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Puente v. Little

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

March 29, 2018

EDNA BERENICE PUENTE, Appellant,
v.
GERTRUDIS LITTLE AND JAMES R. LITTLE, Appellees.

          On appeal from the County Court at Law No. 4 of Hidalgo County, Texas.

          Before Chief Justice Valdez and Justices Benavides and Longoria

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GINA M. BENAVIDES, JUSTICE

         By one issue, appellant Edna Puente challenges the trial court's denial of her bill of review. At the trial court, Puente filed a bill of review in response to an order terminating her parental rights to her son and a subsequent order of adoption by the appellees, Gertrudis and James Little (collectively the Littles). We affirm.

          I. Background[1]

         This case stems out of a voluntary relinquishment of parental rights and subsequent adoption. On October 27, 2015, Puente executed a voluntary relinquishment of parental rights regarding her son, S.C.T.[2] On December 16, 2015, the trial court granted an adoption of S.C.T. to the Littles.

         On January 26, 2016, Puente filed suit challenging the voluntary relinquishment and adoption through a bill of review. A hearing on Puente's bill of review was conducted on June 8, 2016, and the trial court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law and denied Puente's bill of review on June 13, 2016. Her motion for new trial was overruled by operation of law, and this appeal followed.

         II. Bill of Review

         By her sole issue, Puente challenges the trial court's denial of her bill of review.

         A. Standard of Review and Applicable Law

         A bill of review is an independent action to set aside a judgment that is no longer appealable or subject to challenge by a motion for new trial. Wembley Inv. Co. v. Herrera, 11 S.W.3d 924, 926-27 (Tex. 1999). Although it is an equitable proceeding, the fact that an injustice has occurred is not sufficient to justify relief by bill of review. Id. at 927. Generally, bill of review relief is available only if a party has exercised due diligence in pursuing all adequate legal remedies against a former judgment, and through no fault of its own, has been prevented from making a meritorious claim or defense by the fraud, accident, or wrongful act of the opposing party. Id.

         In reviewing the granting or denial of a bill of review, every presumption is indulged in favor of the court's ruling, which will not be disturbed unless it is affirmatively shown that there was an abuse of discretion. Barnes v. Deadrick, 464 S.W.3d 48, 53 (Tex. App.- Houston 2015, no pet.). The trial court may be reversed for abusing its discretion only if it has acted in an unreasonable or arbitrary manner or without reference to any guiding rules and principles. Id.

         A bill of review complainant must prove three elements: (1) a meritorious defense to the cause of action alleged to support the judgment, or a meritorious claim, (2) which he or she was prevented from making by the fraud, accident, or wrongful act of the opposing party or official mistake, and (3) unmixed with the fault or negligence of the complainant. Jones v. Tex. Dep't. of Protective & Regulatory Serv., 85 S.W.3d 482, 487 (Tex. App.-Austin 2002, pet ref'd.).

         The procedure for conducting a bill of review proceeding is set out in Baker v. Goldsmith,582 S.W.2d 404 (Tex. 1979). First, the bill of review complainant must file a petition alleging factually and with particularity the three elements of a bill of review. Id. at 408. The complainant must then present, as a pretrial matter, prima facie proof to support the meritorious defense alleged in the petition. Id. The only relevant inquiry at this preliminary stage is whether (1) the complainant's defense is barred as a matter of law and (2) the complainant will be entitled to judgment on retrial if no evidence to the contrary is offered. Id. at 408-09. This is a question of law for the court. Id. at 409. In making its determination, the district court may consider discovery documents, affidavits, and such other evidence that the court admits under its discretion. Id. The bill of review defendant may also present proof, but is limited to showing that the meritorious defense is barred as a matter of law; any factual questions arising out of factual ...


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