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Anderson v. Chandler

Court of Appeals of Texas, Twelfth District, Tyler

June 30, 2017

PORSHA ANDERSON, APPELLANT
v.
LISA CHANDLER, APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE COUNTY COURT UPSHUR COUNTY, TEXAS Tr.Ct.No. 16CV00066

          Panel consisted of Worthen, C.J., Hoyle, J., and Bass, Retired J., Twelfth Court of Appeals, sitting by assignment.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          BILL BASS Justice.

         Porsha Anderson appeals the county court's judgment in a forcible detainer action. In two issues, Anderson contends the county court lacked jurisdiction over the case. We vacate the judgment of the county court and dismiss the forcible detainer action for want of jurisdiction.

         Background

         The property at issue in this case was previously owned by Eddie Don Perry, now deceased. Perry was the uncle of Appellee Lisa Chandler and the great uncle of Anderson.

         At trial, Anderson testified that in 2013, Perry made an oral gift of the property to her in the presence of other family members. When one of the relatives asked him if he was sure, he said, "Yeah, " because he was going to live with Shonda Dukes. Anderson testified that when Perry made the gift, he told her that the house needed to be "fixed up." Amanda Moon was present during this conversation, and testified that she observed Perry tell Anderson that the property was being given to Anderson. Anderson made improvements to the property and took possession. She continues to live on the property, has always treated the property as her own, and has never paid rent.

         Two years after the purported gift to Anderson, Perry became gravely ill. On July 24, 2015, he entered hospice care. There is testimony that he lapsed in and out of consciousness and did not appear aware of his surroundings. A few days after Perry entered hospice, Chandler took him to her home for "a couple of days." During that period, Perry signed a deed to a family trust, which named Chandler sole trustee and beneficiary. After signing the documents on Friday, July 29, 2015, he returned to hospice care and died on August 2.

         On May 31, 2016, Chandler signed a petition for eviction. The justice court signed an eviction judgment on June 16. Anderson appealed. In her answer in the county court, Anderson pleaded that she owned the property, and that resolution of title was a necessary issue in the case. She further asserted the justice court and county court had no jurisdiction. The county court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction because "land title is a necessary issue in this case." Chandler filed a motion for rehearing and for a new trial, which the county court granted.

         At trial, Chandler argued that, as record owner of the property, she was entitled to possession. The county court rendered judgment for Chandler and awarded her possession on August 11, 2016. Anderson filed a request for findings of fact and conclusions of law. In its findings, the county court determined that (1) Chandler "is the record owner of title of the premises occupied by" Anderson, (2) Chandler is entitled to possession of the property, (3) the pleadings failed to raise a title issue, and (4) "the occupant, Porsha Anderson, has no legal interest in the property[.]" This appeal followed.

         Waiver

         Because it implicates this Court's jurisdiction, we first address Anderson's second issue, in which she contends that the county court erred in determining that she waived the jurisdictional issue by (1) failing to comply with Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 93 when asserting the affirmative defense of a title dispute, and (2) the affirmative defense was ineffective. On appeal, Chandler claims that Anderson waived the jurisdictional issue by (1) failing to file a sworn pleading contending lack of jurisdiction, and (2) misstating the name of the previous owner in her answer.

         Rule 93 requires that certain pleas be verified. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 93. However, a plea to jurisdiction need not be sworn. Pakdimounivong v. City of Arlington, 219 S.W.3d 401, 413-14 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2006, pet. denied); see Bland Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Blue, 34 S.W.3d 547, 554 (Tex. 2000) (a plea to the jurisdiction is intended to defeat a cause of action on lack of subject matter jurisdiction rather than on the merits). Moreover, subject matter jurisdiction is fundamental and may be raised for the first time on appeal. Tex. Ass'n of Bus. v. Tex. Air Control Bd., 852 S.W.2d 440, 445 (Tex. 1993). Accordingly, we conclude that Anderson was not required to verify her answer asserting a title dispute and challenging the county court's jurisdiction.

         Regarding the answer's effectiveness, Anderson's answer identifies the previous owner as "Eddie Dunn" rather than Eddie Don Perry. Nevertheless, Anderson claimed that she had been given the property and, therefore, title was at issue. This allegation was sufficient to inform the county court that it lacked jurisdiction. Additionally, both sides elicited testimony, without objection, that the previous owner was Eddie Don Perry. Anderson specifically testified that her answer contained a misspelling of the name. The record does not demonstrate that anyone was misled by the misnomer, and the correction of the name at trial is allowed so long as no one was misled by the mistake. See In re Greater Houston Orthopaedic Specialists, Inc., 295 S.W.3d 323, 325 (Tex. 2009) (per curiam) (orig. proceeding). For ...


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