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Brooks v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

September 6, 2017

TIMOTHY BROOKS, Appellant
v.
WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A., Appellee

         On Appeal from the County Court at Law No. 5 Dallas County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. CC-15-05401-E

          Before Justices Bridges, Fillmore, and Stoddart

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ROBERT M. FILLMORE, JUSTICE.

         Timothy Brooks, pro se, appeals the county court's judgment awarding possession of certain residential real property to Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. (Wells Fargo). In five issues, Brooks asserts the county court erred by granting judgment in this forcible-detainer suit because (1) the justice court did not have jurisdiction since the forcible-detainer suit was based on a deed executed in violation of section 21A.002(a) of the business and commerce code, (2) the forcible-detainer suit against Brooks as a third-party violated rule of civil procedure 510.3(e), (3) the county court abused its discretion by excluding evidence concerning title to the property, (4) the county court did not have jurisdiction since the issue of possession of the real property was intertwined with the issue of title to the property, and (5) he did not have any "lien/contract" with Wells Fargo rendering him a tenant at sufferance. We affirm the county court's judgment.

         Background

         Wells Fargo filed a forcible-detainer suit in justice court against Brooks, Allen Sheffield, and "all other occupants" seeking to evict them from the residential real property located at 1842 Huntingdon Avenue, Dallas, Texas (the Property).[1] Brooks appeared for trial in the justice court, but Sheffield did not. The justice court signed a judgment in favor of Brooks on September 29, 2015.

         Wells Fargo filed an appeal of the justice court judgment in county court.[2] Wells Fargo's forcible-detainer suit was heard by the county court on November 5, 2015. Brooks appeared pro se at that trial. The county court signed a partial default judgment against Sheffield on November 9, 2015, ordering that, as between Sheffield and Wells Fargo, Wells Fargo had a superior right of possession of the Property. As between Brooks and Wells Fargo, the county court found issues related to title to the Property were too intertwined with issues related to possession for the court to determine at that time which party had a superior right to possession of the Property. The county court abated the case for a period of approximately six months or until May 5, 2016, in order for the parties to seek relief from a court of competent jurisdiction as to issues related to title to the Property. See Kassim v. Carlisle Interests, Inc. 308 S.W.3d 537, 541 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2010, no pet.) (forcible-detainer suit may run concurrently with another action in another court; matters relating to possession may overlap in the two proceedings because judgment of possession in forcible-detainer action is determination only of right to immediate possession and does not determine ultimate rights of the parties concerning any other issue in controversy relating to the real property).

         Any unresolved title dispute involving Brooks, Sheffield, and Wells Fargo and the Property, was resolved in the 162nd Judicial District Court of Dallas County, Texas, during the abatement of the forcible-detainer suit in county court. See Brooks v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., No. 05-16-00550-CV, 2017 WL 1550043 (Tex. App.-Dallas Apr. 28, 2017, pet. filed) (mem. op.) (the suit to quiet title).[3] In that case, Brooks, pro se, filed suit to quiet title on November 21, 2014. On January 7, 2016, Wells Fargo moved for summary judgment on Brooks's claim Id. at *1, 2. On March 14, 2016, the district court granted Wells Fargo's motion for summary judgment and ordered that all claims Brooks asserted or could have asserted in the suit to quiet title were dismissed with prejudice. Id. at *2.[4]

         The period of abatement in Wells Fargo's appeal of the forcible-detainer suit to the county court expired on May 5, 2012, and the case proceeded to trial before the county court on May 12, 2016. Brooks was represented by counsel at the trial. Wells Fargo's evidence consisted of a July 29, 2004 "FHA Deed of Trust, " a November 7, 2006 Substitute Trustee's Deed, an October 13, 2014 Special Warranty Deed, and three June 24, 2015 notices to vacate the premises sent to "occupant and/or tenant, " Sheffield, and Brooks. The FHA Deed of Trust secured a loan from Summit Mortgage Corporation (Summit) to Sheffield. Sheffield agreed in the deed of trust that, if he failed to make all required payments on the loan, Summit had the right to foreclose on the Property. The Substitute Trustee's Deed references Sheffield's obligation to make loan payments to Summit pursuant to the note secured by the FHA Deed of Trust; the transfer and assignment of the note, together with the lien securing the note, to Washington Mutual Bank (WAMU); and Sheffield's default on the note. The Substitute Trustee's Deed also reflects WAMU purchased the Property at a non-judicial foreclosure sale following Sheffield's default on the note. The Special Warranty Deed reflects Wells Fargo acquired the Property from JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., as attorney-in-fact for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) as receiver of WAMU.

         Brooks testified he occupied the premises located on the Property. Brooks introduced into evidence a January 15, 1983 warranty deed whereby Brooks's mother conveyed her interest in the Property to Brooks; a November 14, 2005 judgment of a justice court in favor of Brooks in connection with a forcible-detainer suit he filed against Sheffield;[5] and a home equity mortgage entered into between Brooks and Beneficial Texas Inc. on July 26, 2006, in which Brooks purported to grant Beneficial Texas a deed of trust for the Property.[6]

         The county court signed a final judgment on May 17, 2016, in which it found that, as between Brooks and Wells Fargo, Wells Fargo had a superior right to possession of the Property and ordered Wells Fargo was entitled to possession of the Property.[7] Brooks filed this appeal of the county court's forcible-detainer judgment in favor of Wells Fargo.

         Law Applicable to a Forcible-Detainer Action

         Forcible detainer occurs when a person, who is a tenant at sufferance, refuses to surrender possession of real property. See Tex. Prop. Code Ann. § 24.002(a)(2) (West 2014). A forcible-detainer action is a special proceeding created to provide a speedy, simple, and inexpensive means for resolving the question of right to immediate possession of real property. Rice v. Pinney, 51 S.W.3d 705, 709 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2001, no pet.). In a forcible-detainer action, "[t]he court must adjudicate the right to actual possession and not title." Tex.R.Civ.P. 510.3(e).

         Neither a justice court, nor a county court in a de novo appeal, is deprived of jurisdiction to resolve questions regarding the immediate right to possession of real property in a forcible-detainer suit merely by the existence of a title dispute; rather, they are only deprived of jurisdiction if the right to immediate possession necessarily requires the resolution of a title dispute. Rice, 51 S.W.3d 713. If an independent basis exists on which to award immediate possession that would not require resolution of a title dispute, a justice court, and the county court on appeal from the justice court, has jurisdiction to do so. Garza v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., No. 05-14-01578-CV, 2016 WL 3136150, at *2 (Tex. App.-Dallas June 2, 2016, no pet.) (mem. op.); see Rice, 51 S.W.3d 712.

         Section 24.004(b) of the Property Code

         Relying on section 24.004(b) of the property code, Brooks asserts in his first issue that the county court erred by failing to dismiss the forcible-detainer suit because the justice court did not have jurisdiction over that suit. See Ward v. Malone, 115 S.W.3d 267, 269 (Tex. App.- Corpus Christi 2003, pet. denied) (appellate jurisdiction of statutory county court is confined to jurisdictional limits of justice court, and county court does not have appellate jurisdiction if justice court did not have jurisdiction). Wells Fargo responds that Brooks's reliance on section 24.004(b) is misplaced and section 24.004(b) is inapplicable in this case. Whether a court has subject-matter jurisdiction is a question of law, subject to de novo review. Tex. Dep't of Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 226 (Tex. 2004).

         Section 24.004(b) of the property code provides:

A justice court does not have jurisdiction in a forcible entry and detainer or forcible detainer suit and shall dismiss the suit if the defendant files a sworn statement alleging the suit is based on a deed executed in violation of Chapter 21A, Business & Commerce Code.

Tex. Prop. Code Ann. § 24.004(b). Section 21A.002(a) of the business and commerce code provides:

A seller of residential real estate or a person who makes an extension of credit and takes a security interest or mortgage against residential real estate may not, before or at the time of the conveyance of the residential real estate to the purchaser or the extension of credit to the borrower, request or require the purchaser or borrower to execute and deliver to the seller or person making the extension of credit a deed conveying the residential real estate to the seller or person making the extension of credit.

Tex. Bus. & Com. Code Ann. § 21A.002(a) (West 2015).[8]

         The appellate record contains an affidavit filed by Brooks in justice court stating, "Attached hereto are true and correct copies of the following documents, with their attachments AND alleging the suit is based on a deed executed in violation of Chapter 21A, Business & Commerce Code." Brooks attached an assortment of documentation to his affidavit. However, in his affidavit, he provided no explanation as to why the documents attached to his affidavit substantiate his "allegation." On appeal, other than establishing the Property is residential real estate to which section 21A.002(a) of the business and commerce code would apply, Brooks provides no information to substantiate the conclusory statement in his affidavit that the forcible-detainer suit by Wells Fargo against him was based on a deed executed in violation of section 21A.002(a). See Haynes v. City of Beaumont, 35 S.W.3d 166, 178 (Tex. App.-Texarkana 2000, no pet). (conclusory statement is one that does not provide underlying facts to support conclusion).

         The Substitute Trustee's Deed upon which Wells Fargo relies in support of its forcible-detainer suit references both Sheffield's obligation to make loan payments to Summit pursuant to a note secured by a deed of trust on the Property and the transfer and assignment of the note, together with the liens securing the note, to WAMU, upon Sheffield's default on the note. The Substitute Trustee's Deed further reflects WAMU's purchase of the Property at a non-judicial foreclosure sale following Sheffield's default on the note. Wells Fargo acquired the Property by Special Warranty Deed on October 13, 2014, from JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., as attorney-in-fact for the FDIC as receiver of WAMU.

         The record on appeal supports neither the allegation in Brooks's affidavit that Wells Fargo's forcible-detainer suit was based on a deed executed in violation of chapter 21A of the business and commerce code nor that the sale of the Property to Sheffield required Sheffield's execution of a deed conveying the Property to the lender, Summit, in lieu of foreclosure. We resolve Brook's first issue in which he contends the justice court did ...


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