MIGUEL ZARAGOZA FUENTES, DADE AVIATION, INC., ABBINGDON MARINE, INC., EZAR MANAGEMENT, L.L.C., EZAR PROPERTIES, L.P., EAGLE RIDGE PROPERTIES LLC, AND ELSA ESTHER CARRILLO ANCHONDO, Appellants
EVANGELINA LOPEZ GUZMAN ZARAGOZA, Appellee
Appeal from the 245th District Court Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Case No. 2014-30215
consists of Justices Jennings, Bland, and Brown.
appeal from a decree of divorce, we determine whether the
trial court had jurisdiction to divorce a husband and wife
who are Mexican citizens, and the procedural effect pending
Mexican litigation has on this suit. We further determine
whether (1) legally sufficient evidence supports the division
of community assets following the husband's failure to
appear for trial; (2) the trial court erred in rendering
judgments against parties who were nonsuited before trial on
an alter-ego theory of liability; and (3) the trial court
abused its discretion in declining to award sanctions against
the wife's counsel.
Zaragoza Fuentes appeals from a divorce decree obtained by
Evangelina Guzman Zaragoza. Miguel contested personal
jurisdiction. After the trial court denied Miguel's
special appearance, he did not appear for trial. In its
default decree of divorce, the trial court awarded
Evangelina: (1) half of the community estate, including
"[a]ll shares and all interest" in 89 business
entities, on the basis that these entities and others were
Miguel's alter egos; (2) $537 million in damages for
fraud against the community estate; (3) injunctive relief;
(4) spousal support; and (5) attorney's fees. On appeal,
Miguel challenges the trial court's subject matter and
personal jurisdiction and the relief awarded.
the trial court signed its final judgment, Dade Aviation,
Inc.; Abbingdon Marine, Inc.; Ezar Management, LLC; Ezar
Properties, L.P.; Eagle Ridge Properties, LLC; Elsa Esther
Anchondo Carrillo; Ernesto Carrillo; and Texas LPG Storage
Company intervened in the case. These third parties contend
that the trial court erred in including their property
interests as part of the community estate and in awarding
these interests in the division of the estate, without notice
Alicia Zaragoza Lopez, daughter of Miguel and Evangelina,
also appeals, contending that her property interests were
improperly included in the community estate as well and
further that the trial court erred in denying her request for
sanctions against Evangelina's counsel.
conclude that the trial court had jurisdiction to hear the
petition for divorce between Miguel and Evangelina. We
further conclude that the trial court's disposition of
the community assets, as well as the other amounts and relief
awarded, are not supported by legally sufficient evidence.
The trial court erred in awarding interests in the assets of
third parties based on an alter-ego theory without notice to
these parties. It acted within its discretion in declining to
impose sanctions. Accordingly, we reverse the trial
court's decree of divorce and disposition of assets, and
we remand the case for further proceedings. On remand, the
trial court must consider whether to defer to pending
litigation in the Mexican courts for reasons of comity. We
affirm the denial of Myrna Alicia Zaragoza Lopez's motion
and Evangelina are Mexican citizens. They were married in the
United States on October 14, 1953, in a civil ceremony in the
state of New Mexico. They held a ceremonial wedding in Mexico
three days later. The couple lived together as husband and
wife until 2009. During that time, Miguel headed business
enterprises in Texas and around the world.
Miguel claims Ciudad Juarez in Chihuahua, Mexico as his place
of residence, and has a home there, he also has maintained
residences and close ties with Texas, particularly in the
City of El Paso, located approximately four miles from
Juarez. During the course of their marriage, Miguel regularly
lived with Evangelina at their residence in El Paso. All
eleven of the couple's children were born in El Paso,
Texas. The couple also lived at their residence in Juarez.
the couple stopped living together, Miguel regularly lived at
another residence in El Paso with Elsa Esther Carrillo
Anchondo (Esther), one of the intervenors in this case. In
2004, Esther gave birth to a daughter in El Paso. Miguel
acknowledges Esther's daughter as his child.
files for divorce in Harris County.
after Christmas in 2013, Evangelina moved from El Paso to
Houston and began to live at a home owned by one of Miguel
and Evangelina's daughters. In May 2014, Evangelina
petitioned for divorce against Miguel in Harris County,
Evangelina named several individuals and business entities as
corespondents, including Esther; Robert Dale Baucom; Ernesto
Carrillo; Raoul Gisler; Abbingdon Marine, Inc.; Cadogan
Properties, Inc.; Dade Aviation, Inc.; Ezar Management,
L.L.C.; Ezar Properties, L.P.; Texas LPG Storage Company; and
Texas Overseas Gas Corp. Evangelina alleged that these
co-respondents were Miguel's corporate alter egos or
persons to whom Miguel improperly had diverted community
avoided service by regularly crossing back and forth over the
border between Juarez and El Paso. The trial court granted
Evangelina's request for substituted service, and ordered
that Miguel could be served by leaving a copy of the citation
and pleadings at his known residence in El Paso, and another
at Miguel's office of over twenty years in El Paso.
Service was effected accordingly.
challenges personal jurisdiction.
filed a special appearance and supporting declaration, in
which he averred that he is not a United States citizen of a
Texas resident, and that he lacks sufficient minimum contacts
with Texas to establish personal jurisdiction over him in
this suit. Miguel also denied that he was the alter ego of
any entities doing business in Texas. At the special
appearance hearing, Evangelina offered testimony from
Alejandra Zaragoza Sterling, the youngest of the eleven
children born to Miguel and Evangelina, about Miguel's
did not offer testimony or evidence in support of his special
appearance. The trial court took judicial notice of a case
file offered by Evangelina with documents and photographs
showing a home that Miguel was building in El Paso, described
as a "mansion." The architect that Miguel employed
to build the home accepted service on Miguel's behalf in
trial court denied Miguel's special appearance. Miguel
did not file an interlocutory appeal, and our court later
denied Miguel's petition for writ of mandamus challenging
the denial of his special appearance. See In re
Fuentes, No. 01-14-00624-CV, 2014 WL 4251152, at *1
(Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] Aug. 28, 2014, orig.
proceeding [mand. denied]) (mem. op) (per curiam).
did not participate in further trial court proceedings.
Evangelina ultimately moved for a default judgment against
Miguel, which the trial court granted.
third parties contest subject-matter jurisdiction.
February 2015, Ernesto Carrillo and Texas LPG Storage Company
filed a plea to the trial court's jurisdiction,
contending that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to
entertain the suit for divorce. As part of their plea, the
third parties alleged that Miguel and Evangelina had already
divorced in a legal proceeding in Mexico in 1959.
Carrillo and Texas LPG requested that the trial court take
judicial notice of (1) a divorce decree from the Mexican
Civil Registry stating that the couple divorced in May 1959,
(2) a Mexican divorce certificate, (3) Miguel's Mexican
birth certificate (containing a notation regarding the
divorce), and (4) Evangelina's Mexican birth certificate
(containing a notation regarding the divorce).
denied that she and Miguel were divorced in Mexico. She
disputed the authenticity of the records purporting to show a
1959 Mexican divorce. Evangelina introduced testimony that
the records were irregular on their face and had been
fraudulently created or altered. The validity of the
purported Mexican divorce is the subject of litigation in
trial court denied the plea to the jurisdiction. It declined
the request to take judicial notice of the Mexican court
records and declined to recognize the validity of the
purported 1959 divorce, but allowed the documents to become
part of the court record. Our court denied Ernesto Carrillo
and Texas LPG Storage Company's subsequent mandamus
petition challenging the trial court's denial of their
plea to the jurisdiction. See In re Carrillo, No.
01-15-00322-CV, 2015 WL 2228067, at *1 (Tex. App.-Houston
[1st Dist.] May 12, 2015, orig. proceeding [mand. denied])
(mem. op) (per curiam).
regarding the validity of the purported 1959 Mexican divorce
has continued in Mexico during the pendency of this appeal.
nonsuits the third-party defendants (twice).
in February 2015 and continuing through October 2015,
Evangelina non-suited the co-respondents named in her
petition. See Fuentes v. Zaragoza, 2017 WL 976079,
at *1. Approximately a week before trial, however, Evangelina
filed a supplemental petition, again naming Esther, Dade
Aviation, Abbingdon Marine, Ezar Management, and Ezar
Properties as co-respondents. The supplement did not name
Ernesto Carrillo or Texas LPG Storage Company. At a pre-trial
conference, co-respondents' counsel objected that
Evangelina's supplemental petition sought affirmative
relief against them. Evangelina pledged that she would not
seek relief from the co-respondents, and she again nonsuited
trial court signs a divorce decree and divides the community
case proceeded to trial without Miguel's participation.
Having been nonsuited, the former co-respondents also did not
close of evidence, the trial court stated that, subject to
the later submission of attorney's fees, it was
"going to grant a divorce" in favor of Evangelina.
The trial court orally announced that it would accept
Evangelina's proposed property division.
the trial court signed the final decree, the former
co-respondents, including Esther, Dade Aviation, Abbingdon
Marine, Ezar Management, Ezar Properties, Eagle Ridge
Properties, Ernesto Carrillo, and Texas LPG Storage Company,
intervened in the case. These third parties alleged that
Evangelina improperly sought to include assets they owned as
part of the community estate and have these assets awarded in
the division of community property. Eagle Ridge, which was
never previously named as a party, also intervened.
final divorce decree, the trial court declared 133 business
entities-124 in Mexico and elsewhere outside of the United
States-to be Miguel's alter egos, and deemed the assets
of these entities to be "personal assets of the
community estate." The court then divided the community
estate by adopting Evangelina's proposed division. It
awarded Evangelina (1) half of the estate, including
"[a]ll shares and all interest of any kind in and
to" 89 of the 133 business entities that the trial court
found to be Miguel's alter egos; (2) $537 million in
fraud-on-the-community damages; (3) spousal maintenance of
$5, 000 per month; (4) attorney's fees; and (5) various
forms of injunctive relief.
moved for judgment as a matter of law, a new trial, and
modification of the divorce decree. Miguel and several of the
intervenors requested findings of fact and conclusions of
law. The trial court adopted Evangelina's proposed
findings and conclusions. It denied Miguel's motions to
modify the judgment and for new trial.
appellate proceedings abound.
appealed. Myrna Alicia Zaragoza Lopez filed a separate notice
of appeal. Ernesto Carrillo and Texas LPG Storage filed a
joint notice of appeal. Dade Aviation, Abbingdon Marine, Ezar
Management, Ezar Properties, Eagle Ridge Properties, and
Esther also jointly filed a notice of appeal.
trial court set the amount required to supersede the judgment
during the appeal at $278.3 million. We granted Miguel's
motion challenging the amount of the supersedeas bond and
reduced the amount to $25 million. See Fuentes v.
Zaragoza, No. 01-16-00251-CV, 2016 WL 3023811, at *4
(Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] May 26, 2016, order). Miguel
posted the $25 million supersedeas bond. We later granted
mandamus relief to enforce the supersedeas bond. See In
re Fuentes, 530 S.W.3d 244, 250-52 (Tex. App.-Houston
[1st Dist.] 2017, orig. proceeding).
the supersedeas bond dispute, Evangelina sought temporary
relief in the trial court, including spousal support and
payment of her attorney's fees. See Tex. Fam.
Code § 6.709. The trial court ordered Miguel to pay
Evangelina $300, 000 in monthly support and $50, 000 in
monthly attorney's fees during the pendency of the
petitioned this court for a writ of mandamus, challenging the
temporary orders as (1) untimely and outside of the trial
court's jurisdiction; and (2) lacking sufficient evidence
to support them. See In re Fuentes, 506 S.W.3d 586,
590 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2016, orig. proceeding
[mand. denied]). We rejected Miguel's argument that the
temporary orders were untimely, but we conditionally granted
relief on the basis that the trial court abused its
discretion by awarding spousal support and attorney's
fees in the absence of legally sufficient supporting
evidence. Id. at 594. We directed the trial court to
"modify its order of temporary support and
attorney's fees consistent with this opinion within 30
remand, the trial court reconsidered Evangelina's request
for temporary orders. It overruled Miguel's objections
and again awarded Evangelina $350, 000 in monthly support and
attorney's fees. The new order awarded the same total
amount, but this time apportioned $250, 000 in monthly
support and $100, 000 in monthly attorney's fees. The
trial court added a separate award of $6.4 million in
"past attorney's fees" to Evangelina and
granted her the exclusive use of certain properties,
including the El Paso residence. The trial court also
appointed a receiver to "monitor and report on all real
and personal property awarded."
again petitioned for writ of mandamus, challenging each
aspect of the modified temporary orders. See In re
Fuentes, No. 01-16-00951-CV, 2017 WL 3184760, at *1
(Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] July 27, 2017, orig.
proceeding) (mem. op.). Miguel also appealed the trial
court's order appointing a receiver. See Fuentes v.
Zaragoza, 534 S.W.3d 658, 660 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st
Dist.] 2017, no pet.).
that the modified awards, like the original ones, lacked
evidentiary support, we conditionally granted mandamus relief
directing the trial court to vacate its temporary orders.
In re Fuentes, 2017 WL 3184760, at *5-9. In the
appeal from the order appointing the receiver, we reversed,
holding that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to make that
appointment. Fuentes, 534 S.W.3d at 666.
parties have completed briefing on the merits in this appeal,
and thus we turn to the issues they raise.
appeal, Miguel challenges the trial court's
subject-matter and personal jurisdiction. Alternatively, he
contends that the trial court should have declined to
exercise its jurisdiction as a matter of comity, in deference
to the ongoing Mexican litigation. We address Miguel's
jurisdictional and comity arguments separately. See Acain
v. Int'l Plant Servs., LLC, 449 S.W.3d 655, 659
(Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2014, pet. denied) (whether
subject-matter jurisdiction exists presents legal question
subject to de novo review; declining jurisdiction on basis of
comity is discretionary and subject to abuse-of-discretion
contends that he and Evangelina were no longer married when
she petitioned for divorce in Harris County, and thus the
trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over
Standard of review
jurisdiction concerns the court's "power to hear and
determine cases of the general class to which the particular
one belongs." Middleton v. Murff, 689 S.W.2d
212, 213 (Tex. 1985) (per curiam). Subject-matter
jurisdiction is essential for a court to have authority to
decide a case; it is not presumed and cannot be waived or
conferred by consent. See Dubai Petrol. Co. v. Kazi,
12 S.W.3d 71, 76 (Tex. 2000); Tex. Ass'n of Bus. v.
Tex. Air Control Bd., 852 S.W.2d 440, 443-44 (Tex.
1993); see also Alfonso v. Skadden, 251 S.W.3d 52,
55 (Tex. 2008) (per curiam) (subject-matter jurisdiction
cannot be waived and can be raised at any time). Whether a
trial court has subject-matter jurisdiction is a question of
law subject to de novo review. See Mayhew v. Town of
Sunnyvale, 964 S.W.2d 922, 928 (Tex. 1998); In re
G.S.G., 145 S.W.3d 351, 353 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th
Dist.] 2004, no pet.).
2. Jurisdiction to hear a
law presumes that every marriage is valid. See Tex.
Fam. Code § 1.101 ("[E]very marriage entered into
in this state is presumed to be valid unless expressly made
void by Chapter 6 or unless expressly made voidable by
Chapter 6 and annulled as provided by that chapter.").
The presumption applies to persons who were married outside
the state of Texas, like Miguel and Evangelina. See
Tex. Fam. Code § 1.103 ("The law of this state
applies to persons married elsewhere who are domiciled in
marriage must exist for a trial court to have subject-matter
jurisdiction over a suit for the spouses' divorce.
Gray v. Gray, 354 S.W.2d 948, 949 (Tex. Civ.
App.-Houston 1962, writ dism'd) ("A suit for divorce
presumes a valid marriage."). If a marriage previously
was legally dissolved, then the court lacks subject-matter
jurisdiction to again dissolve that marriage. See Ashfaq
v. Ashfaq, 467 S.W.3d 539, 544 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st
Dist.] 2015, no pet.) (trial court properly dismissed for
lack of jurisdiction where parties had divorced before filing
for divorce in Texas); Fidalgo v. Galan, No.
13-01-469-CV, 2003 WL 21982186, at *3 (Tex. App.-Corpus
Christi Aug. 21, 2003, no pet.) (not designated for
publication) (affirming dismissal of divorce action, holding
that "subject matter jurisdiction was lacking because
there was no live controversy, " where trial court found
that "a previous divorce action had been filed by
[appellant] in Mexico that resulted in the issuance of a
divorce decree and orders and relief identical to the relief
sought in the Texas divorce action").
Recognition of the Mexican decree
argument that the trial court lacked subject-matter
jurisdiction rests on his contention that the trial court was
bound to recognize the 1959 Mexican divorce. Evangelina
responds that the trial court reasonably refused to recognize
the Mexican divorce based on evidence that the documents
offered to establish that divorce were fraudulent or obtained
without due process, including lack of notice to her of the
court may decline to recognize a foreign judgment obtained
without due process. Recognition of a foreign judgment in the
absence of due process constitutes an abuse of discretion.
Ashfaq, 467 S.W.3d at 541. "[D]ue process
requires that no other jurisdiction shall give effect, even
as a matter of comity, to a judgment elsewhere acquired
without due process." Id. at 542-43 (quoting
Griffin v. Griffin, 327 U.S. 220, 229 (1946));
accord In re E.H., 450 S.W.3d 166, 172 (Tex.
App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2014, pet. denied). The Full Faith
and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution does not
require a domestic court to give binding effect to a foreign
country judgment when the validity of the judgment is
disputed. See Reading & Bates Constr. Co. v. Baker
Energy Res. Corp., 976 S.W.2d 702, 714- 15 (Tex.
App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 1998, pet. denied) ("Texas,
like its sister states, is not constitutionally
required to give full faith and credit to the judgments of
foreign countries.") (emphasis in original); Schacht
v. Schacht, 435 S.W.2d 197, 202 (Tex. Civ. App.-Dallas
1968, no writ) (holding that Texas court was not required to
recognize Mexican divorce decree because Full Faith and
Credit Clause of U.S. Constitution "does not require
that binding effect and validity be given a judgment of a
foreign country such as Mexico, more especially where such
judgments are shown to be invalid"); see also In re
E.H., 450 S.W.3d at 170.
case, the trial court heard testimony that the parties have
been continuously married from 1953 until Evangelina filed
for divorce in Harris County. Miguel and Evangelina's
1953 marriage certificate, issued by the State of New Mexico,
was introduced into evidence. Evangelina testified that she
had never filed for divorce from Miguel until filing for
divorce in Harris County.
trial court also heard testimony disputing the validity of
the purported 1959 divorce in Mexico. Evangelina introduced
testimony from Ignacio Morales Lechuga, a licensed lawyer in
Mexico who teaches contract law and practices family law as a
district attorney and notary public in Mexico. He reviewed
the disputed divorce documents and testified as to their
• The stamp on Evangelina's Original Petition for
Divorce does not match the stamps used and required in 1959,
when the petition was alleged to have been filed.
• In 1959, witnesses could not be used to prove a
marriage or a child's parentage, but no marriage
certificate or birth certificates of the children were
included in the alleged divorce as would be expected at that
• Evangelina and Miguel had four children in 1959, but
the petition mentions only three.
• Despite the legal requirement existing in 1959 that a
divorce decree contain provisions for the support of minor
children, none was made in the decree.
• After the divorce decree was signed and not appealed,
an executory declaration rendering the divorce final and
unappealable should have issued in a matter of days; however,
no final judgment was entered in the case until 2014 and, in
his 40 years of practicing family law, Morales Lechuga has
never seen a 55-year delay between the entry of a decree and
the entry of a final unappealable judgment.
• Notations of the divorce on Evangelina and
Miguel's birth certificates were not made until October
• In 1959, Mexican law required that a divorce be
published in a newspaper or periodical but no evidence was
found of any publication.
Lechuga reasoned that the irregularities in the documents
could be explained by either of two things: (1) the documents
are authentic but were false when filed or (2) they were
never filed and the whole divorce is false. Morales Lechuga
opined that the records reflected a process that did not
comply with Mexican law and was "null."
also provided testimony from Miguel Alessio Robles, a
professor of family and real estate law in Mexico who had
served as chief legal counsel to the President of Mexico.
Robles testified as to various irregularities in the divorce
documents and concluded that "All these irregularities
are against the law. The procedure is a fraud . . . ."
Luis Alfonso Cervantes Munoz, a family law lawyer in Mexico,
further testified that he believed the divorce proceeding to
of Miguel and Evangelina's children testified that they
had no knowledge that their parents had been divorced in
1959; they had only known them to be married. Evangelina and
Miguel lived together until 2009 and celebrated wedding
anniversaries for about 50 years after the alleged divorce in
1959. The trial court heard testimony from Father Jose Maria
Rubin, a Catholic priest who was invited to celebrate the
mass at the Zaragozas' 50th wedding anniversary.
on the record, the trial court acted within its discretion in
declining to recognize the 1959 Mexican divorce decree as
invalidating the New Mexico marriage. Legally sufficient
evidence supports its determination that the parties were
married at the time Evangelina initiated divorce proceedings
in Harris County. Accordingly, we hold that the trial court
had subject-matter jurisdiction over the divorce proceeding.
Allegation of subsequent marriage
first time on appeal, Miguel claims that, after he and
Evangelina divorced in 1959, he married another woman, Alma
Margarita Rodriguez Gutierrez (Margarita), on June 11, 1959
in Mexico. Miguel argues that his subsequent marriage to
Margarita is presumed valid under the laws of both Texas and
Mexico, and the existence of that subsequent marriage refutes
Evangelina's presumption that the parties were married
when she filed for divorce. See Tex. Emp'rs' Ins.
Ass'n v. Gomez, 313 S.W.2d 956, 958 (Tex. Civ.
App.-Eastland 1958, writ ref'd n.r.e.) ("A
subsequent marriage is presumed to be valid and the burden of
proving the contrary rests upon the party who questions the
validity of the subsequent marriage.").
did not raise or proffer evidence of a subsequent marriage in
the trial court, either in his special appearance or during
trial. Maria Laura Zaragoza Rodriguez de Reyes, Miguel and
Margarita's daughter who intervened in the case, attached
a 1959 marriage certificate to her pleading in response to
Evangelina's motion to strike her intervention. The trial
court struck Maria's intervention, and Maria did not
participate at trial. Although Maria filed a notice of
appeal, she voluntarily dismissed her appeal. Myrna Alicia
Zaragoza Lopez's motion for sanctions against