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Brooks v. Binger

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

July 11, 2019

SHARON BROOKS, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF ANN C. BROOKS, Appellant
v.
DALE A. BINGER, JR., JOSEPH HUNTER, BILL WATKINS, ANDMARSHA WATKINS, Appellees

          On Appeal from the 239th District Court Brazoria County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 78706-CV

          Panel consists of Chief Justice Frost and Justices Zimmerer and Hassan.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Kem Thompson Frost, Chief Justice.

         In this appeal, trespass-to-try-title plaintiffs ask this court to consider whether the trial court erred in admitting an alleged contract for deed and in concluding that the defendant proved that he holds title to the real property. Finding any such error harmless because the plaintiffs did not conclusively prove their right to title and possession under any of the four methods available in a trespass-to-try-title context, we affirm.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Incorporated in 1964, B2 Towing Company, Inc. was a Texas corporation until it was dissolved in 1988. B2 Towing has not been reinstated.

         Claude Brooks was the majority owner of B2 Towing. Claude and his wife Ann were the parents of five children-Sharon Brooks, Christopher Brooks, David Brooks, Alan Brooks, and Robert Brooks. Laquita Binger worked for B2 Towing and was the mother of Darren Binger and appellee/defendant Dale A. Binger, Jr.

         In 2014, B2 Towing, the dissolved corporation, as well as "Sharon Brooks, Individually and as Administrator [sic] of the Estate of Ann C. Brooks, Deceased," purportedly filed the original petition that initiated this lawsuit. In this petition, the plaintiffs asserted a trespass-to-try-title claim against Dale seeking a determination of title as to certain real property located at 322 County Road 99 in Alvin, Texas (the "Property").

         About one month later, "Sharon Brooks, Individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of Ann C. Brooks, Deceased," filed a First Amended Petition, in which B2 Towing, the dissolved corporation, did not assert any claims or act as a plaintiff. Sharon later filed a Second Amended Petition, which was the live petition at trial and when the trial court rendered judgment. In that petition, the term "Plaintiffs" is defined as "Sharon Brooks, Individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of Ann C. Brooks, Deceased" (the "Plaintiffs"). The Plaintiffs allege that Sharon "represents all of the other heirs of Ann C. Brooks, namely, David Brooks, Robert Brooks, and Alan Brooks," although the Plaintiffs do not allege that any of these three men are a plaintiff in this case. The Plaintiffs allege that in 1974 Claude owned a majority of the shares in B2 Towing and that the other shareholders were Claude's five children as well as Laquita and her son Darren.

         In this live petition, the Plaintiffs asserted a trespass-to-try-title claim against Dale seeking a title determination as to the Property. But B2 Towing, the dissolved corporation, did not assert any claims or act as a plaintiff. The Plaintiffs added appellees/defendants Joseph Hunter, Bill Watkins, and Marsha Watkins as defendants and asserted claims against them and Dale for slander of title and for filing a fraudulent lien. The Plaintiffs alleged that the "Plaintiffs, standing in place of the majority shareholders of [B2 Towing] are the lawful majority owners of the [Property]." The Plaintiffs attached to the live petition a copy of a 1976 deed filed in the Brazoria County Real Property Records in which Olin G. Wellborn, Jr. purportedly conveys the Property to B2 Towing (the "Deed").

         A witness at trial testified that the Brazoria County Real Property Records contain no instrument in which B2 Towing purports to convey the Property to any party. Evidence at trial showed that Dale has lived on the Property since at least 1983. Dale alleged that in 1983, Dale and Claude, as Trustee for Robert, allegedly executed a one-page contract for deed (the "Contract"), under which Claude, as Trustee for Robert, promised to execute a deed for the Property to Dale if Dale performed all obligations under the Contract.

         In 1994, Claude died testate. His wife Ann was the independent executrix, and she filed an inventory that did not reflect any ownership in the Property as an asset of Claude's estate. In 1998, Laquita died. In 2004, Christopher died. In 2009, Dale borrowed money to pay off a property-tax judgment on the Property. In 2011, Ann died testate. Sharon was the executrix of Ann's estate, and Sharon filed an inventory that did not reflect any ownership in the Property as an asset of Ann's estate. In 2014, Dale signed a deed of trust (the "Deed of Trust") to secure payment of the indebtedness he incurred to pay off a property-tax lien on the Property.

         After a bench trial, the trial court rendered a final judgment ordering that the Plaintiffs take nothing. In the judgment the trial court denied all claims in the live petition and awarded title to the Property to Dale, free and clear of all of the Plaintiffs' claims. At the Plaintiffs' request, the trial court issued findings of fact and conclusions of law.

         II. B2 Towing Not A ...


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