Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas
Appeal from the County Court at Law No. 5 Dallas County,
Texas Trial Court Cause No. CC-16-01067-E
Justices Francis, Brown, and Schenck
Gutierrez appeals the trial court's judgment in this
forcible entry and detainer action awarding possession of the
property at issue to Mario Gonzalez. Gutierrez contends the
trial court erred in failing to dismiss the case for want of
jurisdiction. In two cross-issues, Gonzalez argues the trial
court erred in failing to award him past due rent and
attorney's fees. We affirm the trial court's
the trial before the court, Gonzalez, Gutierrez and
Gutierrez's daughter testified. The evidence shows
Gonzalez employed Gutierrez as a worker in his roofing
company from 1990 to 2015. In 1991, Gonzalez began allowing
Gutierrez and his family to live in a house he owned in Balch
Springs, Texas. Gutierrez testified Gonzalez took some money
out of his paycheck every month in exchange for allowing him
to live on the property.
1994, Gonzalez renovated the house while it was being
occupied by Gutierrez. According to Gutierrez, Gonzalez told
him after the renovations were finished that the property was
"going to be [his] house as a sale." Gutierrez
further stated Gonzalez told him he was "in the
will." After that, Gutierrez believed his work for
Gonzalez was "going towards the purchase of the
house." Gutierrez stated that in 2014 and 2015, Gonzalez
did not pay him anything and he thought it was because the
money was being applied to his ownership of the house. In
addition, Gutierrez testified he paid for all repairs and
maintenance to the house after the renovations were
completed. Gutierrez conceded that he was never given
anything in writing concerning his purchase of the house and
Gonzalez paid all the property taxes. Gonzalez denied
Gutierrez's assertion that he was not paid for a two-year
period and testified there was never an agreement to sell
Gutierrez the house.
August 2015, Gonzalez terminated Gutierrez's employment
and asked him to vacate the property. In response to the
request to vacate, Gutierrez's wife and daughter offered
to purchase the property. Gonzalez signed a contract to sell
them the house for $135, 000. The contract had a closing date
of September 30, 2015 and required the buyers to obtain third
party financing. Gutierrez's wife and daughter were not
able to obtain financing by the closing date and the sale did
following January, an attorney representing Gonzalez sent
written notice to Gutierrez demanding he vacate the property
within ten days. When Gutierrez did not leave, Gonzalez filed
this forcible entry and detainer action in justice court. The
justice court awarded possession of the property to Gonzalez
but did not award past due rent or attorney's fees.
Gutierrez appealed the ruling to the county court at law for
a trial de novo. In county court, Gutierrez moved to dismiss
the case arguing a genuine issue of title to the property
existed over which the justice court and, by extension, the
county court did not have jurisdiction. The county court
denied the motion to dismiss and awarded Gonzalez possession
of the property along with $450 that had been deposited into
the registry of the court. Like the justice court, the county
court did not award Gonzalez past due rent or attorney's
fees. This appeal followed.
sole issue on appeal, Gutierrez contends the trial court
erred in failing to dismiss this case for lack of
jurisdiction. Jurisdiction over forcible entry and detainer
actions is expressly given to the justice courts and, on
appeal, to the county courts at law de novo. See Rice v.
Pinney, 51 S.W.3d 705, 708 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2001, no
pet.). The county court has no jurisdiction over the appeal
unless the justice court had jurisdiction below. Id.
The sole issue in a forcible entry and detainer action is who
has the right to immediate possession of the premises.
Id. at 709. Where the right to immediate possession
requires resolution of a title dispute, the justice court has
no jurisdiction to enter a judgment and the case must be
existence of a landlord-tenant relationship provides a basis
for determining the right to possession without resolving the
issue of who owns the property. See Dass, Inc. v.
Smith, 206 S.W.3d 197, 200 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2006, no
pet.). In some cases, such as here, the parties dispute
whether a landlord-tenant or a buyer-seller relationship
exists. See Yarto v. Gilliland, 287 S.W.3d 83, 89
(Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 2009, no pet.). To defeat the
court's jurisdiction, the defendant must provide
"specific evidence" of a genuine title dispute that
is intertwined with the issue of immediate possession.
Id. at 93. Specific evidence of a title dispute
exists if a party asserts a basis for title ownership that is
not patently ineffective under the law. Id.
undisputed evidence establishes that Gonzalez held legal
title to the property. Gutierrez contends a title dispute
exists because he is claiming equitable title by virtue of
his purported oral agreement with Gonzalez to purchase the
property. The oral agreement forming the basis of
Gutierrez's title claim, however, is nothing more than
his assertion that Gonzalez told him the house would be his
"as a sale" and his belief that some unspecified
portion of his pay during his employment by Gonzalez was
being applied to the purchase. For an oral contract to be
enforceable, the legal obligations and liabilities of the
parties must be sufficiently definite. See Lamajak, Inc.
v. Frazin, 230 S.W.3d 786, 793 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2007,
no pet.). The contract must be certain and clear as to all
essential terms or the contract will fail for indefiniteness.
Id. The only "essential term" Gutierrez
testified to was the identity of the property. He provided no
evidence of any agreement regarding the total purchase price,
the duration of the alleged contract, or the amount of the
payments he was obligated to make. Nor has he given any
indication that evidence of an agreement as to the essential
terms of a purchase contract exists. Absent evidence of an
agreement to all the essential terms of a purchase contract,
Gutierrez's claim of equitable title is patently
ineffective under the law and will not defeat the
jurisdiction of the justice court or county court at law.
See Yarto, 287 S.W.3d at 96. We resolve
Gutierrez's sole issue against him.
cross issues, Gonzalez contends the trial court erred in
failing to award him past due rent and attorney's fees.
In his brief discussion of the trial court's failure to
award past due rent, Gonzalez cites no authority and makes no
argument concerning the nature of the trial court's
alleged error other than to state Gutierrez did not challenge
the court's finding that the fair market rental value of
the property was $1, 200 per month. The trial court made no
findings or conclusions that Gonzalez was entitled to recover
past due rent and Gonzalez makes no argument that he is
entitled to such damages as a matter of law. Bare assertions
of error without argument or authority waive error. See
Washington v. Bank of New York, 362 S.W.3d 853, 854
(Tex. App.-Dallas 2012, no pet.).
the attorney's fees, Gonzalez correctly notes that under
section 24.006 of the Texas Property Code, a landlord who
provides his tenant with proper notice to vacate is entitled
to recover his attorney's fees in an eviction suit. Tex.
Prop. Code Ann. § 24.006(b) (West 2014). Attorney fees
were not awarded in the trial court's judgment. Following
entry of the judgment, the record does not show Gonzalez
brought the omission of the attorney's fees to the
attention of the trial court by a motion to amend or correct
the judgment or in a motion for new trial. Because Gonzalez
failed to bring this issue to the attention of the trial
court, we conclude error, if any, ...