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Brown v. Sanchez

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

June 14, 2018


          On Appeal from the County Court At Law No. 1 Kaufman County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 17C-105

          Before Justices Bridges, Brown, and Boatright



         In the underlying forcible detainer action, the trial court awarded appellee Noe Sanchez possession of appellant Thomas Brown's house. In a single issue, appellant argues the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because a title dispute was inextricably linked to the question of immediate right to possession of the property. We affirm the trial court's judgment.


         Appellee's first amended original petition for forcible detainer alleged he purchased the property from Kaufman County, Texas after appellant lost the property through failure to pay ad valorem taxes. Appellee attached the Sheriff's Tax Deeds, the Tax Resale Deeds, and the Eviction Notice.[1] Appellee provided written notice to vacate and demand for possession by certified mail, but appellant failed to vacate the property. Subsequently, appellee asked the court to evict appellant.

         Appellant answered the lawsuit and argued the eviction proceeding should be stayed because of a separate case involving title to the property in which he claimed "conduct and omissions of the named Defendants clouded the title to the property . . . and ultimately resulted in [a] foreclosure sale."

         Appellant subsequently filed a plea to the jurisdiction challenging the trial court's subject matter jurisdiction. Appellant argued title to the property "was in dispute at the time of the purported foreclosure sale and the issue of both of the parties' claim to title ownership of the property is subject of a bonafide dispute, the resolution of which must precede determination of the issue of the immediate right to present possession of the Property." Specifically, he claimed wrongful foreclosure of the property. The trial court denied appellant's plea to the jurisdiction and granted possession of the property to appellee.


         A plea to the jurisdiction challenges the trial court's authority to determine the subject matter of the action. Gibson v. Dynegy Midstream Servs., L.P., 138 S.W.3d 518, 522 (Tex. App.- Fort Worth 2004, no pet.). Whether the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law reviewed de novo. See City of Dallas v. Carbajal, 324 S.W.3d 537, 538 (Tex. 2010).

         The plaintiff has the burden of alleging facts that affirmatively establish the trial court's subject matter jurisdiction. Gibson, 138 S.W.3d at 522. If a plea to the jurisdiction challenges the pleadings, we determine if the pleader has alleged facts that affirmatively demonstrate the trial court's jurisdiction to hear the case. Id. Further, due to the special jurisdictional limitations imposed on justice courts, a plea to the jurisdiction in an eviction case may be based on an affirmative defense raised in the defendant's pleadings that the trial court cannot resolve apart from determining title. Id. In such a case, we determine whether the defendant is correct in asserting, in light of the defensive pleading, that questions of title and possession are so integrally linked that the justice court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the case. Id.

         A forcible detainer action is a procedure to determine the right to immediate possession of real property where there was no unlawful entry. Rice v. Pinney, 51 S.W.3d 705, 709 (Tex. App.- Dallas 2001, no pet.). It is intended to be a speedy, simple, and inexpensive means to obtain possession without resort to an action on the title. Williams v. Bank of N.Y. Mellon, 315 S.W.3d 925, 926-27 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2010, no pet.). To maintain simplicity, the applicable rule of procedure provides that "the only issue shall be as to the right to actual possession; and the merits of the title shall not be adjudicated." Tex.R.Civ.P. 746. Accordingly, the only issue in a forcible detainer action is which party has the right to immediate possession of the property. Rice, 51 S.W.3d at 709. When there are issues concerning both title and possession, the issues may be litigated in separate proceedings in different courts with appropriate jurisdiction. Yarbrough v. Household Fin. Corp., III, 455 S.W.3d 277, 280 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2015, no pet.).

         In his plea, appellant disputed the validity of the "wrongful" foreclosure sale. However, allegations concerning the propriety of a foreclosure cannot be considered in a forcible detainer action. Id.; see also Am. Homes 4 Rent Props. One, LLC v. Ibarra, No. 05-13-00973-CV, 2014 WL 3212843, at *2 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth July 8, 2014, no pet.) (mem. op.); Murphy v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., 199 S.W.3d 441, 446 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2006, pet. denied). Rather, such allegations may be brought in a separate suit, which appears to be exactly what appellant has done by filing the separate suit.

         To the extent appellant argues the title dispute must be determined prior to possession, meaning the issue of title is so intertwined with the issue of possession that a trial court would be required to determine title before awarding possession, he has failed to support his title claim with specific evidence. Falcon v. Ensignia, 976 S.W.2d 336, 338 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 1998, no pet.) (specific evidence of a title dispute is required to raise the issue of jurisdiction). Appellant mentioned the separate cause of action in his pleadings and during the hearing; however, the mere mention of a title dispute is not enough. See, e.g., Presley v. McGrath, No. 02-04-403-CV, 2005 WL 1475495, at *3 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth June 23, 2005, pet. dism'd w.o.j.) (counsel ...

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