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In re Estate of Raynes

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

May 29, 2019

IN THE ESTATE OF Maria L. RAYNES, Deceased

          From the Probate Court No. 2, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2013PC0369 Honorable Tom Rickhoff, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice, Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice, Irene Rios, Justice.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice.

         AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED IN PART, AND REMANDED

         This appeal and cross-appeal challenge a judgment entered by the probate court after a jury trial. Appellant Leah Raynes initially questions whether this court has jurisdiction to consider the appeal, but she alternatively challenges various findings and damage awards. Leah also challenges the award of attorney's fees. Cross-appellant Arthur Raynes, Independent Executor, contends the probate court abused its discretion in failing to submit a jury question on the issue of waste.

         Background

         When Maria Raynes died on February 19, 2013, her will devised her house to her five children. At that time, two of Maria's children, Leah and Robert, were living in the house. A third child of Maria's, Arthur, was appointed as independent executor of Maria's estate and requested that Leah and Robert vacate the house so it could be sold. Although Robert moved out of the house, Leah did not.

         On March 10, 2015, Arthur filed a petition in his capacity as independent executor asserting various claims, including a request to evict Leah from the house. Leah filed an application asking the probate court to order Arthur to sell the house to her. The probate court's orders arising from those proceedings were appealed to this court. This court held the probate court abused its discretion in denying the parties a jury trial on the material fact issues raised in the underlying proceedings, including whether Arthur and Leah reached an enforceable agreement regarding the sale of the house. See In re Estate of Raynes, No. 04-15-00717-CV, 2016 WL 4208111, at *3 (Tex. App.-San Antonio Aug. 10, 2016, no pet.) (mem. op.). We also held the probate court did not err in denying Arthur's eviction request, noting Leah was a devisee under Maria's will and a cotenant. Id. at 3-4.

         Upon remand, Arthur and Leah filed amended pleadings, and their claims were tried to a jury which found the following:

• Arthur and Leah did not enter into a written agreement for the purchase of the house;
• Leah ousted Arthur and the other co-heirs from the house on February 23, 2015;
• the fair market rental value of the house on the date of ouster was $1, 300 per month;
• Leah owed a debt to the estate for expenses paid by the estate and co-heirs for utilities, taxes, repairs, and insurance for the house in the amount of $10, 599; and
• a reasonable fee for the necessary services of the estate's attorneys was $15, 000 for representation in the trial court; $32, 000 for representation in the court of appeals; and $32, 000 for representation in the Supreme Court of Texas

         The probate court rendered judgment based on the jury's verdict, and Leah and Arthur appeal.

         Jurisdiction

         In her first issue, Leah questions whether this court has jurisdiction to consider this appeal because not all issues relating to the house were resolved by the probate court's judgment.

         "Generally, appeals may be taken only from final judgments." De Ayala v. Mackie, 193 S.W.3d 575, 578 (Tex. 2006). "Probate proceedings are an exception to the 'one final judgment' rule; in such cases, 'multiple judgments final for purposes of appeal can be rendered on certain discrete issues.'" Id. (quoting Lehmann v. Har-Con Corp., 39 S.W.3d 191, 192 (Tex. 2001)). In De Ayala, the Texas Supreme Court reaffirmed the test for "determining whether an otherwise interlocutory probate order is final enough to qualify for appeal." Id. Under that test, a probate court's order is interlocutory if it does "not dispose of all parties or issues in a particular phase of the proceedings." Id. at 579.

         As Leah notes in her brief, however, the probate court's judgment in this case was entered after a jury trial. Accordingly, the judgment is presumed final for appeal purposes. N. E. Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Aldridge, 400 S.W.2d 893, 897-98 (Tex. 1966); see also Krause v. White, 612 S.W.2d 639, 642-43 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1981, writ ref'd n.r.e.) (applying Aldridge presumption in an appeal from ...


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