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David J. Felt, Aka David Joel Felt v. Harris County

April 23, 2013

DAVID J. FELT, AKA DAVID JOEL FELT,
APPELLANT
v.
HARRIS COUNTY, ON BEHALF OF ITSELF AND OTHER COUNTYWIDE TAXING AUTHORITIES, THE HARRIS COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, THE PORT OF HOUSTON AUTHORITY OF HARRIS COUNTY, THE HARRIS COUNTY FLOOD CONTROL DISTRICT, THE HARRIS COUNTY HOSPITAL DISTRICT, CITY OF HOUSTON, HOUSTON INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, AND HOUSTON COMMUNITY COLLEGE SYSTEM,
APPELLEES



On Appeal from the 281st District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 2010-21534

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Tracy Christopher Justice

Affirmed and Memorandum Opinion filed April 23, 2013.

In The Fourteenth Court of Appeals

MEMORANDUM OPINION

In this suit to collect delinquent ad valorem taxes, defendant David J. Felt appeared and testified at trial, but in the judgment against him, the trial court erroneously indicated that he failed to appear. In his appeal, Felt argues that if the trial court ruled based on the evidence, then the judgment must be reversed because the evidence presented at trial is legally insufficient to support the judgment against him in his personal capacity. He argues in the alternative that if the trial court based the judgment on Felt's failure to appear for trial, then the judgment must be reversed because the record establishes that he did appear and testify. We conclude that the evidence is legally sufficient to support the judgment, and that Felt waived his alternative argument by failing to file a motion for new trial. We accordingly affirm the judgment.

I.FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Harris County, acting for itself and on behalf of several county-wide taxing authorities,*fn1 sued David J. Felt for payment of delinquent ad valorem taxes for tax years 1987--2009, special assessments against the property, penalties, interest, attorney's fees, and abstract fees. The County prayed for foreclosure of its liens against the property, and for a personal judgment against Felt. Felt filed a general denial and asserted that he "was never in the chain of title individually." In March 2011, the trial court rendered a default judgment against Felt for delinquent taxes for the years 1990--2009, for the taxes then due for tax year 2010, and for the special assessments. The judgment signed by the trial court had been submitted by the County's attorney, and in the proposed judgment, counsel wrote that Felt "appeared/failed to appear in court." In the signed judgment, the word "appeared" is crossed out. Felt moved successfully for a new trial, and the case was tried without a jury.

At trial, the County produced evidence documenting its claims. This evidence included a certified delinquent-tax statement covering the years 1990-- 2011 for real property identified as a .1487-acre parcel located at Lot 327, Block 13, MacGregor Terrace Section 1. On the tax statement, the owner is identified as Equi-Share, Inc. The County also introduced a certified copy of a 1983 warranty deed in which Equi-Share, Inc. conveyed the property-again identified as Lot 327, Block 13, MacGregor Terrace Section 1-to David J. Felt in exchange for his promissory note for $12,260.00. The deed was signed by David J. Felt, President, Equi-Share, Inc. His signature was notarized, and the deed was recorded in the Harris County Clerk's office more than a month after it was executed.

Felt, on the other hand, testified that he did not "intentionally" do anything that would cause him to own the property, and that he never paid for it or exchanged anything of value for it. He stated that he does not own the property, does not know where it is located, does not know if it contains any improvements, has never attempted to lease the property, and has done nothing to exercise any control over it. He further testified that he was not familiar with the 1983 warranty deed. After examining it, Felt admitted that signature on the deed looked like his own, but stated that if he did sign the warranty deed, he did not do so intentionally.

The trial court took the case under advisement, and the County's attorney submitted another proposed judgment. Except for a change in the date, the typed content on the first page of the judgment is identical to the first page of the default judgment that had been set aside. Once again, counsel wrote that Felt "appeared/failed to appear in court," and once again the word "appeared" is crossed out. Unlike the earlier judgment, the trial court made a substantive change to the proposed judgment by crossing out the portion of the judgment in which Felt would have been held liable for the principal, interest, and attorney's fees associated with the special assessment. Felt appealed without filing any post-judgment motions.

II.LEGAL SUFFICIENCY OF THE EVIDENCE

In his first issue, Felt challenges the legal sufficiency of the evidence. He did not request any findings of fact, so we must imply that the trial court made all findings necessary to support the judgment. Sixth RMA Partners, L.P. v. Sibley, 111 S.W.3d 46, 52 (Tex. 2003). When reviewing the legal sufficiency of the evidence, we consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the findings and indulge every reasonable inference that would support them. See City of Keller v. Wilson, 168 S.W.3d 802, 827 (Tex. 2005). We credit favorable evidence if a reasonable factfinder could and disregard contrary evidence unless a reasonable factfinder could not. See id. If the evidence at trial would enable reasonable and fair-minded people to find the facts at issue, then the evidence is legally sufficient. Id.

Felt contends that there is no competent evidence that he owed the taxes and no competent evidence of the amount of taxes owed. We disagree. In a suit to collect delinquent taxes, the taxing authority can meet its initial burden to establish the amount of the tax, penalties, and interest in the manner specified in section 33.47(a) of the Texas Tax Code:

In a suit to collect a delinquent tax, the taxing unit's current tax roll and delinquent tax roll or certified copies of the entries showing the property and the amount of the tax and penalties imposed and interest accrued constitute prima facie evidence that each person charged with a duty relating to the imposition of the tax has complied with all requirements of law and that the amount of tax alleged to be delinquent ...


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