of the matter. Moreover, once the administrative judge decided the motion and transferred the case to a new judge, she no longer had authority over the matter. Finally, the trial judge had no due process interested in presiding over the particular case. Thus, the motion for reconsideration was improper and any action on that motion was contrary to settled law. Mandamus was an appropriate remedy to prevent waste of judicial resources and interference with the new court’s jurisdiction over the case.

In Re Amos, No. 05-12-01500-CV