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Estate of Rodriguez

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

January 10, 2018

ESTATE OF Francisco RODRIGUEZ, Deceased

         From the Probate Court No. 2, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2015PC0654-A Honorable Tom Rickhoff, Judge Presiding

          Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice Karen Angelini, Justice Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice

          OPINION

          Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice

         This appeal stems from a lawsuit against Frank Rodriguez, in his capacity as independent executor and trustee of a testamentary trust created by the Last Will and Testament (the "Will") of Francisco Rodriguez. The lawsuit was brought by Appellant Blanca Rodriguez to enjoin the sale of real property owned by Francisco at the time of his death which Frank contracted to sell to Appellee Chris Christians. Christians intervened in the lawsuit asserting the language in the Will expressly gave Frank[1] the power to sell the property. Blanca, as a beneficiary of the estate and trust, contends that language in the trust created a right of first refusal in favor of the trust beneficiaries. Christians and Blanca filed competing motions for summary judgment. The trial court: (1) denied Blanca's motion; (2) granted Christians's motion; (3) severed all claims and issues by and between Frank or Blanca and Christians;[2] and (4) ordered Frank to convey the property to Christians. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Francisco Rodriguez died in February 2015 leaving his Will, which generally benefitted his four children and Blanca, his daughter-in-law. Francisco designated his son, Frank, as independent executor of the Will and as trustee of the testamentary trust created by the Will.

         The Will was probated, and Frank qualified as independent executor of the estate and trustee of the trust. The real property located in Von Ormy, Texas which is referred to as the "Ranch" was the primary property in Francisco's residuary estate. The Will devised the residuary estate to a trust. Blanca, Frank, and two of Francisco's other children were the beneficiaries of the trust.

         In her lawsuit, Blanca alleged that when Frank decided to sell the Ranch, he told family members they would be given an opportunity to match any offer he received. After Frank listed the Ranch for sale, Blanca made various offers to purchase it, including a March 2016 offer for $240, 000.00. Despite these offers, on May 20, 2016, Frank entered into a contract, on behalf of the Francisco Rodriguez Estate, to sell the Ranch to Christians for $259, 900.00. Upon learning about Christians's offer, Blanca made another offer to purchase the Ranch for $265, 000.00.[3] When Frank refused to accept Blanca's offer, Blanca filed the underlying lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order and injunction to prevent Frank from conveying the Ranch to Christians. In her pleadings, Blanca alleged the contract between Frank and Christians violated a right of first refusal contained in the trust in favor of the trust beneficiaries.[4]

         Christians intervened in the suit seeking specific performance of the contract to purchase the Ranch. Blanca and Christians filed competing summary judgment motions pertaining to whether Frank had the authority to sell the Ranch and whether the trust contained a right of first refusal in favor of the trust's beneficiaries. After hearing the arguments on the competing summary judgment motions, the trial court denied Blanca's summary judgment motion in its entirety, granted Christians' summary judgment motion, and ordered Frank to perform his obligations under the contract. The trial court severed all claims and issues by and between Frank or Blanca and Christians into a new cause.

         On appeal, Blanca contends the trust's language created a right of first refusal in favor of the trust beneficiaries. Christians counters Frank acted within the powers given under the Will as independent executor and trustee of the trust. More specifically, Christians contends Frank was given the express power to sell the Ranch and the trust's language did not create a right of first refusal in favor of the trust beneficiaries.

         A. Standard of Review

         To prevail on a traditional motion for summary judgment, the movant must show "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the [movant] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Tex.R.Civ.P. 166a(c); see also Diversicare Gen. Partner, Inc. v. Rubio, 185 S.W.3d 842, 846 (Tex. 2005). An appellate court generally reviews a trial court's granting of a summary judgment de novo. Valence Operating Co. v. Dorsett, 164 S.W.3d 656, 661 (Tex. 2005). Because the parties filed competing motions for summary judgment, and the trial court granted Christians's motion and denied Blanca's motion, we "determine all questions presented, and if the trial court erred, render the judgment the trial court should have rendered." Sw. Bell Tel., L.P. v. Emmett, 459 S.W.3d 578, 583 (Tex. 2015).

         B. Terms of the Will and Trust

         We begin our analysis by examining the specific terms of the Will and the trust created by the Will.

         1. Disposition of Estate ...


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