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Morin v. Rivera

Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg

December 7, 2017

HECTOR MORIN, Appellant,
v.
RUBEN RIVERA, Appellee.

         On appeal from the 92nd District Court of Hidalgo County, Texas.

          Before Chief Justice Valdez and Justices Rodriguez and Hinojosa

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NELDA V. RODRIGUEZ JUSTICE

         Appellant Hector Morin has filed a notice of appeal regarding an order which vacated an earlier order granting a new trial in his favor. Appellee Ruben Rivera[1] has filed a motion to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Concluding that the underlying default judgment is interlocutory, we dismiss this appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

         I. Background

         In 2009, Morin sold Rivera an eighteen-acre tract of land in Hidalgo County, maintaining a lien on the property. Morin thereafter was involved in a single vehicle accident while driving Rivera's vehicle with a trailer and boat attached. Morin and Rivera thereafter disputed the amounts that they owed to each other under the purchase agreement for the land and as a result of the vehicular accident. Rivera ultimately brought suit against Morin. According to Rivera's petition, Morin agreed to apply the costs of the damages resulting from the vehicular accident toward Rivera's purchase of the realty, however, Morin instead threatened to foreclose on the property, and Rivera thus requested title to that property. Rivera requested that the property be partitioned, and that he be given credit for the damage caused to the vehicle and boat. Rivera also requested a temporary restraining order (1) preventing Morin from "mortgaging, selling, encumbering, or foreclosing" on the real property and improvements, (2) giving Rivera "exclusive use and possession" of the property, and (3) prohibiting Morin from "contacting, harassing, or threatening" Rivera or "his lessees, relatives, or anyone acting in concert" with him. Rivera sought a temporary injunction "for the preservation of the property and protection of the parties as deemed appropriate and equitable, " and further sought both temporary and permanent injunctions prohibiting Morin from "contacting, harassing or threatening" Rivera or his "lessees, relatives, or anyone acting in concert" with Rivera. In addition to the temporary restraining order, temporary injunction, and permanent injunction, Rivera sought judgment for title to and possession of the property, costs of suit, attorney's fees, postjudgment interest, and a judgment "that the property is susceptible to partition and directing partition."

         On October 10, 2014, the trial court rendered a default judgment against Morin and awarded Rivera title and ownership to the real property, $10, 000 for attorney's fees, and $750 for court costs:

On the 22nd day of September 2014, came on to be heard the above-entitled and numbered cause. Ruben Rivera, Plaintiff, appeared in person and by and through his attorney of record, Juan E. Gonzalez and announced ready for trial. Defendant Hector Morin, having been duly cited, failed to appear and wholly made default. No jury having been demanded, all matters of fact and things in controversy were submitted to the Court.
The Court hearing the evidence and arguments of counsel, is of the opinion that the Plaintiff have judgment and that Plaintiff is entitled to title and ownership to the interest of Hector Morin in the real property more particularly described as set forth in Exhibit "A". The Court finds that Defendant Hector Morin, is fully divested of any and all interest in the real property set forth in Exhibit "A". The Court further finds that Plaintiff is entitled to recover of and from Defendant, the sum of Ten Thousand and No/100ths ($10, 000.00) Dollars for attorney's fees and the sum of Seven Hundred Fifty and No/100ths ($750.00) Dollars for court costs.
IT IS THEREFORE, ORDERED, ADJUDGED, AND DECREED by the Court that Plaintiff have and recover from Defendant, the sum of Ten Thousand and No/100ths ($10, 000.00) Dollars for attorney's fees and the sum of Seven Hundred Fifty and No/1 00ths ($750.00) Dollars for court costs and that this award of attorney's fees is part of the judgment hereby rendered.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff have full title and ownership to the real property more particularly described in Exhibit "A" and that Defendant Hector Morin is fully divested of any and all interest in the real property described in Exhibit "A".
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff have possession of the real property described above and that all writs and processes for the enforcement and collection of this judgment may issue as necessary.

         On October 16, 2014, within thirty days of the date of the default judgment, Morin timely filed a motion for new trial. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 329b(a). The trial court held a hearing on Morin's motion, but did not issue an order on the motion for new trial. Accordingly, Morin's motion for new trial was overruled by operation of law seventy-five days after the default judgment was signed. See id. R. 392b(c). Nevertheless, by order rendered on July 15, 2016, the trial court purportedly granted Morin's motion for new trial. Rivera thereafter filed a motion to vacate the July 15, 2016 order as void for having been rendered after the expiration of the trial court's plenary power, or alternatively, a plea to the jurisdiction. Morin filed a response to Rivera's motion to vacate contending that the default judgment was interlocutory rather than final because it failed to dispose of all causes of action, and accordingly, the trial court had jurisdiction to set aside the default judgment. By order rendered on January 18, 2017, the trial court granted Rivera's motion to vacate the new trial order as void:

Plaintiff's Motion to Vacate Void Order, Alternatively, Plea to the Jurisdiction having come before the Court for hearing and the parties having appeared by and through their attorneys of record, having introduced evidence, and having argued the motion, the Court is of the opinion the motion is in order. Accordingly, the Court adjudges the Court acted without jurisdiction in signing the Order of July 15, 2016 granting to Defendant Hector Morin a new trial. The Court now vacates the order of July 15, 2016 granting Defendant a new trial on the grounds the order is void. The Court, ...

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