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Chowdhury v. Kingdom Group Investments

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

April 25, 2019

JOHN CHOWDHURY, Appellant
v.
KINGDOM GROUP INVESTMENTS, Appellee

          On Appeal from the County Court at Law No. 5 Dallas County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. CC-18-01053-E

          Before Justices Bridges, Brown, and Nowell

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ADA BROWN, JUSTICE.

         In this forcible detainer and eviction case, appellant John Chowdhury appeals the county court's judgment awarding possession of real property (the Property) to appellee Kingdom Group Investments (KGI).[1] In two issues, Chowdhury contends the county court lacked jurisdiction to enter judgment. For the following reasons, we affirm the county court's final judgment.

         Background

         In 1998, Chowdhury borrowed money secured by a deed of trust on the Property. In November 2017, Elegant Investment Group, Inc., Holiday Lodge, Inc., and Tuesday Real Estate, LLC, together, bought the Property at a foreclosure sale and, on December 22, 2017, sold the Property to KGI. In January 2018, counsel for KGI sent a letter to Chowdhury demanding that he vacate the Property within three days. When Chowdhury failed to vacate, KGI filed this action in justice court for possession of the Property.

         According to his brief, Chowdhury filed an action in district court on December 18, 2017, before the Property was conveyed to KGI, challenging the foreclosure sale. Chowdhury asserts that he later added KGI as a defendant in the district court action and obtained a temporary restraining order (TRO) preventing KGI from taking any action to evict Chowdhury. Neither the TRO, the petition, nor any other evidence of the district court action are in the appellate record.

         Following a February 6, 2018 bench trial, the justice court entered a take-nothing judgment in KGI's forcible detainer action. KGI appealed the judgment to county court, where Chowdhury filed a motion to dismiss, plea to abate, and plea to the jurisdiction. Chowdhury argued the county court lacked jurisdiction because the district court TRO, which was in effect from January 9, 2018 until February 6, 2018, precluded KGI from prosecuting the forcible detainer action and rendered the justice court's judgment void. Alternatively, Chowdhury argued the county court should have abated or dismissed the forcible detainer action because the right of possession "was so intertwined" with title to the Property that the county court lacked jurisdiction. Chowdhury's brief states the county court considered, but orally denied, the motion during a March 15, 2018 hearing at which the county court had "specific evidence" of the district court action. However, there is no reporter's record of March 15, 2018 hearing.

         During a subsequent bench trial in county court, KGI offered into evidence without objection the deed of trust, a substitute trustee's deed showing Elegant Investment Group, Inc., Holiday Lodge, Inc., and Tuesday Real Estate, LLC bought the Property at a foreclosure sale, a special warranty deed showing the Property was sold to KGI, and the notice to vacate KGI sent to Chowdhury. Chowdhury offered no evidence and raised the district court action only tangentially by asking a KGI officer testifying at trial if he had been aware a lawsuit challenging the foreclosure was pending when KGI received the deed. The officer testified he had not been aware of the lawsuit. Following trial, the county court entered a final judgment awarding possession of the property to KGI.

         Jurisdiction

         Whether a court has subject-matter jurisdiction is a question of law reviewed de novo. Hearts Bluff Game Ranch, Inc. v. State, 381 S.W.3d 468, 476 (Tex. 2012). The justice court of the precinct where a property is located has jurisdiction over forcible detainer actions related to that property. See Tex. Prop. Code Ann. § 24.004(a); Tex. Gov't Code Ann. § 27.031(a)(2); Rice v. Pinney, 51 S.W.3d 705, 708 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2001, no pet.). A party may appeal a justice court's judgment to a county court for trial de novo, but the county court's jurisdiction is confined to the justice court's jurisdictional limits. Tex.R.Civ.P. 510.10(c); Rice, 51 S.W.3d at 708.

         The only issue in a forcible detainer action is which party has the right to immediate possession of the property. Shutter v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 318 S.W.3d 467, 470-71 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2010, pet. dism'd w.o.j.). Whether the sale of the property under a deed of trust is invalid may not be determined in a forcible detainer and must be brought in a separate suit. Id. at 471; see Tex. R. Civ. P. 510.3(e) ("The court must adjudicate the right to actual possession and not title."). However, the mere existence of a title dispute will not deprive the justice court of its jurisdiction; a forcible detainer action may be prosecuted in justice court concurrently with a title dispute in district court. Morris v. Am. Home Mortgage Serv., Inc., 360 S.W.3d 32, 35 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2011, no pet.); Rice, 51 S.W.3d at 713. A justice court lacks jurisdiction to determine a right to possession only if resolution of that right depends upon resolution of a title dispute. Morris, 360 S.W.3d at 34-35. In order to defeat jurisdiction, the title issue must be "so integrally linked to the issue of possession that possession may not be determined without first determining title." Falcon v. Ensignia, 976 S.W.2d 336, 338 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 1998, no pet.).

         Analysis

         On appeal, Chowdhury contends the county court lacked jurisdiction because the district court's TRO precluded KGI from prosecuting the forcible detainer action and rendered the justice court's judgment void. Chowdhury also asserts the right to possession was ...


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