Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas
Appeal from the County Court at Law No. 4 Dallas County,
Texas Trial Court Cause No. CC-16-02992-D
Justices Bridges, Lang-Miers, and Evans
ELIZABETH LANG-MIERS, JUSTICE
an appeal from a judgment in a forcible detainer action
awarding Betty Connor possession of and past-due rent for a
house Michelle Smith was leasing from Connor. In a single
issue, Smith, appearing pro se, asserts that the evidence is
legally insufficient to support the judgment. We affirm.
entered into a one-year lease agreement with Connor in May
2007. Under the terms of the agreement, rent was due the
first of the month. If default in the payment of rent
occurred, the agreement provided that, at the option of
Connor and upon notice to Smith, the lease would terminate
and Connor could take possession of the house. Upon
expiration of the agreement, "a new month-to-month
tenancy [was] created . . . subject to all the terms and
conditions" in the agreement. No problems appeared to
occur over the next several years, but beginning in December
2015, timely rent payments became "an issue."
gave Smith notice to vacate on several occasions, but did not
file suit to evict Smith until June 2016. The lawsuit, filed
in justice court, alleged that Smith had failed to pay rent
for May, had failed to maintain the property, and had allowed
"unauthorized tenants." The justice court found for
Connor, and Smith appealed to the county court.
de novo bench trial on July 22, 2016, Connor testified that
she owned the house Smith was leasing and that Smith paid
$239 in rent per month, after a subsidy from "Section
8." Connor further testified that Smith had failed to
pay the rent due for May, June, and July. Connor sought
possession of the house and unpaid rent in the amount of
did not deny that she had not paid rent for May through July.
She explained, however, that she did not pay May's rent
because Connor had told her she did not need to pay rent for
that month if she moved out of the house by May 10. Smith
testified that she was unable to find a place to move, so she
stayed in the house. Asked what her defense was, she replied,
"It's really no defense. I just haven't found
anything, you know. I've been looking, you know, since
she told me to move, and I just haven't found anything.
There is no excuse. Just haven't found anything."
Asked if she believed Connor was her landlord, she replied
she did. The county court "found for" Connor and
awarded her possession of the house and the delinquent rent.
LAW AND STANDARD OF REVIEW
prevail in a forcible detainer action, a plaintiff is
required to demonstrate (1) a superior right to immediate
possession of the property; (2) proper notice to the tenant
to vacate the property; and (3) the tenant's refusal to
vacate. See Tex. Prop. Code Ann. §§
24.002, 24.005 (West 2014 & Supp. 2016); Rice v.
Pinney, 51 S.W.3d 705, 709 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2001, no
as here, a party attacks the legal sufficiency of an adverse
finding on an issue on which she did not have the burden of
proof, she must show no evidence exists to support the
finding. See Exxon Corp. v. Emerald Oil & Gas
Co., 348 S.W.3d 194, 215 (Tex. 2011). When direct
evidence of a vital fact exists, a legal sufficiency
challenge fails. See Serv. Corp. Int'l v.
Guerra, 348 S.W.3d 221, 228 (Tex. 2011).
claiming the evidence is legally insufficient to support the
judgment, Smith does not dispute that her rent was $239 per
month, she was given notice to vacate, or that she did not
move out of the house. See Tex. Prop. Code Ann.
§§ 24.002, 24.005. Her contention is that no
evidence exists of non-payment of rent or "lack of
maintenance" and that this case "does not present
one of those narrow band of ...