Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg
IN THE ESTATE OF JOSE M. RODRIGUEZ, DECEASED
appeal from the County Court at Law No. 3 of Cameron County,
Justices Contreras, Benavides, and Longoria Memorandum
L. LONGORIA, Justice
appeal concerns the Last Will and Testament of decedent Jose
M. Rodriguez ("Rodriguez"). Appellant Celia Ortega
("Celia") challenges a jury verdict against her in
a will contest brought by her brother, appellee Juan A.
Rodriguez ("Juan"). We affirm.
retired from his job in Houston in 1987 with plans to return
to Brownsville. Before leaving, Rodriguez conveyed his house
in Houston to his daughter Celia and her husband, Angel
Ortega ("Angel"). In return, the Ortegas conveyed
to Rodriguez a house they owned on Tecuan Street in
Brownsville. Rodriguez lived there after his return and
worked as a taxi driver. He also owned a pesera-a
type of taxi-in Matamoros, Mexico which he rented to an
operator for a fee.
witnesses who knew Rodriguez during this time in his life
described him as a "strong" man who was not easily
influenced. When describing Rodriguez's relationship with
his nine children, Juan testified that "[w]e all
respected dad, and if he said that something would be one
way, we would all do as he said." Celia, Angel, and
Artemio Caballero, the husband of one of Rodriguez's
nieces, gave similar testimony regarding Rodriguez's
personality and his relationship with his children.
record reflects that Rodriguez was a generous man who
frequently made gifts or loans to his children and others.
Rodriguez kept written records of his transactions, even
those which involved his children. Rodriguez would carefully
note any amount that was repaid and sign his name next to it.
The Ortegas Return to Brownsville
1997, the operator of Rodriguez's pesera died,
and Rodriguez invited the Ortegas to return home so that
Angel could operate the business. Angel accepted, and the
Ortegas moved back to Brownsville and lived with Rodriguez.
The Ortegas later purchased a lot located on Sinaloa Street
using funds Rodriguez acquired from the sale of land he owned
in Matamoros. The Ortegas built a new house on the lot
(the "Sinaloa Property") and included a bedroom for
Rodriguez in case he wanted to live with them.
April 2003, Rodriguez sold the house on Tecuan Street for
$50, 350 and moved in with the Ortegas on Sinaloa Street.
Both Angel and Celia testified that Rodriguez decided the
next year that he wanted to buy a house of his own. After
Rodriguez was unable to find a house he liked in his price
range, Angel suggested that Rodriguez purchase the Sinaloa
Property for the same price he received from the sale of his
house on Tecuan Street. According to Angel and Celia,
and Angel accompanied Rodriguez to the office of attorney Noe
Garza to sign a deed transferring title to the property. Even
though Angel and Celia each testified that the transaction
was a sale, the deed recited that the consideration was
"[l]ove of, and affection for, Grantee." Attorney
Garza testified that he had no knowledge that any money was
being exchanged as part of the transfer, and Celia agreed she
never informed Garza that the transfer was part of a sale.
Rodriguez immediately executed a second deed transferring
title of the Sinaloa Property back to the Ortegas while
reserving a life estate for himself. Attorney Garza explained
that he recommended that Rodriguez reserve a life estate so
that he would have an interest in the Sinaloa Property. The
second deed contained identical language regarding the
consideration for the transfer.
the same visit with Garza, Rodriguez also executed a
self-proving will naming Celia as his sole beneficiary and a
separate "declaration" stating that he wished Celia
to be his guardian should he ever become incapacitated. Angel
and Celia testified that Rodriguez brought up the idea of
making a will for the first time in Garza's office, and
that as far as they were concerned the only purpose of the
visit was to transfer title to the Sinaloa Property.
had been a signatory on Rodriguez's checking account at
IBC Bank since the Ortegas returned to Brownsville in 1997.
The month after the visit with Garza, Celia obtained a check
from Rodriguez's account in the amount of $50, 681.77
made out to Rodriguez or herself. She used the check to open
a savings account in her and Rodriguez's names at Bank of
America. Celia also used a $2, 000 check she wrote on the
same IBC account to open a joint checking account at the same
bank. Celia testified that she opened the new accounts on
Rodriguez's instruction because he was experiencing
"problems" with IBC Bank, but she could not explain
the nature of the problems. Celia later gradually moved the
$50, 681.77 into another account solely in her name. The
Ortegas used the funds to pay for construction of their new
home on a lot they owned in Los Fresnos, Texas.
Ortegas moved into their new home in Los Fresnos in 2008, but
Rodriguez remained at the Sinaloa Property. According to
Celia, Rodriguez did not go with them to Los Fresnos because
his other children stated they would refuse to visit him
there. Around this time, Celia wrote two checks on
Rodriguez's account at IBC Bank that were returned for
insufficient funds. Rodriguez removed Celia as a signatory on
his account and substituted her sister, Maria. Rodriguez
became ill with kidney disease the same year but continued to
work until he was admitted to a nursing home in 2009.
Rodriguez died on April 10, 2010, at the age of eighty-five.
applied to admit Rodriguez's will to probate in May 2011.
Juan filed an objection, alleging that Rodriguez lacked
testamentary capacity or, alternatively, executed the will
through undue influence. Celia moved for summary judgment on
both issues. The trial court granted summary judgment to her
on the issue of testamentary capacity but denied it on the
issue of undue influence.
issue of undue influence was tried to a jury. Juan's
theory was that Celia had gained complete control over
Rodriguez's affairs and used that influence to obtain all
of his property for herself. Celia's theory was that
Rodriguez was a "man to give orders" rather than
obey them, and who gave all of his property to Celia because
that was his own desire. The jury found that Rodriguez
executed both the will and the deed returning title to the
Ortegas through undue influence. The trial court rendered
judgment on the verdict and invalidated both instruments.
This appeal followed.
Issues on Appeal
argues in four issues on appeal: (1) the evidence is legally
insufficient to support the jury's verdict regarding the
will; (2) the evidence is legally insufficient to support the
jury's verdict regarding the second deed; (3) the trial
court had no jurisdiction to invalidate the deed because the
statute of limitations had run; and (4) the trial court had
no jurisdiction to ...