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Talavera v. Quality Choice Auto Sales LLC

Court of Appeals of Texas, Second District, Fort Worth

February 15, 2018

MARIO ALBERTO TALAVERA, SR. D/B/A PRO COLLISION AND AUTO REPAIR APPELLANT
v.
QUALITY CHOICE AUTO SALES LLC APPELLEE

         FROM COUNTY COURT AT LAW NO. 2 OF WISE COUNTY TRIAL COURT NO. CV-6727

          PANEL: WALKER, MEIER, and BIRDWELL, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          WADE BIRDWELL JUSTICE

         Appellant Mario Alberto Talavera, Sr. d/b/a Pro Collision and Auto Repair (Talavera, Sr.) appeals the trial court's judgment for appellee Quality Choice Auto Sales LLC (Quality Choice). In three issues, Talavera, Sr. contends that we should reverse the judgment because Quality Choice's pleading does not support it, because the trial court did not have jurisdiction over him, and because the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the judgment. We reject all of these contentions and affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Background

         Ben Cantu owns Quality Choice. Talavera, Sr. owns Pro Collision and Auto Repair. According to Cantu's testimony, in June 2015, Quality Choice bought a 2014 Ford Mustang for $6, 495, financing the entire amount. Quality Choice entered into an agreement with Talavera, Sr. for Talavera, Sr. to repair the car, for the repaired car to be resold at an auction, and for Quality Choice and Talavera, Sr. to split the profits.

         Talavera, Sr. arranged for the car to be towed to his shop, and Quality Choice wired him $3, 000 to complete the repairs. After some time passed, Talavera, Sr. told Cantu that he could not repair the car because he had to get another job. Cantu asked for the return of the car and the $3, 000, and when Talavera, Sr. returned neither, Cantu hired counsel and sent Talavera, Sr. a demand letter. He still did not respond, so Cantu paid a company $400 to repossess the car. The car was in pieces; it had a frame and a disconnected suspension, engine, and transmission. Cantu reassembled the car and paid a company $685 to tow it to Lubbock so that it could be sold at an auction. The car sold at the auction for $3, 500 less a $175 seller's fee. Quality Choice paid the balance-$3, 325-to the company that had financed the original purchase.

         In November 2015, Quality Choice filed a petition in a Wise County justice court against Mario Alberto Talavera, Jr. (Talavera, Jr.) d/b/a Pro Collision and Auto Repair.[2] The petition alleged that Quality Choice had bought a Ford Mustang, that Quality Choice and "Mario Talavera" had agreed for Pro Collision and Auto Repair to "make necessary repairs" to the car, that Quality Choice had wired Talavera $3, 000 to complete the repairs, that Talavera had failed to complete them, that Quality Choice had repossessed the car from Talavera, and that Quality Choice had been damaged by Talavera's actions. A constable served a citation by certified mail in February 2016; the citation states that the constable served it on "Mario Alberto, " and the return receipt associated with the citation, although addressed to Talavera, Jr., states that it was received by Talavera, Sr. and contains his signature.[3] Talavera, Sr. filed a handwritten, signed answer stating, "I Mario Talavera disagree with lawsuite [sic] . . . in Wise County court. Quality Choice Auto Sales vs. Mario Talavera."[4]

         The justice court's judgment-a civil case disposition sheet signed in March 2016 by the justice court judge-reflects that Talavera, Sr. appeared[5] with his wife and that the justice court awarded Quality Choice $8, 117.16, comprising $6, 054.16 in damages, $1, 922 in attorney's fees, and $141 in court costs. The justice court ordered that for Talavera, Sr. to appeal, he would need to post a bond for twice the amount of the judgment.[6]

         Talavera, Sr. appealed the justice court's judgment to the trial court. In Talavera, Sr.'s notice of appeal, he contended that he had not been properly sued or served with citation and that the justice court had never obtained jurisdiction over him. Talavera, Sr. filed a statement of his inability to afford payment of court costs or an appeal bond, and Quality Choice contested Talavera, Sr.'s claim of inability to pay. In May 2016, the justice court held a hearing on the contest.[7] The justice court found that Talavera, Sr. was able to afford the appeal bond; the court's order recites that he had appeared for the hearing but that he had "failed to bring or show proof of income, tax returns, and all assets." The trial court later overruled Quality Choice's contest and allowed Talavera, Sr. to proceed without posting an appeal bond.

         In the trial court, Talavera, Sr. contested the court's jurisdiction over him and asked the trial court for dismissal of the suit. The parties extensively briefed the issue, and after holding a hearing, the trial court found that it had jurisdiction.

         Talavera, Sr. appeared for trial through counsel but not personally. After the trial court conducted a bench trial and received the parties' evidence and arguments, it signed a judgment for Quality Choice. The trial court's judgment awarded Quality Choice $8, 352.76, trial-court attorney's fees of $25, 677.50, and additional attorney's fees conditioned on Talavera, Sr. appealing and on Quality Choice prevailing in such an appeal. The trial court made the following findings and conclusions (among others):

         FINDINGS OF FACT

4. . . . [Quality Choice] purchased a [Ford Mustang] . . . for a total cost of $6, 495.00
. . . .
7. . . . [Talavera, Sr.] entered into an oral agreement with [Quality Choice] under which [Quality Choice] would wire [Talavera, Sr.] $3, 000.00 (for vehicle parts), in exchange for [Talavera, Sr.] to arrange to have the Vehicle hauled to his property and to make necessary repairs to the Vehicle within two (2) weeks. After
[Talavera, Sr.] repaired the Vehicle, it was to be sold at [an] auction[, ] . . . and [the parties] were to equally split the proceeds from the sale.
. . . .
13. . . . [Talavera, Sr.] accepted and received the $3, 000.00 from [Quality Choice].
. . . .
16. . . . [T]he Vehicle remained on [Talavera, Sr.'s] Property and minimal repairs were done to the Vehicle.
. . . .
18. . . . [Talavera, Sr.] told [Quality Choice] he could not work on the Vehicle because he had to get another job. [Quality Choice] asked for the $3, 000.00 and ...

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