Court of Appeals of Texas, Twelfth District, Tyler
from the 123rd District Court of Shelby County, Texas
consisted of Worthen, C.J., Hoyle, J., and Neeley, J.
Neill Jennings appeals the trial court's declaratory
judgment and judgment quieting title rendered in favor of
Appellee Anthony Joseph Piazza, Jr. In two issues, Jennings
argues that the evidence is insufficient to support the trial
court's judgment. We affirm.
case involves a dispute over the ownership of a 59 acre tract
of real property in Shelby County, Texas. The tract
originally was part of a 200 acre tract, which was the
community property of E.M. Rhodes and his wife, Mary Mathis
Rhodes. The two had eight children together--Able, Tommy,
Julia, Annie, Minnie, Lela, Susie, and Lizzie. E.M. Rhodes
died intestate in 1915. As a result, Mary retained her
undivided one-half community property interest and a partial
life estate in the 200 acre tract, and each child received a
one-sixteenth interest in the tract.
dated September 16, 1916, Able, Tommy, Lizzie, and Julia sold
their undivided interests in the 200 acre tract to Lela,
Susi, Annie, and Minnie for $7, 500.00, resulting in a
one-eighth interest in the tract for each of the buyers. The
deed set forth, in pertinent part, as follows:
It is also hereby understood that said real estate and
personal property is to be held as the community property of
Mrs. M. M. Rhodes, Annie Rhodes, Minnie Harris, Lela Rhodes
and Susie Rhodes, till the deceased of Mrs. M. M. Rhodes when
this deed shall become valid and absolute in its effect and
26, 1919, Lela married Sidney Carl Neill. The two had two
children--Bobby and James Neill.
October 1921, Lela, Susi, Annie, and Minnie executed four
deeds resulting in the partition of their interests in the
200 acre tract. In one of these deeds, Lela acquired title to
the 59 acre tract "for and in consideration of the sum
of Twenty-one hundred and seventy five ($2, 175.00) DOLLARS .
. . paid and secured to be paid, by Lela Neill in real estate
values, the receipt of which is hereby fully acknowledged . .
. ." The trial court found that as a result, Lela owned
an undivided one-half interest in the 59 acre tract, subject
to Mary's life estate.
dated April 28, 1931, Mary, individually and as executrix
under the last will and testament of E.M. Rhodes, for
"one dollar and other valuable considerations[, ]"
conveyed to Annie, Susie, and Lela, her undivided one-half
interest in the 200 acre tract. The deed also set forth, in
pertinent part, as follows:
It is also understood and agreed that this deed and
conveyance does not become absolute, until the death of
grantor, and at the death of grantor, Annie Rhodes is to
receive 91 acres of the hereinbefore described tract of land,
Lela Neill is to receive 59 acres of the herein before
described tract of land, and Susie Wilson is to receive 50
acres of the hereinbefore described tract of land[.]
died later that decade. Sidney Carl Neill died in 1957. He
was predeceased by his and Lela's son, Bobby Neill, whose
daughter is Appellant Carolyn Neill Jennings (Jennings).
Sidney and Lela's other son, James, had one child, Bobbie
Lynn Carlton. Bobbie Lynn had a son named Richard Hattaway.
In the early 1980s, Lela conveyed the 59 acre tract to Bobbie
died in 1988. Lela died in 1990. Bobbie Lynn died in 2010 and
bequeathed the 59 acre tract to Hattaway. By quitclaim deed
dated February 4, 2016, Hattaway conveyed the 59 acre tract
and other real property to Piazza.
filed the instant suit to partition the 59 acre tract. Piazza
answered and counterclaimed, seeking to quiet title and
requesting a declaratory judgment that (1) he is the sole
owner of the 59 acre tract and entitled to exclusive
possession thereof and (2) Jennings is not an owner of any
undivided interest in the property and not entitled to
possession of any part of it. Thereafter, the parties entered
into a Rule 11 agreement to submit the case to the trial
court pursuant to Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 263 and filed
position statements and supporting documentary evidence. The
trial court initially found for Jennings, but later,
reconsidered its ruling and rendered a judgment in
Piazza's favor along with written findings of fact and
conclusions of law. This appeal followed.