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Baker v. Carr

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

April 28, 2017

SHANEKA BUSBY BAKER, Appellant
v.
FORREST REGGIE CARR, Appellee

         On Appeal from the County Court at Law No. 4 Dallas County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. CC-15-04681-D.

          Before Justices Francis, Lang-Miers, and Whitehill

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ELIZABETH LANG-MIERS JUSTICE

         Shaneka Busby Baker appeals a take-nothing judgment in favor of her landlord, Forrest Reggie Carr, in this landlord-tenant dispute. Baker sued Landlord in justice court for breach of contract, violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, and retaliation. The justice court rendered a take-nothing judgment in favor of Landlord, and Baker appealed to the county court at law. After a bench trial, the county court also rendered a take-nothing judgment in favor of Landlord, and Baker appealed. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Background

         In 2012, Baker leased a rural single-family residence on one acre of land for herself and her children from Landlord under a rental assistance program through the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Dallas County Department of Health and Human Services Housing Division (the Housing Authority). Because of the size of the property, Baker and Landlord agreed in writing that Landlord would provide lawn care. Landlord provided lawn care through a lawn care service owned by Emanuel Palmer for the first two years without incident.[1] In 2014, however, a dispute arose about the scheduling of lawn care. Baker complained that Palmer showed up at inconvenient times without notice. She testified that she needed a more rigid schedule so that she could prepare her disabled daughter for the noise and presence of the workers, and ensure that someone was home to watch their dog. Baker said Palmer showed up one time unannounced and took the gate off its hinges in order to enter the property. Her son testified that it made his mother anxious that someone entered the property without permission.

         Landlord attempted to resolve Baker's complaints about lawn care while still providing lawn care to her. According to Landlord, Baker wanted Palmer to come on Saturdays at noon. But Landlord testified that Palmer worked in the area where Baker lived on Mondays and Tuesdays and could not accommodate Baker's request to come on Saturdays because of his other obligations. Landlord testified that Palmer "would come on every other Monday, Tuesday. And then he called me, and he was - he was very upset. He said that she had berated him and cursed him out right there in the street, and just went on and on and on. And he says, you know, I just - you know, he's a real passive dude, and he said, I can't do this. And so, he just left."[2]

         Landlord told Palmer he would talk to Baker, and he thought he had everything worked out. But when Palmer came to mow Baker's yard the next time, "they got into the altercation. You know, she started yelling at him." Landlord said Baker texted him every time this happened. Finally, Palmer said "I'm not going to do this. . . . And he said, First of all, it's embarrassing . . . .

          Second of all, I don't have to put up with that." Landlord thought he "got all that straight, " but it happened again the next time Palmer came to mow. Landlord said Baker got mad because Palmer blew dried grass or leaves on some of her things she had just cleaned. Palmer offered to go back and clean it up, but Baker did not want that. So Landlord stopped providing lawn care to Baker. Baker told Landlord that she found someone to mow the yard for $50 each time, but Landlord said he already had a lawn care service. In 2014 and 2015, Baker and her sons tried to maintain the lawn using a push mower.

         In April 2015, Baker complained to the Housing Authority about Landlord's failure to provide lawn care, other maintenance issues, and a rent dispute.[3] About a week later, Landlord sent a certified letter to Baker advising her that he would not renew her lease at the expiration of its term on October 31, 2015. The letter was returned unclaimed. Landlord called Baker in June and read the letter to her over the phone.

         In approximately July 2015, [4] Baker sued Landlord in justice court and sought damages of $3, 300 for breach of contract, violation of the DTPA, and retaliation alleging Landlord's "failure to honor lease agreements with cessation of lawn care repairs and termination (refusal to renew lease agreement), retaliation." In her complaint, she alleged that Landlord refused to renew the lease in retaliation for her "complaint of his harassment for monetary demands back in April, in addition to a declining mutually respected Landlord/Tenant relationship that has grown increasingly difficult due to his lack of prompt fulfillment, if at all, of his Landlord obligations." She alleged that Landlord's neglect of his obligations resulted in "much debris that pose health and safety hazards to myself and my family and/or future guests."[5] She sought damages under the DTPA and property code, asked that Landlord be ordered to provide repairs and lawn care for the remainder of her tenancy, pay moving expenses estimated to be $2, 000, refund her deposit of $650, and pay $650 "in punitive damages for willful retaliation of refusal to renew."

         On September 11, 2015, the justice court denied Baker all relief and rendered a take-nothing judgment in favor of Landlord. Baker appealed to the county court at law, and the case was set for a bench trial in February 2016. Meanwhile, two days before her lease expired on October 31, 2015, Baker sent a letter to Landlord advising him that due to circumstances she would not be able to vacate the premises until sometime in November. In November 2015, Baker and her family moved.

         Baker moved for a continuance of the trial in county court, but it was not granted. The parties presented the evidence we previously detailed. Baker testified to damages of $465 related to lawn care; she did not testify about any other damages. The court took the matter under advisement and rendered a take-nothing judgment in favor of Landlord. Neither party asked for and the trial court did not make findings of fact and conclusions of law.

         On appeal to this Court, Baker makes numerous arguments and attaches over 100 pages of documents to her brief. To the extent these documents were not admitted into evidence before the trial court, we have not considered them. She asks us to render judgment for her or, alternatively, remand to the trial court.

         Standard of Review & ...


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