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Jennings v. Piazza

Court of Appeals of Texas, Twelfth District, Tyler

June 28, 2019

CAROLYN NEILL JENNINGS, APPELLANT
v.
ANTHONY JOSEPH PIAZZA, JR., APPELLEE

          Appeal from the 123rd District Court of Shelby County, Texas (Tr.Ct.No. 16CV33571)

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

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          BRIAN HOYLE JUSTICE

         Carolyn 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.

         Background

         This 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.[1]

         By deed 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 reading.

         On July 26, 1919, Lela married Sidney Carl Neill. The two had two children--Bobby and James Neill.

         In 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.

         By deed 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[.]

         Mary 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 Lynn.

         James 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.

         Jennings 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.

         Deed ...


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