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TCOE, Inc. v. SA Quad Ventures, LLC

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

June 26, 2019

TCOE, INC., Appellant
v.
SA QUAD VENTURES, LLC, Appellee

          From the County Court at Law No. 3, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2018CV00153 Honorable David J. Rodriguez, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice Irene Rios, Justice Beth Watkins, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Beth Watkins, Justice

         Appellant TCOE, Inc. appeals the county court's judgment awarding appellee SA Quad Ventures, LLC possession of certain leased premises. On appeal, TCOE contends the county court erred in: (1) denying its plea to the jurisdiction and failing to dismiss SA Quad's suit; and (2) granting judgment and a writ of possession in favor of SA Quad. We affirm the county court's judgment.

         Background

         SA Quad leased commercial premises to TCOE. Subsequently, SA Quad sent nine notices of default to TCOE for alleged material breaches of the lease. The final notice included a notice to vacate. When TCOE refused to vacate, SA Quad filed a forcible detainer action in justice court. SA Quad's verified original petition did not contain a description of the facts and grounds for eviction as required by Rule 510.3 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 510.3(a)(2). SA Quad filed its first amended petition a week later, but unlike the original petition, it was not verified. See id. R. 510.3(a). The justice court rendered judgment in favor of SA Quad, awarding it possession of the premises. TCOE appealed to the county court at law and moved to dismiss the matter for want of subject matter jurisdiction. The county court denied TCOE's motion, found TCOE forcibly detained the leased premises, and awarded SA Quad possession of the premises, attorney's fees, costs, and interest. TCOE appealed.

         Analysis

         TCOE first contends the county court erred in denying its plea to the jurisdiction and failing to dismiss SA Quad's suit. According to TCOE, SA Quad's failure to file a verified petition in the justice court divested that court-and the county court-of subject matter jurisdiction. TCOE next asserts the lower courts erred in granting SA Quad a writ of possession because SA Quad failed to prove it had a superior right to possession or that TCOE was in default at the time of the notice to vacate. We address these arguments in turn.

         Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         We review de novo a challenge to a lower court's subject matter jurisdiction. Meyers v. JDC/Firethorne, Ltd., 548 S.W.3d 477, 486 (Tex. 2018). Review is de novo because the existence of subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law. Harris Cty. v. Annab, 547 S.W.3d 609, 612 (Tex. 2018).

         Rule 510.3(a) provides that petitions in eviction cases "must be sworn to by the plaintiff[.]" Tex.R.Civ.P. 510.3(a). TCOE argues the absence of a verified pleading violated Rule 510.3(a), divesting the justice court-and, by extension, the county court-of subject matter jurisdiction. See id. TCOE contends that because we must strictly construe "statutes" creating claims, verification of a petition is mandatory to confer jurisdiction. For support, TCOE points to cases involving the Texas Citizens Participation Act and cases concerning motions to reinstate after dismissals for want of prosecution. None of these cases, however, hold a court is deprived of subject matter jurisdiction if a plaintiff files an unverified petition, even where a statute requires verification.

         In contrast, SA Quad cites several opinions in forcible detainer actions which support the conclusion that verification is not a jurisdictional requirement. We agree.

         First, courts should be "reluctant to conclude that a provision is jurisdictional, absent clear legislative intent to that effect." City of DeSoto v. White, 288 S.W.3d 389, 393 (Tex. 2009). This is because deeming a provision jurisdictional "opens the way to making judgments vulnerable to delayed attack." Id. Nothing in the plain language of Rule 510.3 demonstrates that the petition requirement is jurisdictional. See Crosstex Energy Servs., L.P. v. Pro Plus, Inc., 430 S.W.3d 384, 391-92 (Tex. 2014) (reviewing statute's plain meaning to determine whether requirement is jurisdictional). Although the rule provides a petition must be sworn, "mandatory statutory duties are not necessarily jurisdictional." Id. at 391. Also, because the purpose of the rule is to maintain "a just, fair, equitable and impartial adjudication of the rights of the litigants . . . at the least expense," deeming the provision to be jurisdictional defeats the rule's purpose. Tex.R.Civ.P. 1; see Crosstex Energy, 430 S.W.3d at 392 (considering purpose of statute when determining whether provision is jurisdictional).

         Next, this court has recognized that a defective verification does not deprive a court of jurisdiction in a forcible detainer action. Lenz v. Bank of America, N.A., 510 S.W.3d 667, 669 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2016, pet. denied). Our sister courts have treated defective verifications as no verification at all and still maintained jurisdiction over those cases. See, e.g., Norvelle v. PNC Mortg., 472 S.W.3d 444, 446 (Tex. App.--Fort Worth 2015, no pet.); Mekeel v. U.S. Bank Nat'l Ass'n, 355 S.W.3d 349, 355 (Tex. App.-El Paso 2011, pet. denied); Shutter v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 318 S.W.3d 467, 469-70 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2010, pet. dism'd w.o.j.); Reagan v. NPOT Partners I, L.P., No. 06-08-00071-CV, 2009 WL 763565, at *1-2 (Tex. App.-Texarkana Mar. 25, 2009, pet. dism'd w.o.j.) (mem. op.) (reasoning that even defective affidavit which left complaint "effectively unsworn" did not deprive trial court of ...


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