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In re Estate of Dean

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

February 28, 2018

IN THE ESTATE OF Barbara R. DEAN, Deceased

         From the County Court, Jim Wells County, Texas Trial Court No. 7344 Honorable Homero Garza, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Karen Angelini, Justice, Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice, Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice.

         REVERSED AND REMANDED

         Ruth Dean Brillhart appeals the trial court's judgment enforcing a Rule 11 agreement, asserting: (1) the proper procedure for obtaining a judgment based on a breach of a Rule 11 agreement was not followed; (2) if the proper procedure was followed, the evidence is insufficient to prove the appellee's breach of contract claim; and (3) the terms of the judgment vary from the terms of the Rule 11 agreement. We reverse the trial court's judgment and remand the cause for further proceedings.

         Background

         Barbara Dean Hendricks, a beneficiary of the Estate of Barbara R. Dean, sued Ruth Dean Brillhart, the independent executrix of the Estate, asserting various causes of action including forgery and breach of fiduciary duty. After eight days of trial, on September 28, 2015, the parties reached a settlement and dictated the terms of a Rule 11 settlement agreement into the record. One of those terms required Brillhart to deposit $250, 000.00 in the registry of the court on October 12, 2015, if the parties had not finalized the terms of the settlement documents. It is undisputed Brillhart did not deposit the funds into the court's registry; however, the reason she refused to make the deposit is disputed.

         On September 12, 2016, Hendricks filed a motion to enforce the Rule 11 agreement, asserting Brillhart had "failed to abide by the Rule 11 Agreement in its entirety." Hendricks cited a case holding a claim for breach of settlement agreement could be asserted in a motion to enforce and requested the trial court to enter a final judgment enforcing the settlement agreement.

         On October 25, 2016, Brillhart filed a response to Hendricks's motion, asserting she did not deposit the funds into the court's registry because Hendricks was not negotiating the settlement documents in good faith. Brillhart also asserted she had filed a separate lawsuit against Hendricks seeking enforcement of the Rule 11 agreement. Finally, Brillhart asserted Hendricks had failed to tender performance which was a necessary element of her breach of contract claim.

         On October 27, 2016, the trial court held a hearing on the motion to enforce, and the attorneys and the trial court spent a great deal of time discussing the terms of the settlement as dictated in the record, the parties' subsequent actions, and the trial court's options. During the hearing, Hendricks's attorney presented a proposed judgment to the trial court which had not been provided to Brillhart's attorney. In response to the portion of the proposed judgment finding Brillhart breached the Rule 11 agreement, Brillhart's attorney argued a factual dispute existed with regard to the breach of the settlement agreement, Brillhart was allowed a trial on the issue of breach, and she had not been given a trial. Finally, after the parties and the trial court discussed various problems with the language of the proposed judgment and various objections made by Brillhart to its provisions, the following exchange occurred:

MR. RAYFIELD [Brillhart's attorney]: There was no setting for motion to enter judgment today, so I did want to make it clear on the record that we're not participating in this hearing by agreement. I didn't even know you were going to enter a judgment, which apparently you're doing right now, is what you're doing is signing a judgment.
THE COURT: Plaintiff's Motion to Enforce Rule 11 Agreement was set for hearing today.
MR. RAYFIELD: That's correct, Your Honor, and the reason that they haven't followed pleadings and proof, and there is a jury demand in the case, so we really don't feel that they have properly pled nor proven their case. They haven't showed that they could tender performance, they've never shown tendered performance, so they can't attempt to go through it at this point, Your Honor. So I just wanted to make sure the Court knew our position. I didn't want someone to appeal, if it got appealed to say, oh, no, they agreed to have the motion for entry of judgment heard because, you know, we didn't. That's all I'm saying Judge.
MR. TOWLER [Hendricks's attorney]: Your Honor, I will point to the Plaintiff's Motion to Enforce Rule 11 Agreement, the one that was filed on or about September 12th, under the request for relief. "Enforce the Rule 11 Agreement by entering final judgment against ...

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