Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg
RONNY EUGENE SCOTT, AND WIFE ELIZABETH HELEN SCOTT, Appellants,
JOHN C. CARPENTER AND WIFE SUZANNE E. CARPENTER, AND JOSHUA A. CARPENTER, Appellees.
appeal from the 249th District Court of Johnson County,
Chief Justice Valdez and Justices Benavides and Longoria
ROGELIO VALDEZ CHIEF JUSTICE.
Ronny Eugene Scott and Elizabeth Helen Scott appeal from the
trial court's grant of a plea to the jurisdiction filed
by appellees John C. Carpenter and wife, Suzanee E. Carpenter
and Joshua A. Carpenter. By two issues, appellants contend
that the trial court erred in granting appellees' plea to
the jurisdiction and the trial court abused its discretion in
awarding attorney's fees to appellees. We reverse and
March 15, 2016, appellants filed suit against appellees in
the 249th District Court, Johnson County, Texas for deceptive
trade practices, fraud, statutory fraud, negligent
misrepresentation, fraudulent inducement, trespass, quiet
title, violation of the Texas Debt Collection Practices Act,
breach of contract, and conspiracy. Appellants alleged that
appellees sold them a home without disclosing "that the
foundation and plumbing was faulty and in need of significant
repairs." Appellants accused appellees of falsely
representing that the property "was in good condition
and had no known issues or incumbrances" because
"the foundation and plumbing were in dire need of
repair, the roof was in excess of 15 years old, and there
existed a lien on the real property which [Joshua]
purportedly assumed." Appellants further alleged that
Joshua falsified the deed that he filed with the county.
filed a special appearance and plea to the jurisdiction
contending that the trial court lacked jurisdiction because
appellants' case was "barred by [a] prior Court
Order, and thus there is no justiciable controversy."
Appellees also alleged that appellants had "perpetrated
FRAUD in the falsification of an Insurance Policy and
Declaration; and have forged the signatures of the
[appellees] onto fictitious settlement agreement. . . ."
to the pleadings, appellants originally filed their cause
against appellees in the 413th District Court. During the
pendency of the case in the 413th District Court, Elizabeth
filed several bankruptcies. On March 14, 2015, the 413th
District Court entered an order closing appellants' case,
which stayed the proceedings due to a petition filed in the
bankruptcy court. The order states, in pertinent part,
"that the clerk of the Court shall close this case
without prejudice and remove it from the active docket"
of the trial court until the trial court received notice that
the bankruptcy stay had been lifted and that the trial court
would then reinstate the case. The order specified that
"the right to reinstate this case without prejudice
shall continue for thirty (30) days after the related
bankruptcy proceedings are concluded." Relying on this
order, appellees argued in their plea to the jurisdiction
that the trial court lacked jurisdiction because
appellant's cause in the 413th had been dismissed with
prejudice, which foreclosed the refiling of the case in the
responded to the plea to the jurisdiction claiming that
"there is no order of judgment that has finally disposed
of the causes of actions alleged and the causes of action
alleged in this cause are not pending in a suit in any other
court." Appellants explained that they attempted to
reinstate the cause in the 413th District Court on February
29, 2016 and on March 4, 2016, but the 413th District Court
rejected both filings because according to appellants, the
judge "would not open the case."
trial court held an evidentiary hearing on appellees'
plea to the jurisdiction. The bulk of the evidence presented
focused on whether the parties had engaged in any fraudulent
conduct such as falsifying documents. Both sides accused the
other of such shenanigans. The trial court granted
appellees' plea to the jurisdiction stating that
appellants' cause in the 413th court had been dismissed
with prejudice, which foreclosed the refiling of the cause.
This appeal followed.
Standard of Review
purpose of a plea to the jurisdiction is to "defeat a
cause of action without regard to whether the claims asserted
have merit." Bland Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Blue,
34 S.W.3d 547, 554 (Tex. 2000). A challenge to the trial
court's subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law
that we review de novo. Tex. Dep't of Parks &
Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 226 (Tex. 2004). We
will, when necessary, consider relevant evidence submitted by
the parties to resolve the jurisdictional dispute.
Id. at 227 (citing Bland Indep. Sch. Dist.,
34 S.W.3d at 555). However, we will consider only the
evidence relevant to the jurisdictional question. Bland
Indep. Sch. Dist., 34 S.W.3d at 555. "[I]f the
relevant evidence is undisputed or fails to raise a fact
question on the jurisdictional issues, the trial court rules
on the plea to the jurisdiction as a matter of law."
Miranda, 133 S.W.3d at 228.
Dismissal of Cause in 413th District Court
their first issue, appellants contend that the trial court
erred by concluding that the 413th District Court dismissed
their cause with prejudice. Appellees counter that the order
states that appellants had thirty days to reinstate the case
and that ...