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Guardianship of Bernsen

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

May 10, 2018

GUARDIANSHIP OF LEON R. BERNSEN, SR., AN INCAPACITATED PERSON

          On appeal from the County Court at Law No. 5 of Nueces County, Texas.

          Before Chief Justice Valdez and Justices Benavides and Longoria

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ROGELIO VALDEZ, Chief Justice

         By three issues, appellant Leon Bernsen, Sr. appeals the trial court's award of attorney's fees to appellee Leon Garrick Bernsen. We reverse and render.

         I. Background

         Appellee filed an application for appointment of permanent guardianship of appellant, appellee's grandfather. Appellant's daughter, Dianna Bernsen, filed a motion in limine requesting to strike appellee's pleadings because according to Dianna, appellee lacked standing.[1] Specifically, Dianna argued that appellee lacked standing because he had an interest that was adverse to appellant. The trial court appointed a temporary guardian of the person and estate of appellant. The trial court then entered an order granting Dianna's motion in limine stating, "The Court, after considering the evidence and hearing the arguments of the attorneys, finds that [appellee] lacks standing in this matter as he has interests that are adverse to [appellant]." The trial court "ORDERED that [appellee] may not file an application to create a guardianship for [appellant]; contest the creation of a guardianship for [appellant]; or contest the appointment of a person as a guardian of [appellant]."[2] In a separate order, the trial court found that appellee filed his application for guardianship of appellant in good faith with just cause, and it awarded attorney's fees to appellee in the amount of $24, 898.02 to be paid from appellant's estate. This appeal followed.

         II. Attorney's Fees

         By his first issue, appellant contends that appellee's lack of standing to file an application for guardianship prohibited the trial court from awarding attorney's fees to appellee. Appellee responds that, because the trial court determined that he filed his application for guardianship in good faith with due cause, he is entitled to attorney's fees pursuant to section 1155.054 of the estates code. See Tex. Estates Code Ann. § 1155.054 (West, Westlaw through 2017 1st C.S.).

         Section 1055.001 of the estates code entitled, "Standing to Commence or Contest Proceeding, " states, "A person who has an interest that is adverse to a proposed ward or incapacitated person, " may not, among other things, "file an application to create a guardianship for the proposed ward or incapacitated person." See id. § 1055.001(b)(1) (West, Westlaw through 2017 1st C.S.) (emphasis added). A trial court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over a cause of action brought by a plaintiff who lacks standing to assert the claim. DaimlerChrysler Corporation v. Inman, 252 S.W.3d 299, 309 (Tex. 2008). If the plaintiff lacks standing, the trial court should dismiss the claim. Id.

         Here, the trial court determined that appellee lacked standing to file an application for guardianship of appellant because appellee has interests that are adverse to appellant. See Tex. Estates Code Ann. § 105.001(b)(1). Thus, because appellee lacked standing in this cause, the trial court lacked jurisdiction over appellee's claims. See DaimlerChrysler Corporation, 252 S.W.3d at 309. And, the trial court was required to dismiss appellee's cause. See id. Because the trial court lacked jurisdiction over appellee's cause, any order entered by the trial court in favor of appellee is void. See Hagen v. Hagen, 282 S.W.3d 899, 910 (Tex. 2009) ("If a plaintiff with no standing obtains a judgment for negligent infliction of emotional distress, the decree is both voidable (negligent infliction is not a valid claim) and void (standing is jurisdictional)."); Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., v. Ballestas, 355 S.W.3d 187, 191 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2011) ("A trial court's judgment is void if the court lacked jurisdiction over the subject matter of the claim. A trial court has jurisdiction over the subject matter of a claim only if the claimant has standing to assert the claim.") (internal citations omitted).

         Nonetheless, appellee argues that he was entitled to attorney's fees pursuant to section 1155.054, stating, in pertinent part, that a trial court that creates a guardianship, "on request of a person who filed an application to be appointed guardian of the proposed ward . . . may authorize the payment of reasonable and necessary attorney's fees, as determined by the court. . . ." to the applicant regardless of whether the applicant is appointed guardian if the applicant filed the application in good faith. See Tex. Estates Code Ann. § 1155.054. Specifically, appellee asserts that he filed his application in good faith, as found by the trial court, and that it does not matter that he was not appointed appellant's guardian under section 1155.054. See id.

         We have found no cases construing the meaning of these statutes. However, we disagree with appellee because section 105.001(b)(1) specifies that a person who lacks standing may not file an application to create a guardianship. See id. § 105.001(b)(1). The Legislature chose to set out in section 105.001(b)(1) that a person who has an adverse interest to the ward lacks standing to file an application to create a guardianship. And, the law is clear that a trial court lacks jurisdiction if the party does not have standing in the matter, and a trial court's order in favor of party who lacks standing is void. See Hagen, 282 S.W.3d at 910; Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 355 S.W.3d at 191. Accordingly, we conclude that the trial court's order awarding attorney's fees to appellee is void. We sustain appellant's first issue.[3]

         III. Conclusion

         We reverse the trial court's judgment awarding attorney's fees, and we render judgment dismissing appellee's cause. See City of Garland v. Louton, 691 S.W.2d 603, 605 (Tex.1985) (per curiam) ("If the trial court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the appellate court can make no order ...


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