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Edwards v. Federal National Mortgage Association

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

June 19, 2019


          On Appeal from the County Court at Law No. 3 Dallas County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. CC-17-04067-C

          Before Justices Whitehill, Partida-Kipness, and Pedersen.



         This is an appeal from a judgment for forcible entry and detainer in favor of appellees Federal National Mortgage Association, its successors, and/or its assigns (collectively, Fannie Mae). Appellants Jason and Tiffany Edwards raise three issues in this Court, alleging (1) that the Justice Court lacked jurisdiction over this suit, and that fact issues exist (2) concerning the propriety of the foreclosure, and (3) concerning the validity of Fannie Mae's ownership of the property at issue. We affirm the trial court's judgment.


         The record establishes that in 2004, appellants obtained a loan from Irwin Mortgage Company, secured by a Deed of Trust, and that they purchased the residence located at 620 Kari Anne Lane, Desoto, Texas 75115 (the Property).[1] Appellants concede that they defaulted under the terms of the loan agreement. They contend that they began working with a mortgage servicer under a Federal Housing Authority (FHA) assistance program in an effort to resolve their debt and to avoid foreclosure. Nevertheless, on February 7, 2017, the Property was sold to Fannie Mae through a non-judicial foreclosure sale. On May 5, 2017, Fannie Mae sent appellants a notice to vacate and demand for possession of the Property. When appellants did not vacate, Fannie Mae filed this suit for forcible detainer in the Justice Court. The justice of the peace found that Fannie Mae held a superior right to possession and signed a judgment in its favor.

         Appellants appealed to the County Court at Law, and that court conducted a trial de novo. Fannie Mae offered, and the trial court admitted without objection, the Deed of Trust signed by appellants, the Substitute Trustee's Deed conveying the Property to Fannie May, and a business record affidavit attaching the notice to vacate. In response to a question from Fannie Mae's counsel, Tiffany Edwards acknowledged that she and her husband were still occupying the Property at the time of trial. Appellants did not offer evidence in the trial court. Mrs. Edwards told the trial court that they had been trying to obtain a loan modification through their mortgage servicer; although she had complied with all the servicer's requests for information, it would not cooperate with her efforts to modify their loan. The trial court found in favor of Fannie Mae and awarded it possession of the Property.

         This appeal followed.

         Forcible Detainer

         A forcible detainer action asks the trial court to determine the right to immediate possession of real property when there was no unlawful entry on the property. 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." Shutter v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 318 S.W.3d 467, 470-71 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2010, pet. dism'd w.o.j.). Indeed, the only issue in a forcible detainer action is which party has the right to immediate possession of the property. Williams v. Bank of New York Mellon, 315 S.W.3d 925, 926-27 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2010, no pet.).

         In their first issue, appellants challenge the jurisdiction of the Justice Court to hear this action. Whether a court has subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law that we review de novo. Texas Dep't of Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 226 (Tex. 2004). Appellants assert that "[t]he underlying nature of this pending cause of action has to do with a dispute involving title to real property," rooted in what they contend was the wrongful foreclosure and sale of the Property. This statement misunderstands the nature of the proceeding brought by Fannie Mae. Although appellants have complaints about the foreclosure process that preceded this suit, this suit is solely an action for possession of the Property. And the Justice Court unquestionably had jurisdiction to hear and decide the issue of possession. Tex. Prop. Code Ann. § 24.004(a). We overrule appellants' first issue.

         In their second issue, appellants contend the forcible detainer was granted in error because a disputed fact issue exists concerning whether foreclosure was permitted while appellants were participating in the FHA program. This issue challenges the foreclosure process rather than Fannie Mae's right to possession of the Property. Any challenge to the foreclosure and sale of property under a deed of trust must be brought in a separate suit, in which title issues can be determined, not in an action for forcible detainer. Williams, 315 S.W.3d at 927.[2] We overrule appellants' second issue as well.

         In their third issue, appellants contend Fannie Mae failed "to prove that it [had] authority to prosecute its case." To the extent their complaint relates to the validity of the foreclosure sale, that issue is not before us. We will address this issue as a challenge to the sufficiency of Fannie Mae's proof that it purchased the Property at foreclosure. See Trimble v. Fed. Nat'l Mortg. Ass'n, 516 S.W.3d 24, 29 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2016, pet. denied) (forcible detainer plaintiff must establish that it purchased property at foreclosure). We review the record to determine whether the evidence at trial-crediting favorable evidence if a reasonable fact-finder could, and disregarding contrary evidence unless a reasonable fact-finder could not-would enable reasonable and fair-minded people to determine that Fannie Mae purchased the Property at foreclosure. City of Keller v. Wilson, 168 S.W.3d 802, 827 (Tex. 2005).

         The trial court admitted the Substitute Deed of Trust offered by Fannie Mae. That document reports the dates of the original Deed of Trust (4/8/2004) and the foreclosure sale (2/17/2017). It identifies appellants as the original mortgagors and MERS (as nominee for Irwin Mortgage Corporation, its successors and assigns) as the original mortgagee. Fannie Mae is listed as the current mortgagee and the foreclosure buyer. The Substitute Deed was notarized and filed in the property records of Dallas County. Appellants suggest that the document could have been created by Fannie Mae. But the exhibit offered was a certified copy, which means its validity was established by the Dallas County ...

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