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Castille v. Service Datsun, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

September 7, 2017

JAMES CASTILLE, BONNIE CASTILLE, WILLIAM T. MOORE, III, LINDA MOORE, ORAN HALL, AND CAROL HALL, Appellants
v.
SERVICE DATSUN, INC., Appellee

         On Appeal from the 122nd District Court Galveston County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 14-CV-0468

          Panel consists of Chief Justice Radack and Justices Jennings and Bland.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Terry Jennings Justice.

         Appellants, James Castille, Bonnie Castille, William T. Moore, III, Linda Moore, Oran Hall, and Carol Hall, challenge the trial court's judgment, entered after a jury trial, in favor of appellee, Service Datsun, Inc. ("Service Datsun"), in appellants' declaratory-judgment action[1] against Service Datsun. In four issues, appellants contend that the evidence is factually insufficient to support the jury's negative finding against them and the trial court erred in granting Service Datsun affirmative declaratory relief, awarding it attorney's fees, [2] and not properly instructing the jury on interpreting deed restrictions.[3]

         We affirm in part and reverse and remand in part.

         Background

         In their petition, appellants alleged that they own certain real property in the Gulfview subdivision in Galveston County, Texas. When platted, "certain restrictions, conditions and covenants were declared to apply to all property situated within the subdivision." Two of the restrictions read as follows:

• "No shacks, tarpaper building paper covering, tarpaper covered buildings, tin buildings, housetrailers, outhouses, (commonly called privies), old buses, old cars and junk shall . . . be placed upon any of the land covered by this instrument unless changed by the parties hereto."
• "The parties hereto agree that the street designated as Kahla Drive . . . shall be designated a public road and remain open to the beach for all persons owning property along the same."

         Appellants further alleged that Service Datsun owns certain property in the Gulfview subdivision. In violation of the above restrictions, it has installed and operates a recreational vehicle park ("RV park") on its property, renting "spaces" and certain recreational vehicles ("RVs") to other third-parties. The restrictions specifically "prohibit the placement of 'housetrailers' on lots within" the Gulfview subdivision, and Service Datsun's use of its property as an RV park "significantly inhibit[s] the use of Kahla Drive by other property owners" and has significantly impacted the values of their properties and their use and enjoyment of their properties.

         Appellants sought a declaration that the Gulfview subdivision restrictions prohibit Service Datsun's "continued use of its property for the placement or rental of [RVs]" and such use "constitutes a violation of those restrictions." Appellants requested attorney's fees and a permanent injunction, requiring Service Datsun to "completely remove the offending [RVs] and/or RV [p]ark from its property" and "cease conducting activities [that are] prohibited by the Gulfview subdivision restrictions."

         In its first amended answer, Service Datsun generally denied appellants' allegations and asserted certain affirmative defenses. It also counterclaimed for declaratory relief, requesting attorney's fees and seeking a declaration about "the validity, or legal effect, of the deed restrictions" and that "the continued operation of [its RV] park is not prohibited or restricted by" any of the Gulfview subdivision restrictions.

         At trial, the trial court admitted into evidence of the Gulfview subdivision restrictions, which include the following:

2. No cows, hogs, cattle, goats or horses shall be housed, stabled or pastured thereon.
3. Any cabin or resident building erected shall cost not less than $3000[.]00 and contain in area not less than 500 square feet of floor space.
4. The front line of the body of any residence or cabin which may be erected on the property shall be at least 25 feet from the front property line or street right-of-way line unless changed by either of the parties hereto in this instrument.
5. All sewage shall be disposed of in a manner which shall not be offensive to other persons and which shall not be in violation of public health laws and shall be contained in septic tanks which drain into a covered drainage field. No flows nor over-flows from sewage shall be permitted to flow into adjoining properties, ditches or streets or roadways.
6. No shacks, tarpaper building paper covering, tarpaper covered buildings, tin buildings, housetrailers, outhouses, (commonly called privies), old buses, old cars and junk shall . . . be placed upon any of the land covered by this instrument unless changed by the parties hereto.
7. All cabins or residences shall be completed on the outside within one year from the date started and must be a minimum of 7 feet above ground level on pier foundations and must be finished on the outside by paint, stain, asbestos siding or better.
8. No trash and garage shall be burned except in metal or masonry containers and all trash and garage shall be kept in covered cans in a sanitary condition[].
9. The parties hereto reserve the right to modify, change[, ] alter, or convey any part or portion of the land described in this instrument to which this is an attachment without restrictions, and make such changes in these restrictions as each term advisable.
10. The parties hereto agree that the street designated as Kahla Drive . . . shall be designated a public road and remain open to the beach for all persons owning property along same.

         The trial instructed the jury to answer the following question:

Question No. 1
Did Service Datsun fail to comply with paragraphs 6 or 10 of the restrictions?
You must decide whether or not the term "house trailers" in paragraph 6 of the restrictions applies to Service Datsun's use of its property.
Answer Yes or No[.]

         Because the jury answered "No" to Question No. 1, it did not answer the two remaining questions about Service Datsun's affirmative defenses.

         Based on the jury's response to Question No. 1, the trial court entered judgment in favor of Service Datsun, concluding that it was "entitled to judgment declaring that its use of its property as an RV park in the Gulfview [s]ubdivision does not constitute a violation of the restrictive covenants of said subdivision." The court ordered that appellants "take nothing [in] their suit, " declared that Service Datsun's "use of [its property in] the Gulfview [s]ubdivision, Crystal Beach, Galveston County, Texas, as an RV park does not violate the restrictive covenants pertaining to the subdivision." And it awarded Service Datsun attorney's fees in the amount of $15, 000 for trial, $7, 500 in the event of an appeal to the court of appeals, $3, 500 in the event that a petition for review is filed with the Texas Supreme Court, and $7, 500 if the petition is granted.[4]

         Declaratory Judgment

         In their first issue, appellants argue that the trial court erred in granting Service Datsun affirmative declaratory relief because the jury's negative answer to Question No. 1 "meant only that [appellants had] failed to carry their burden to prove a breach [by Service Datsun] of the Gulfview [subdivision] restrictions" and "could not support any affirmative declaratory relief" in favor of Service Datsun.

         The Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act ("DJA") generally permits a person who is interested under a deed or other contract, or whose rights, status, or other legal relations are affected by a statute or contract, to obtain a declaration of rights, status, or other legal relations thereunder. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 37.004(a) (Vernon 2015). The purpose of the DJA is "to settle and to afford relief from uncertainty and insecurity with respect to rights, status, and other legal relations; and it is to be liberally construed and administered." Id. § 37.002(b) (Vernon 2015); see also Garcia v. Am. Home Mortg. Serv., Inc., No. 01-13-00359-CV, 2014 WL 3408701, at *3 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] July 10, 2014, no pet.) (mem. op.) ("A declaratory-judgment action is a procedural vehicle that can be used to resolve a wide variety of legal disputes.").

         We review declaratory judgments under the same standards as other judgments and decrees and look to the procedure used to resolve the issue at trial to determine the appropriate appellate standard of review. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 37.010 (Vernon 2015); City of Galveston v. Giles, 902 S.W.2d 167, 170 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 1995, no writ). Our review of a trial court's entry of judgment on a jury verdict is a question of law that we review de novo. Arbor Windsor Court, Ltd. v. Weekley Homes, LP, 463 S.W.3d 131, 136 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2015, pet. denied); see also In re Humphreys, 880 S.W.2d 402, 404 (Tex. 1994) ("[Q]uestions of law are always subject ...


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