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Kaptchinskie v. The Estate of Kirchner

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

July 27, 2017


         On Appeal from the 80th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 2014-43242

          Panel consists of Justices Christopher, Busby, and Jewell.


          Tracy Christopher, Justice

         In this appeal from a judgment against them for breach of contract, Patrick and Laura Kaptchinskie argue that Mira Huffman, the administrator of her father's estate, lacked capacity to sue them; that Huffman's claim was time-barred; and that the damage award was based on unadmitted evidence. We affirm.

         I. Background

         Patrick and Laura Kaptchinskie bought real property from Charles and Betty Kirchner in 2007. The original amortization schedule called for the Kaptchinskies to make monthly payments until October 2019.

         Charles Kirchner died in September 2009; Betty predeceased him. The Kaptchinskies made no further payments on the note after Charles's death. According to the Kaptchinskies, they ceased payments because they did not know to whom they should send the payments. In March 2011, however, the Kaptchinskies' attorney wrote to the Kirchners' daughter Mira Huffman, acknowledging that Huffman had "legal authority to handle the estate matters" of Charles and Betty Kirchner and was entitled to receive the payments on the note. The Kaptchinskies offered to pay $10, 000.00 for a release of the estates' interest in the property, but Huffman did not accept the offer.

         In July 2014, attorney Peter Bennett sent the Kaptchinskies a notice of default and acceleration of the promissory note. In response, the Kaptchinskies filed an application for a temporary restraining order and temporary injunction to prevent the property's sale and named as defendants the estates of Charles and Betty Kirchner, Bennett, and Bennett's law firm, Peter Joseph Bennett, P.C.[1] Bennett filed an answer and counterclaim for breach of contract on behalf of "the Estate of Charles O. Kirchner, Deceased." In this pleading, Bennett stated that Charles died in September 2009 and that Huffman was appointed the independent administratrix of Charles's estate in December 2010. In their answer to the counterclaim, the Kaptchinskies asserted that the claim was barred by limitations.

         After a nonjury trial on the counterclaim for breach of contract, the trial court rendered judgment for the estate of Charles Kirchner, ordering the Kaptchinskies to pay actual damages of $69, 487.94, together with attorney's fees of $12, 500.00 post-judgment interest, and costs. The Kaptchinskies filed a motion for new trial, which was overruled by operation of law.

         II. Issues Presented

         In their first issue, the Kaptchinskies argue that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the case because Huffman lacked capacity to sue on behalf of her father's estate. They contend in their second issue that the trial court lacked jurisdiction because Huffman's breach-of-contract claim was time-barred. In their third issue, they assert that the trial court awarded damages based on unadmitted evidence.

         III. Huffman's Legal Capacity

         In their first issue, the Kaptchinskies contend that Huffman lacked legal capacity to pursue the breach-of-contract claim because "no legal authority for Huffman to act on behalf of her father's estate was shown." Although the Kaptchinskies correctly characterize "capacity" as a party's legal authority to sue or be sued, capacity is not, as they contend, a jurisdictional issue. See City of Port Isabel v. Pinell, 161 S.W.3d 233, 238 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 2005, no pet.). Indeed, if a party's lack of capacity is not raised in a verified pleading, the complaint is waived. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 93; Mariner Health Care of Nashville, Inc. v. Robins, 321 S.W.3d 193, 202 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2010, no pet.). Because the Kaptchinskies failed to raise Huffman's alleged lack of capacity in a verified pleading, the issue is waived. Nevertheless, we will clarify Huffman's role in this case, not only because the litigants have consistently identified "the Estate of Charles O. Kirchner" as a party to the suit rather than Huffman, but also because the judgment identifies Charles Kirchner's estate as the prevailing party.

         A decedent's estate "is not a legal entity and may not properly sue or be sued as such." Price v. Estate of Anderson, 522 S.W.2d 690, 691 (Tex. 1975). If, however, "[t]he purpose of the suit and the nature of the claim asserted were clear from the outset, and respondent answered for the 'estate' and participated in all proceedings ...

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