Bad Fences Make Bad Neighbors

“The parties are owners of adjoining property whose homes overlook a golf course. The Roses built a fence that blocked the view from the Bonvinos’ home. The ensuing legal dispute has lasted almost a decade.” That description begins a memorandum opinion affirming a Collin County trial court’s order enforcing a permanent injunction requiring the Roses to reduce the maximum height of their fence to 6 feet. The case hinged on the trial court’s finding that the “2012 Fence” exceeded 6 feet when measured from the “unaltered and unimproved grade.”

And thus, peace and tranquility were restored to Far North Dallas.

Rose v. Bonvino, No. 05-14-007020-CV

No End in Sight

One of the messiest cases in recent memory has resulted in a 79-page opinion and judgment that disposes of the case in almost every way imaginable: “Our decision in this case is to vacate, in part, affirm, in part, dismiss, in part, and reverse and remand to the trial court, in part.” The case arose out of a lease executed by Fitness Evolution, its subsequent acquisition by Headhunter Fitness, a series of personal guarantys, assignments, representations, and just about everything else one might find in a bar exam essay question. Since this one pretty much defies summary, we will instead report that while summary judgment was affirmed on some claims, the end result is that most everybody involved will be remanded to the Collin County trial court for additional proceedings.

Fitness Evolution, LP v. Headhunter Fitness, LLC, No. 05-13-00506-CV

Loose Lips Fail to Sink Summary Judgment

A Highland Park property dispute has resulted in a 30-page memorandum opinion affirming the trial court’s summary judgment ruling that the defendants have title to a strip of land adjacent to their home, but also reversing an attorney fee award of $40,670 against the plaintiff, Armstrong DLO Properties. ADLO filed suit, seeking to establish that (among very many other things) a 1949 warranty deed in the defendants’ chain of title was invalid, which would make the frontage of ADLO’s lot approximately 155 feet wide.

During the summary judgment hearing, the trial court revealed that it had sua sponte discovered that ADLO’s owner had successfully sued the estate of his father seeking reformation to the deed, establishing that the frontage was only 140 feet wide. The court orally stated that it would take judicial notice of that judgment, describing it as an issue of “estoppel.” The court subsequently granted summary judgment for the defendants without identifying the grounds for its ruling. The Court of Appeals rejected ADLO’s claim that the district court had improperly relied on matters outside the record in granting the summary judgment, as there was nothing in the written summary judgment order indicating that the court had actually granted summary judgment on the basis of the prior judgment. Because the grounds otherwise presented in the defendants’ motion were sufficient to justify summary judgment, the Court affirmed it. However, the Court reversed as to the award of attorney fees, holding that fees were not recoverable under the Declaratory Judgments Act because the issue was title to the property, not the location of the boundary between properties. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 37.004(c).

Armstrong DLO Props., LLC v. Furniss, No. 05-13-01581-CV

Update: The pressure is now on a for a three-peat next week.

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No Parking

Legacy Hillcrest Investments is seeking to develop a pair of lots just west of the SMU law School and north of of a single family district. After a series of proposals and counterproposals, Legacy sought a permit for to build a three-story parking garage. The community development staff approved the application, but the Board of Adjustment denied it. That led Legacy to file for a writ of mandamus, which the district court granted. The Dallas Court of Appeals reversed. The city’s zoning ordinance provided that only surface parking lots could be located “adjacent to” a single-family district. The Court held that the ordinance prohibited a parking garage because Legacy’s lots were across the street from the single-family district, making them “adjacent” to one another under the plain meaning of the term.

Bd. of Adjustment v. Legacy Hillcrest Invests., LP, No. 05-13-01128-CV

Deed Duel

An overly-complicated series of transactions led to a dispute over who had valid title to a residential property at 2701 Wickham Court in Plano. The case turned on which of two competing deeds — one filed by the corporation of Quang Dangtran and the second filed by another company that took its deed from his ex-wife, Tuyet Anh Le — was effective. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Court agreed with the trial court’s summary judgment ruling that Dangtran’s deed was not properly acknowledged because it failed to identify the state where the corporate entity was incorporated (see Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 121.008(b)(4)). However, the Court also held that there was a genuine issue of material fact whether the second claimant took the deed from Le with notice of her ex-husband’s claim, which would negate her transferee’s status as a bona fide purchaser. Because Dangtran was in unequivocal possession of the property at the time of the second transaction, and because Dangtran was not a member of Le’s family at that time, summary judgment could not be sustained on the second claimant’s bona fide purchaser defense.

Whoa USA, Inc. v. Regan Props., LLC, No.05-13-01412-CV

Silent Renewal

Last December, the Court of Appeals issued an interim opinion vacating a trial court order that almost quadrupled the supersedeas amount to be paid by TierOne Converged Networks during the appeal of a judgment evicting it and its equipment from the water towers of Lavon Water Supply Corp. Now, the Court has reversed and rendered judgment in favor of TierOne on the merits of the forcible detainer case. The Court agreed with TierOne that it had validly exercised its contractual option to renew the lease of the property for an additional five-year term. Because the lease did not require notice of any renewal, TierOne’s continued occupation of the property and payment of the monthly rent following the expiration of the initial term was sufficient to constitute an election to renew.

TierOne Converged Networks v. Lavon Water Supply Corp., No. 05-13-00370-CV

No Misrepresentation Where Sale Papers Identified the Floodplain

In this negligent misrepresentation and fraud case, the Court of Appeals has affirmed summary judgment for the defendant based on the statute of limitations. Collective Asset Partners LLC sued Michael Schaumburg and his architectural firm after Schaumburg informed CAP about a property for sale in Tarrant County and took a $1 million fee in the resulting sale. Half of the property turned out to be located on a floodplain, which allegedly caused CAP to be unable to develop it. Schaumburg sought and obtained summary judgment that there had been no misrepresentation because the paperwork for the sale included disclosures that identified the floodlplain. Nor could CAP show a misrepresentation based on a $10.25 million appraisal on the property, as that appraisal was only intended for use by the bank that commissioned it and could not be justifiably relied upon by third parties.

Collective Asset Partners LLC v. Schaumburg, No. 05-13-00040-CV

A Comedy of Errors

HSBC Bank foreclosed on a residential property in Cedar Hill, but failed to pay assessments on the property to the local homeowners association. The HOA foreclosed on its assessment lien, and the property was purchased out of foreclosure by Khyber Holdings, LLC. HSBC sought to redeem the property as permitted by § 209.011 of the Texas Property Code. However, when the bank’s attorney sent the required notice to Khyber, the letter incorrectly identified Countrywide Home Loans as the owner seeking to redeem the home. The attorney testified that the error had occurred because he represented the servicer for both HSBC and Countrywide, and that Khyber had purchased lots owned by both lenders during the same foreclosure sale. HSBC sued for a declaratory judgment that it was entitled to redeem the property. When Khyber responded with a letter that stated the redemption price would be $80,000, the attorney responded with an $80,000 check and a letter that once again named Countrywide as the owner, although the redemption deed correctly identified HSBC as the grantee of the redemption sale. Khyber refused to allow redemption, the case proceeded to trial, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of HSBC. The Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that only substantial compliance is required to fulfill the notice requirements of § 209.011, and that the series of back-and-forth exchanges between the parties was sufficient proof that the notice requirements had been fulfilled. The Court also affirmed the jury’s award of damages for trespass, concluding that HSBC was entitled to recover for lost rents during the period of time the property was improperly retained by Khyber.

Khyber Holdings, LLC v. HSBC Bank USA, N.A., No. 05-12-01212-CV

Home Equity Loan: Void or Voidable?

In August 2002, after Kroupa and WIlliams had been living together in a common law marriage for a number of years, Williams took out a home equity loan on the parties’ residence without telling Kroupa.  Kroupa discovered the home equity loan the following month, in September 2002.  Several years passed, and Kroupa and Williams finalized their divorced in 2007 and Kroupa received the residence as part of that proceeding.  In 2008, Kroupa filed a petition seeking to have the home equity loan declared as void.

On appeal, the Court looked to the Texas Constitution’s 1998 amendment concerning home equity loans to determine whether Kroupa could prevail.  Under that amendment , Kroupa argued that the home equity line was void because she did not sign the written agreement or consent to it as the Texas Constitution required.  In response, Williams and Wachovia (the holder of the lien) insisted that Kroupa’s claim was barred by the applicable statute of limitations.  Examining the Texas Constitution and the line of cases discussing this specific provision, the Court found that becuase the lien here was voidable and not void, the statute of limitations applied.  The Court then found that, because Kroupa discovered the lien in September in 2002, and because she filed her lawsuit in September 2008, her suit was barred by the four-year statute of limitations.

Williams v. Wachovia Mortgage Corp.

Equitable Title Trumps Judgment Lien

Lorrie Smith filed suit for judicial foreclosure of a judgment lien against three lots in a Frisco subdivision. Smith had obtained her judgment against Shaddock Builders & Developers, and she recorded an abstract of the judgment on July 15, 2010. Two years earlier, Shaddock had acquired the three lots and immediately conveyed them to another company, Basin, Ltd. The conveyance from Shaddock to Basin was recorded, but the original sale to Shaddock went unrecorded until the seller corrected its “oversight” exactly one day before Smith recorded her judgment lien. Shortly thereafter, Basin conveyed the lots to Sumeer Homes, which built houses and sold the lots to the current homeowners. Each of those subsequent transactions was recorded. Seeking to foreclose on the lots in order to collect on her judgment against Shaddock, Smith sued the homebuilder, the homeowners, their mortgage lenders, and the title company. The defendants moved for and obtained summary judgment against Smith.

On appeal, Smith argued that the conveyance to Shaddock had been fraudulently backdated, and that it had really been filed the day after she recorded her judgment lien. According to Smith, that meant that legal title to the property had not been transferred to Shaddock until after she filed her lien, therfore making the three lots subject to her claim. The court of appeals rejected that argument. Although “legal title” to property serves as evidence of ownership, it does not constitute full and complete title to the property. What really matters when it comes to a judgment creditor’s lien is equitable title to the property, which passes to the purchaser when it pays the purchase price and fulfills the obligations of the contract of sale. In this case, Shaddock had acquired equitable title to the lots three years before Smith recorded her lien, and Shaddock had immediately transferred that title to Basin. Equitable title is a complete defense against the lien of a judgment creditor. Because Basin had acquired equitable title long before Smith acquired her judgment against Shaddock, that title subsequently passed to Sumeer Homes and the subsequent homebuyers free and clear of Smith’s judgment judgment against Shaddock. Nor did Shaddock hold “legal title” to the three lots on the day Smith recorded her lien. The summary judgment evidence showed that the original seller had recorded the sale the day before, and because Shaddock had conveyed the property to Basin by warranty title two years earlier, legal title to the property passed instantly to Basin when the sale to Shaddock was finally recorded. The court of appeals therefore affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment.

Smith v. Sumeer Homes, Inc., No. 05-11-01632-CV