Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin
FROM THE COUNTY COURT AT LAW NO. 1 OF TOM GREEN COUNTY NO. 11C053-L, HONORABLE BEN NOLEN, JUDGE PRESIDING
Before Justices Puryear, Goodwin, and Field
Melissa Goodwin, Justice
In this dispute between neighbors, the county court denied a plea to the jurisdiction by appellants John Walker and Molly Walker and granted final summary judgment in favor of appellees Dennis Vick and James C. Timms. On appeal, the Walkers challenge the county court's jurisdiction over the claims and counterclaims between the Walkers and Timms. For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the county court did not err in denying the Walkers' plea to the jurisdiction.
The Walkers and Timms own adjacent lots on Edinburgh Road in Highland Range Estates, a platted subdivision in Tom Green County. In 2008, the Walkers sued Timms and his wife in district court seeking damages and injunctive relief under a nuisance theory of recovery. The suit arose out of the Walkers' construction of a circular driveway and the alleged interference by the Timms with the Walkers' right of access and use of their property. The Highland Range Estates Owners' Association was named a third-party defendant, and the parties reached a settlement in 2009. The Walkers agreed to construct the driveway "completely within their property line or within their extended property line" in exchange for $5, 000.00. After the Walkers completed the driveway, the Timms agreed to remove "twenty (20) feet of curbing, including red cone and dots."
As part of the settlement agreement, the Walkers released the Timms and the Association as follows:
[The Walkers] release, acquit and forever discharge the Timms and the Association, their representatives, agents, successors and assigns and lawyers of and from any and all demands, rights, damages, actions, representations, duties, obligations, agreements, contracts, claims, counterclaims, and causes of action whatsoever which [the Walkers] now have or which may hereafter accrue on account of or in any way growing out of or related to any and all known or unknown, foreseen and unforeseen damages and the consequences thereof resulting or to result from the relationship, duties, obligations, dealings, contracts, representations, and agreements between [the Walkers], the Timms and the Association through the effective date of this Agreement, including but not limited to all matters, actions, representations, duties, agreements, contracts, claims, counterclaims, and causes of action described in the pleadings filed in the Lawsuit or which were or could have been asserted in connection with the Lawsuit or which are a part of or are related to the subject matter of the Lawsuit and any duties or obligations, contractual, statutory or otherwise, arising from or related to the dealings and relationships between [the Walkers], the Timms and the Association, including but not limited to those relating to, contained in or arising from the construction of the subject driveway, provided that no release of any written promise or agreement set out in this Agreement is made or intended.
The district court thereafter dismissed the suit with prejudice based on a joint motion by the parties.
In April 2010, the Walkers sued Timms in small claims court. They sought damages and injunctive relief under theories of recovery of harassment and "breach of right-of-way easement." They alleged that Timms was harassing them "by parking trucks in front of Plaintiff's front door" and that he breached the right-of-way easement by "[m]aintaining a boulder, gravel, curbing and trucks in a dedicated right-of-way in order to exclude Plaintiffs or others from using said public right-of-way and harassment of Plaintiffs on a regular basis." Timms filed an answer asserting that the Walkers' claims were barred by the parties' prior settlement agreement in the district court proceeding and counterclaimed for damages and injunctive relief "due to harassment by Plaintiff John Walker." Timms sought to enjoin Walker "from blowing his air horn" at Timms or "driv[ing] across the property line or the extended property line of [Timms]'s property."
After the Walkers filed a separate suit in small claims court against Vick, the two actions were consolidated and transferred to county court. In the county court proceeding, Timms amended his counterclaim to include a contract claim against the Walkers for breach of the settlement agreement, and Vick and Timms filed motions for summary judgment, asserting res judicata based on the settlement agreement. See Barr v. Resolution Trust Corp., 837 S.W.2d 627, 628 (Tex. 1992) ("Res judicata, or claims preclusion, prevents the relitigation of a claim or cause of action that has been finally adjudicated, as well as related matters that, with the use of diligence, should have been litigated in the prior suit."). Timms also sought summary judgment on his breach of contract claim in his motion and submitted evidence of his attorney's fees.
The Walkers responded to the motions and filed a plea to the jurisdiction. In their amended plea, they asserted that the original court—the small claims court—lacked jurisdiction over the Walkers' claims against Timms because the Walkers "exclusively" prayed for injunctive relief and, therefore, the small claims court could not transfer those claims to county court. They also contended that the parties' claims involved title issues so that they could only be brought in district court.
The parties filed responses and, in one of his responses, Timms waived any prior request for injunctive relief. After a hearing, the trial court denied the Walkers' plea to the jurisdiction and determined that Vick and Timms were entitled to summary judgment. The trial court ordered that the Walkers take nothing against Vick and Timms and awarded attorney's fees of $2, 000 to Timms from the Walkers. The Walkers filed a ...