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Robbins Ranch Subdivision Homeowners' Association v. Partners of Benchmark Properties, L.P.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Twelfth District, Tyler

May 15, 2019

ROBBINS RANCH SUBDIVISION HOMEOWNERS' ASSOCIATION AND WILLIAM A. RHYNE, ET UX, INDIVIDUALLY, Appellants
v.
PARTNERS OF BENCHMARK PROPERTIES, L.P., ET AL, Appellees

          Appeal from the County Court at Law No. 2 of Gregg County, Texas (Tr.Ct.No. 2015-251-CCL2)

          Panel consisted of Worthen, C.J., Hoyle, J., and Neeley, J.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          BRIAN HOYLE JUSTICE.

         Robbins Ranch Subdivision Homeowner's Association (Robbins Ranch) and William Rhyne, et ux, Individually (Rhyne) appeal the trial court's grant of a directed verdict in favor of Partners of Benchmark Properties, L.P. (Benchmark). We affirm.

         Background

         Benchmark is the developer of the Robbins Ranch Subdivision, Phase 2, in Gregg County, Texas. Benchmark is a limited partnership. The general partner is Benchmark Properties, L.C., and the limited partners are Henry Boswell, III and Robert Farrell. Boswell and Farrell are also members of Farrell and Boswell Realty, L.C. (Farrell and Boswell Realty), a real estate firm. In that capacity, Boswell and Farrell each hold broker's real estate licenses.

         Rhyne and his wife purchased a lot in the subdivision from Benchmark. The unimproved property contract lists Rhyne and his wife as the purchasers and Benchmark as the seller. It also identifies Farrell and Boswell Realty as the seller's real estate broker. The contract states that membership in the property owner's association is mandatory and the buyer agrees to be bound by the Declaration of Restrictions, Covenants, and Conditions. Those Declarations state that the private road shown on the subdivision plat shall be owned and maintained by Robbins Ranch.

         After Rhyne purchased the property, a dispute arose as to the condition of the private road. According to Robbins Ranch and Rhyne, the road is of "questionable standards" and the use of the road by oilfield vehicles has compromised the road's surface. They alleged that the road's condition impacted home values and the enjoyment of the subdivision by the members of Robbins Ranch. Benchmark contended that Robbins Ranch is responsible for maintaining the road. When an agreement could not be reached, Robbins Ranch and Rhyne sued Benchmark, Chinn Exploration, Inc., and Trivium Operating L.L.C. Their petition included causes of action for fraud by non-disclosure, breach of formal and/or informal fiduciary relationship, breach of implied warranty, and violations of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA) against Benchmark. They also alleged Chinn was liable for breach of contract and nuisance and that Trivium was liable for nuisance. Prior to trial, Chinn obtained a summary judgment dismissing the breach of contract claim. Robbins Ranch and Rhyne withdrew the causes of action for fraud by non-disclosure and breach of implied warranty.

         At trial, following the presentation of evidence, the trial court granted a directed verdict on the fiduciary duty and nuisance causes of action. The jury found in favor of Benchmark on the DTPA claim, and the trial court entered judgment in accordance with the jury's verdict.[1] This appeal followed.

         Directed Verdict

         In their sole issue, Robbins Ranch and Rhyne contend the trial court erred when it granted Benchmark's motion for directed verdict. Specifically, they argue legally sufficient evidence was presented that Benchmark owed Robbins Ranch a formal or informal fiduciary duty.

         Standard of Review

         In reviewing the grant or denial of a directed verdict, an appellate court follows the standards for assessing the legal sufficiency of the evidence. Hunter v. PriceKubecka, PLLC, 339 S.W.3d 795, 802 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2011, no pet.). This requires a determination of whether there is any evidence of probative force to raise a fact issue on the question presented. Id. In reviewing the legal sufficiency of the evidence, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the fact finding, crediting favorable evidence if reasonable persons could, and disregarding contrary evidence unless reasonable persons could not. Id. A directed verdict is proper if a party fails to present evidence raising a fact issue essential to the right of recovery or if the party either admits or the evidence conclusively establishes a defense to the cause of action. Id. A reviewing court may affirm a directed verdict even if the trial court's rationale for granting the directed verdict is erroneous, provided the directed verdict can be supported on another basis. Id.

         Applicabl ...


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