Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin
THE DISTRICT COURT OF WILLIAMSON COUNTY, 368TH JUDICIAL
DISTRICT NO. 16-0709-C368, HONORABLE RICK J. KENNON, JUDGE
Chief Justice Rose, Justices Field and Bourland
K. Field, Justice
Wiegrefe appeals from the trial court's order granting
Jennefer Wiegrefe's amended petition for bill of review
in this dispute over the division of property in a divorce.
After granting the petition, the trial court signed a revised
final divorce decree that assigned a certain financial
account to Jennefer instead of to Daniel. In three appellate
issues, Daniel contends that the trial court abused its
discretion in granting the bill of review. Because we
conclude that the alleged error in the original divorce
decree does not support relief through a bill of review, we
will reverse the trial court's order granting
Jennefer's amended petition for bill of review, vacate
the final divorce decree of October 17, 2016, and render
judgment reinstating the original divorce decree of March 28,
January 2016, Daniel and Jennefer signed a mediated
settlement agreement (MSA) that settled the disputes arising
from their divorce proceedings. This MSA indicated that a
certain Edward Jones account (the Account) was to be awarded
to Jennefer. The MSA assigned to Daniel's attorney the
task of drafting the divorce decree. Daniel's attorney
drafted the decree and presented it to the parties. Daniel
and Jennefer signed the "Final Decree of Divorce, "
indicating that they "approved and consented" to
the decree "as to both form and substance, " and
their attorneys signed the document indicating that they
approved it "as to form only." Neither party has
alleged that she or he was not provided with an opportunity
to review the decree or that she or he was coerced into
signing it. The final divorce decree awarded the Account to
Daniel; otherwise it matched the terms of the MSA.
March 28, 2016, Daniel's attorney "proved-up"
the divorce, and the trial court signed the decree. On the
same day, the district clerk sent Jennefer's attorney
notice that the trial court had signed the final divorce
decree. In the following weeks, Jennefer's attorney made
multiple requests for Daniel's attorney to send her a
file-stamped copy of the final decree. Daniel's attorney
did not provide the document.
April 27, 2016, the trial court's plenary power expired.
On May 16, Jennefer went to the courthouse and obtained a
copy of the divorce decree. Later, on June 29, Jennefer met
with her financial planner and first learned that the final
divorce decree awarded the Account to Daniel. On June 30,
after Daniel refused to agree that the Account belonged to
Jennefer as provided in the MSA, Jennefer filed a petition
for a nunc pro tunc judgment. On July 18, Jennefer filed an
original petition for bill of review. She later filed an
September 1, 2016, the trial court held a hearing on the
amended petition for bill of review. The same day, the trial
court signed an order granting the petition and declaring
that the final divorce decree "is void and without force
or effect." On October 17, the trial court signed a
revised final divorce decree awarding the Account to
Jennefer, and the trial court later issued written findings
of fact and conclusions of law explaining its decision. This
of review is an equitable proceeding brought by a party
seeking to set aside a prior judgment that is no longer
subject to challenge by a motion for new trial or appeal.
See Katy Venture, Ltd. v. Cremona Bistro Corp., 469
S.W.3d 160, 163 (Tex. 2015) (per curiam); In re
I.G., No. 03-13-00765-CV, 2015 WL 4448836, at *2 (Tex.
App.-Austin July 17, 2015, pet. denied) (mem. op.).
"Although a bill of review is an equitable proceeding,
'the fact that an injustice has occurred is not
sufficient to justify relief by bill of review.'"
In re I.G., 2015 WL 4448836, at *2 (quoting
Wembley Inv. Co. v. Herrera, 11 S.W.3d 924, 927
(Tex. 1999) (per curiam)); see Marriage of Mobley,
503 S.W.3d 636, 640-41 (Tex. App.-Texarkana 2016, pet.
denied). "The grounds upon which a bill of review can be
obtained are narrow because the procedure conflicts with the
fundamental policy that judgments must become final at some
point." King Ranch, Inc. v. Chapman, 118 S.W.3d
742, 751 (Tex. 2003); see Chisti v. Chisti, No.
01-16-00408-CV, 2017 WL 343612, at *1 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st
Dist.] Jan. 24, 2017, no pet. h.) (mem. op.) ("Because
of the importance our legal system places on the finality of
judgments, bills of review are permitted only in exceptional
circumstances.") (citing Nelson v. Chaney, 193
S.W.3d 161, 165 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2006, no
pet.)); In the Interest of a Child, 492 S.W.3d 763,
766 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2016, pet. denied) ("The
fundamental policy that finality must be accorded to
judgments makes the grounds upon which a bill of review will
be granted narrow and restricted."); Reynolds v.
Reynolds, No. 14-14-00080-CV, 2015 WL 4504626, at *2
(Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] July 23, 2015, no pet.) (mem.
op.) ("Because of the fundamental policy favoring
finality of judgments, there are narrow grounds for granting
a bill of review."); Forney v. Forney, 672
S.W.2d 490, 499 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 1983, writ
dism'd w.o.j.) ("There must be finality of
judgments, and judgments will be disturbed only in the most
egregious circumstances. The proof required to establish a
right to a bill of review in a divorce case will therefore
not be relaxed even in cases where an injustice
as here, the judgment being challenged by a petition for bill
of review is not a default judgment, the bill-of-review
plaintiff must establish the following elements: (1) a
meritorious ground of appeal; (2) which the bill-of-review
plaintiff was prevented from making by the fraud, accident,
or wrongful act of the opposing party or by official mistake;
(3) unmixed with any fault or negligence on the part of the
bill-of-review plaintiff. See Petro-Chem. Transp., Inc.
v. Carroll, 514 S.W.2d 240, 243, 245 (Tex. 1974);
Ramsey v. State, 249 S.W.3d 568, 573-74 (Tex.
App.-Waco 2008, no pet.); Thompson v. Ballard, 149
S.W.3d 161, 164 (Tex. App.-Tyler 2004, no pet.). We review a
trial court's decision to grant a bill of review for an
abuse of discretion. See Marriage of Mobley, 503
S.W.3d at 641; Ramsey v. Davis, 261 S.W.3d 811, 815
(Tex. App.-Dallas 2008, pet. denied). A trial court abuses
its discretion when it fails to analyze or apply the law
correctly. See In re Nationwide Ins. Co. of Am., 494
S.W.3d 708, 712 (Tex. 2016); In re American Homestar
of Lancaster, Inc., 50 S.W.3d 480, 483 (Tex. 2001)
("A trial court has no discretion to determine what the
law is or in applying the law to the facts, and,
consequently, the trial court's failure to analyze or
apply the law correctly is an abuse of discretion.").
amended petition, Jennefer alleged that the final divorce
decree's award of the Account to Daniel "was an
obvious drafting mistake made by the lawyers for both
parties." She stated that she believed "this to be
an accidental mistake and not an intentional act by [Daniel]
and his prior counsel." However, the amended petition
also stated, "In the alternative, Petitioner alleges
that Respondent, by and through his prior counsel, acted in
an intentional manner, whereby Respondent acted fraudulently
in entering the Final Decree of Divorce which was
not drafted in accordance with the terms of the MSA."
findings of fact and conclusions of law, the trial court
rejected Jennefer's fraud allegations and found that the
error "was a mistake by both parties." The trial
court also found that "[a]ll parties involved made a
mutual mistake in drafting" the final divorce decree. In
addition, the trial court concluded that "a mistake
occurred after entering the [final divorce decree], because
as an officer of the Court, [Daniel's attorney] had a
duty to send [Jennefer's attorney] a copy of the [final
divorce decree], and secondly, it is the routine custom and
practice that when an order is entered and one lawyer is
there, they are to provide a copy to opposing counsel."
Similarly, the trial court concluded that ...