Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio
the County Court at Law, Medina County, Texas Trial Court No.
3208 Honorable Vivian Torres, Judge Presiding
C. Martinez, Patricia O. Alvarez, Luz Elena D. Chapa,
C. Martinez, Justice.
Clinton Coyle appeals the trial court's forcible detainer
judgment requiring him to vacate his residence on the Coyle
Family Farm and granting a writ of possession to Coyle Family
Farm, Inc. ("CFFI"). We reverse the trial
court's judgment and render judgment dismissing
CFFI's forcible detainer action with prejudice.
2003, James Coyle and other Coyle family members conveyed
their interests in 764 acres of land in Medina County, Texas,
known as the Coyle Family Farm (the "Property"), to
CFFI in exchange for 100 shares each of CFFI common stock.
The deed was recorded in the Medina County, Texas records.
James Coyle was allowed to live on the Property. Disputes
subsequently arose among the owners of CFFI and James Coyle
regarding his use of the Property, and CFFI filed an
eviction, or forcible detainer, action against Coyle in 2013.
The forcible detainer action was abated when Coyle filed a
trespass to try title action challenging CFFI's title to
the Property. Coyle also filed a lawsuit against the Coyle
Farms Partnership. The parties participated in court-ordered
mediation and reached a settlement resulting in dismissal of
all three lawsuits with prejudice. The Mediated Settlement
Agreement signed on May 15, 2015 provided that James Coyle
agreed to sell and convey all his CFFI stock to CFFI's
other shareholders "with the intent of including in such
sale and conveyance all real property in which [he] claims an
interest that is held in the name of CFFI or which is held in
his own name including . . . that certain tract of land
consisting of approximately 764 acres of land in Medina
County, Texas and known as the Coyle Farm . . . ." In
return, Coyle was to receive a payment of $44, 781 from Coyle
Farms Partnership and a payment of $670, 000 from the
individual shareholders of CFFI. The Settlement Agreement
further provided that Coyle and his wife "only shall
have the right to live in the residence manufactured home [on
the Property] until December 31, 2015 at which time they
did not vacate the Property by the deadline stated in the
Settlement Agreement, and CFFI promptly filed a new forcible
detainer action against him in justice court. See
Tex. R. Civ. P. 510.3. On January 20, 2016, the justice court
granted CFFI's complaint for forcible detainer and
ordered that Coyle vacate the Property and cede immediate
possession to CFFI by 5:00 p.m. that same day. The justice
court recited in its judgment that its ruling was based on
"the evidence presented, including that certain Mediated
Settlement Agreement dated May 15, 2015 and in accordance
with the Deed . . . executed December 1, 2003 . . . [under
which] Coyle Family Farm, Inc., became the record owner"
of the Property. Coyle appealed to county court. See
Tex. R. Civ. P. 510.9, 510.10. After a trial de novo, the
county court rendered judgment on March 11, 2016 in favor of
CFFI, granting it a writ of possession and ordering Coyle to
vacate the Property. The judgment also imposed court costs
and attorney's fees against Coyle in the amount of $9,
663.75. Coyle now appeals.
appeal, Coyle argues that CFFI improperly used the expedited
eviction process in justice court to enforce the December 31,
2015 vacancy deadline set forth in the Settlement Agreement.
See Tex. Prop. Code Ann. § 24.002 (West 2014)
(forcible detainer action). He contends the justice court and
county court lacked jurisdiction to "effectively
enforce" a contractual obligation stated in the
Settlement Agreement. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 510.3(b)
(justice court has jurisdiction over forcible detainer
actions); id. R. 510.9 (county court has
jurisdiction over the appeal). Coyle alternatively asserts
that any dispute arising under the Settlement Agreement was
required to be resolved by mandatory mediation and/or binding
arbitration under the express terms of the agreement.
responds that its eviction action is completely unrelated to
the Settlement Agreement. CFFI asserts that it is not seeking
to enforce the Settlement Agreement, but merely availing
itself of the expedited statutory procedure for property
owners to obtain physical possession from a holdover tenant
or tenant at sufferance. See Tex. Prop. Code Ann.
§ 24.002(a)(1), (2) (West 2014); see also Marshall
v. Housing Auth. of City of San Antonio, 198 S.W.3d 782,
787 (Tex. 2006) (action for forcible detainer is
"intended to be a speedy, simple, and inexpensive means
to obtain immediate possession of property"). CFFI
argues the evidence of its title and superior right to
possession of the Property was undisputed in the justice
court and the county court. CFFI cites the undisputed
evidence as: the 2003 deed; the agreed dismissal of
Coyle's trespass to try title action; and the Settlement
Agreement's deadline for Coyle to vacate the Property.
Therefore, CFFI argues that under the statutory procedure it
was entitled to the writ of possession awarded by both lower
ultimate issue in this case is whether CFFI may use a new
eviction action against Coyle as a remedy for his failure to
vacate by the deadline set forth in the Settlement Agreement.
It is the Settlement Agreement that created the contractual
obligation for Coyle to vacate the Property. And, CFFI
admittedly relies on the Settlement Agreement as part of the
evidence warranting Coyle's eviction. The justice
court's judgment expressly recited that its ruling was
based, in part, on the Settlement Agreement. Therefore, we
first consider the provisions of the Settlement Agreement.
construe a written settlement agreement in the same manner as
any other type of written contract. Garza v.
Villarreal, 345 S.W.3d 473, 479 (Tex. App.-San Antonio
2011, pet. denied); Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann.
§ 154.071(a) (West 2011). Courts interpret an
unambiguous contract according to the plain meaning of the
language used within the four corners of the agreement in an
effort to ascertain the true intent of the parties.
Garza, 345 S.W.3d at 479-80; Seagull Energy E
& P, Inc. v. Eland Energy, Inc., 207 S.W.3d 342, 345
(Tex. 2006). The court gives the terms used in the contract
their plain, ordinary meaning, unless the contract shows the
parties used them in a technical or different sense, and
views the contract as a whole in an effort to harmonize and
give effect to all provisions so that none will be rendered
meaningless. Garza, 345 S.W.3d at 479-80.
Construction of a contract is a question of law for the
court. Tawes v. Barnes, 340 S.W.3d 419, 425 (Tex.
their briefs, both Coyle and CFFI state that the Settlement
Agreement resolved all issues of ownership and right to
possession of the Property. Specifically, the Settlement
Agreement addressed and resolved all the claims raised in
three lawsuits: Cause No. 13-10-22080-CV, styled James
Coyle v. Coyle Family Farm, Inc., filed in the 38th
Judicial District Court of Medina County (trespass to try
title action); Cause No. 13-10-22074-CV, styled Coyle
Farms Partnership v. James Coyle, filed in the 38th
Judicial District Court of Medina County
(partnership/injunction action); and Cause No. 2013-0019FD,
styled Coyle Family Farm, Inc. v. James Coyle, filed
in the Justice Court, Pct. 1, of Medina County (eviction
action). The three lawsuits were
dismissed with prejudice as part of the Settlement Agreement.
Under the express terms of the Settlement Agreement, the
parties' mutual releases forever discharged each party
from "any and all claims, actions, [and] causes of
action . . . including but not limited to those . . . that
relate in any way to the lawsuits" and "any claims
that were asserted or could have been asserted in the
lawsuits." The agreement further expressed the
parties' intent that the releases "be given the
broadest possible interpretation so that any further
litigation between the parties, except for the obligations of
consideration required by Paragraph 2, is waived such that
the parties to this agreement waive every claim and cause of
action against any other party to this agreement . . .
." Section 17.3 of the Settlement Agreement requires
that, "[a]ny disputes concerning this Agreement"
must first be submitted to mandatory mediation, and if
mediation is unsuccessful, then to binding arbitration.
Finally, section 19 provides that "all future rights and
obligations of the Parties shall be governed solely by this
to the plain, unambiguous language of the Settlement
Agreement, it fully addressed and resolved any and all issues
pertaining to the ownership and right to possession of the
Property. On the date of the agreement's execution,
Coyle's contractual obligation to vacate the Property by
December 31, 2015 was a future obligation created by, and to
be performed under and "governed solely by, " the
Settlement Agreement. By seeking to remove Coyle from the
Property, CFFI is in essence seeking specific performance
under the Settlement Agreement. Specific performance is an
equitable remedy that may be granted upon proof of a breach
of contract. Levetz v. Sutton, 404 S.W.3d 798, 805
(Tex. App.-Dallas 2013, pet. denied). A party seeking
specific performance must plead and prove "(1)
compliance with the contract including tender of performance
unless excused by the defendant's breach or repudiation
and (2) the readiness, willingness, and ability to perform at
relevant times." Id. (citing DiGiuseppe v.
Lawler, 269 S.W.3d 588, 593-94, 601 (Tex. 2008)). As
with any other breach of contract claim, a claim for breach
of a settlement agreement is subject to the same requirements
of pleading, defenses, discovery, and proof. Ford Motor
Co. v. Castillo, 279 S.W.3d 656, 663 (Tex. 2009);
Levetz, 404 S.W.3d at 805-06. "[T]he law does
not recognize the existence of any special summary proceeding
for the ...