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Tarin v. Benavides

Court of Appeals of Texas, Eleventh District

January 30, 2014

MITZIE F. TARIN AND MARIA FLORES, Appellants
v.
ELIAZER BENAVIDES, BELINDA BENAVIDES, ENRIQUE RUBIO, CORINA RUBIO, AND LELAND
v.
MAPLES, Appellees

On Appeal from the 161st District Court Ector County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. B-126, 827

Panel consists of: Wright, C.J., Willson, J., and Bailey, J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

MIKE WILLSON JUSTICE

Appellants, Mitzie F. Tarin and Maria Flores, appeal from a judgment in which the trial court awarded funds held in the registry of the court, entered judgment against Appellants for attorney's fees, and dismissed the bodily injury claims of Tarin's minor child. The funds held in the trial court's registry were settlement proceeds that were part of the Mediated Settlement Agreement (the Agreement) that the parties had executed to settle property-damage claims that arose from an automobile accident. We affirm in part and reverse and render in part.

I. Background Facts and Procedural History

On November 18, 2008, vehicles being driven by Tarin and Leland V. Maples collided with each other. Tarin drove a Trans Am that collided with Maples's Windstar van. Tarin's vehicle[1] then struck Enrique and Corina[2] Rubio's building, which housed Eliazer and Belinda Benavides's dry cleaning business. The Benavideses sued Tarin and Maples for damage to their business; later, the Rubios and others sued. The trial court ordered all parties to mediation; at mediation, the parties executed the Agreement.

Under the Agreement, no preset settlement amounts were included, and the parties agreed that the trial court would resolve competing claims for the $50, 056 interpleaded as settlement funds. The parties stated in the Agreement that $50, 056 constituted the combined "full policy limits for property damage" from the automobile liability insurance policies of Tarin and Maples.[3] The Agreement required the parties to submit their claims or settlement funds as a "plea" or "interpleader, " respectively, but provided no deadline to do so. Per the Agreement, settlement funds of $50, 056 were deposited into the trial court's registry on September 29, 2010. In two subsequent orders, the trial court granted motions to withdraw the funds and to dismiss the causes of action filed by the Benavideses and the Rubios. In these orders, the trial court ordered that $45, 056 of the funds in the court's registry be released to the Benavideses and that $5, 000 of those funds be released to the Rubios.

On November 19, 2010, Ta r i n, individually and as next friend of her minor daughter, Kirah V. Tarin, filed a plea in intervention for personal injury damages because the daughter was a passenger in the Trans Am. According to the plea in intervention, "Maples has settled this case for $6, 500.00 to benefit the minor, " and Tarin, as next friend, sought a formal hearing in a "Friendly Suit" to finalize the matter. We note that the record does not indicate that any hearing was held. On November 30, 2010, the day after the trial court entered the order releasing $45, 056 to the Benavideses, Flores filed an original petition against Maples for property damage to the Trans Am.

The Benavideses subsequently filed a response to Tarin's and Flores's pleadings for property damages. In their response, the Benavideses also counterclaimed for declaratory judgment. They sought a declaration concerning the applicability of the statute of limitations to Flores's and Tarin's claims for property damage, a declaration regarding the parties' compliance with the Agreement, and attorney's fees.

The trial court ultimately entered a final judgment in which it found that Tarin's and Flores's claim for property damages were barred by the statute of limitations; dismissed the cause of action filed by Tarin for the minor's personal injuries; and awarded attorney's fees, for which Tarin and Flores are jointly and severally liable, to the Benavideses in the amount of $12, 012.90 plus an additional $5, 000 for an appeal.

II. Issues Presented

Appellants present three points of error on appeal. First, Appellants contend that the trial court erred in ignoring the Agreement and releasing the funds. Second, they argue that the trial court erred when it awarded attorney's fees to the Benavideses under the guise of declaratory relief. Third, Appellants assert that the trial court erred when it denied Appellants' "Motion for Enforcement" of the Agreement without holding a hearing. We note that Appellants do not complain on appeal that the trial court erred when it dismissed the cause of action relating to the minor's personal injuries.

III. Limitations and Award of Funds Under the Agreement

The Agreement was signed by the Benavideses, their attorney, the Rubios, Flores, Tarin, the attorney for Flores and Tarin, and the attorney for Maples. The Benavideses and the Rubios timely filed pleadings against Tarin, Maples, and Flores. Until Flores filed her original petition on November 30, 2010, neither Tarin nor Flores had filed any pleading that sought recovery for property damages or that sought recovery of a portion of the funds in the court's registry. The Benavideses raised the statute of limitations to any claims for property damages made by Tarin and Flores. The trial court made findings regarding the limitations issue and concluded that the claim for property damages made in Flores's November 30, 2010 original petition was filed after the expiration ...


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