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Iqbal v. Federal National Mortgage Association

Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin

June 29, 2017

Nasim Iqbal; Tej Iqbal; and all other occupants of 2503 Paden Circle, Cedar Park, Texas, 78613, Appellants
v.
Federal National Mortgage Association, a/k/a Fannie Mae, Appellee

         FROM COUNTY COURT AT LAW NO. 4 OF WILLIAMSON COUNTY NO. 15-0444-CC4, HONORABLE JOHN MCMASTER, JUDGE PRESIDING

          Before Chief Justice Rose, Justices Pemberton and Bourland

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Cindy Olson Bourland, Justice

         Appellants, Nasim Iqbal, Tej Iqbal, and all other occupants of 2503 Paden Circle, Cedar Park, Texas, 78613 (collectively, the Iqbals), appeal the ruling in a forcible detainer action that granted possession of the property at issue to Appellee, Federal National Mortgage Association, (FNMA). The Iqbals contend in two issues that the trial court erred in rendering judgment for FNMA because: (1) the evidence is legally insufficient to support the trial court's holding; and (2) the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence based on the testimony of a witness who lacked sufficient personal knowledge to testify. We will affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         In 2006, the Iqbals executed a deed of trust that secured a promissory note in connection with real property located in Williamson County, at 2503 Paden Circle, Cedar Park, Texas, 78613 (the Property). The deed of trust provided that if a default and foreclosure occurred, any occupant of the Property who refused to surrender possession would become a tenant at sufferance and could be removed by writ of possession or other court proceeding.

         The Iqbals defaulted on the underlying promissory note, and in August 2012, FNMA purchased the Property at a nonjudicial foreclosure sale, as documented in a substitute trustee's deed and accompanying statement of facts. On February 25, 2015, FNMA sent the Iqbals notices to vacate the Property. Asserting that the Iqbals refused to vacate the property, FNMA filed its petition for forcible detainer on March 11, 2015, in Williamson County Justice Court, Precinct 2. Attached to the petition were the verification required under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 510.3(a) and copies of the deed of trust, the substitute trustee's deed, and the notices to vacate with certified mailing documentation. Without specifying its grounds in its order, the justice court dismissed the action on motion by the Iqbals.

         FNMA appealed the justice court's decision to the Williamson County Court at Law No. 4, which held a trial de novo on September 22, 2015. At the trial, FNMA offered the substitute trustee's deed, the notices to vacate, and the live testimony of Jaime Miloch, a regional manager for the law firm that prosecuted FNMA's forcible detainer action against the Iqbals in the justice court. When FNMA rested its case, the Iqbals moved for judgment claiming that FNMA presented no evidence of a material element of the claim because the deed of trust had not been admitted into evidence. The court denied the Iqbals' motion. Later, during their case-in-chief, the Iqbals requested that the trial court take judicial notice of the court's file, which included the deed of trust. The Iqbals then presented arguments to the trial court relating to a discrepancy in descriptions of the Property based on the language of the deed of trust and other documents. The trial court ultimately entered judgment in FNMA's favor, awarding possession of the Property to FNMA and ordering the issuance of a writ of possession. The Iqbals appealed the trial court's judgment to this court.

         ANALYSIS

         A forcible detainer action is designed to be a speedy, simple, and inexpensive means to determine the right to immediate possession of real property where there is no claim of unlawful entry. Marshall v. Housing Auth. of San Antonio, 198 S.W.3d 782, 787 (Tex. 2006). The only issue to be adjudicated is the right to actual possession. Tex.R.Civ.P. 510.3(e). In order to prevail in a forcible detainer action where the property was purchased at a foreclosure sale, the plaintiff must prove that: (1) the substitute trustee conveyed the property by deed to the plaintiff after the foreclosure sale; (2) a landlord-tenant relationship existed and the occupants became tenants at sufferance; (3) the plaintiff gave proper notice to the occupants that it required them to vacate the premises; and (4) the occupants refused to vacate the premises. See Tex. Prop. Code §§ 24.002, .005; Reardean v. Federal Home Loan Mortg. Corp., No. 03-12-00562-CV, 2013 WL 4487523, at *1 (Tex. App.-Austin Aug. 14, 2013, no pet.) (mem. op.); Murphy v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., 199 S.W.3d 441, 445 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2006, pet. denied).

         The Iqbals' first issue challenges the legal sufficiency of the evidence supporting the trial court's findings that a landlord-tenant relationship existed (the second element) and that the Iqbals refused to vacate the Property (the fourth element). In their second issue, the Iqbals contend that the trial court erred in admitting evidence supporting the finding that notice to vacate (the third element) was provided to the Iqbals.

         We will address the Iqbals' first issue in two parts: (1) the landlord-tenant relationship; and (2) refusal to vacate the property. The Iqbals assert that legally insufficient evidence supports the trial court's findings on these two elements. In a legal-sufficiency challenge, we review all evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, crediting favorable evidence if a reasonable fact finder could, and disregarding contrary evidence unless a reasonable fact finder could not. City of Keller v. Wilson, 168 S.W.3d 802, 827 (Tex. 2005). If more than a scintilla of evidence exists in the record to support the challenged finding, then the legal-sufficiency challenge fails. Gharda USA, Inc. v. Control Sols., Inc., 464 S.W.3d 338, 347 (Tex. 2015). In a bench trial, the trial court is the finder of fact and the sole judge of the credibility of testimony and weight to be given any particular evidence. Vo Eng'g, Ltd. v. Cai, No. 03-13-00529-CV, 2015 WL 513269, at *2 (Tex. App.-Austin Feb. 4, 2015, no pet.) (mem. op.).

         Landlord-Tenant Relationship

         In order to prove that a landlord-tenant relationship existed, FNMA was required to prove that the Iqbals became tenants at sufferance upon refusal to vacate following sale of the ...


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