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Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas v. True Level Masonic Lodge 226 501(C)(3)

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

April 3, 2018

MOST WORSHIPFUL PRINCE HALL GRAND LODGE OF TEXAS AND JURISDICTION FREE AND ACCEPTED MASONS AND TRUE LEVEL LODGE 226, PRINCE HALL AFFILIATE, Appellants
v.
TRUE LEVEL MASONIC LODGE 226 501(C)(3), Appellee

          On Appeal from the County Civil Court at Law No. 4 Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 1082736

          Panel consists of Justices Jennings, Massengale, and Caughey.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          MICHAEL MASSENGALE JUSTICE

         This appeal concerns a real-property dispute between a Masonic grand lodge and former members of one of its constituent lodges. The appeal arises from a county court at law's judgment which purported to award possession of real property to a new entity created by the departed former members. We reverse and vacate the judgment, which is void for want of jurisdiction because resolution of the case required a determination about which party had title to the property.

         Background

         This case is related to a separate appeal from a Harris County district court proceeding, True Level Masonic Lodge #226, Inc., et al. v. Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas and Jurisdictions Free and Accepted Masons, No. 01-16-00339-CV. The district court litigation resolved a dispute over ownership of property, including a building located at 4212 Lyons Avenue, which also is at issue in this case. In the district court, evidence showed that Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas and Jurisdictions Free and Accepted Masons (the "Grand Lodge") and True Level Lodge #226 (the "constituent lodge") acquired title to 4212 Lyons Avenue by warranty deed in 1952.

         Gregory August, Johnnie L. Jones, Mack Prince Deshay, and Arthur C. Mays were members and officers in the constituent lodge. They attempted to surrender the constituent lodge's charter to the Grand Lodge, and they formed a new lodge, True Level Masonic Lodge 226 501(c)(3) (the "independent lodge"). The independent lodge officers purported to convey the property at 4212 Lyons Avenue, which had been in the possession of the constituent lodge, to the independent lodge by signing a special warranty deed. The Grand Lodge voided the attempted surrender of the constituent lodge's charter, and it expelled the independent lodge officers. Then it sought a declaratory judgment confirming ownership of the property which had been controlled by the constituent lodge. The independent lodge and the expelled members filed a trespass-to-try-title counterclaim relating to the disputed real property, including 4212 Lyons Avenue.

         After a jury trial, the district court granted a take-nothing judgment on the independent lodge's counterclaim, and it declared the constituent lodge was entitled to "possession of all property, both real and personal, of every kind or nature wherever situated, acquired by True Level Lodge No. 226." It further declared that the independent lodge and its members "have no interest in any of the property." The independent lodge and the expelled members appealed the district-court judgment, though they did not appeal the take-nothing judgment on their counterclaim.

         In a separate opinion issued simultaneously with this one, this court affirmed the district-court judgment, holding that it did not award real property to Grand Lodge, rather it merely declared that the property in question was never transferred to the independent lodge because the constituent lodge never surrendered its charter, and it never ceased to exist. True Level Masonic Lodge #226, Inc. v. Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Tex. & Jurs. Free & Accepted Masons, No. 01-16-00339-CV (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] April 3, 2018, no pet. h.).The court further concluded that the pleadings informed the meaning of the judgment and identified the property of the Grand Lodge, which included the premises at 4212 Lyons Avenue.

         About four months after the independent lodge appealed the district-court judgment, it filed a forcible-entry-and-detainer action in the justice court. In its pleading, it asserted that it "is the true title owner[] of the premises located at 4212 Lyons Avenue" and therefore had the right to possession of the premises. The independent lodge attached a copy of the special warranty deed to its petition. The Grand Lodge and its constituent lodge generally denied the allegations, raised several affirmative defenses, and attached a copy of the district-court judgment.

         The justice court sustained a plea to the jurisdiction filed by the Grand Lodge and its constituent lodge. The independent lodge filed an appeal for de novo review by the county court at law. The Grand Lodge and its constituent lodge then filed a general denial and a motion to dismiss.

         The county court at law concluded that the independent lodge held "the last deed in time for 4212 Lyons Avenue, specifically, a Special Warranty Deed executed on July 10, 2013." The county court also noted that the district-court judgment did not identify 4212 Lyons Avenue or include a property description for it. Thus the court found that the Grand Lodge and its constituent lodge did "not have a deed that effectuates the transfer of 4212 Lyons Avenue to them" subsequent to the March 28, 2016 district-court judgment.

         The Grand Lodge and the constituent lodge appealed. They argue that the county court at law had no jurisdiction over a forcible-entry-and-detainer suit in this case because the ...


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