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Ohio Development, LLC v. Tapatio Springs Homeowners Association

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

July 31, 2019

OHIO DEVELOPMENT, LLC., Appellant
v.
TAPATIO SPRINGS HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION, Appellee

          From the 451st Judicial District Court, Kendall County, Texas Trial Court No. 15-405CCL Honorable Bill R. Palmer, Judge Presiding

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

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          IRENE RIOS, JUSTICE

         This appeal arises from Ohio Development, LLC's ("Ohio Development") request for declaratory judgment against the Tapatio Springs Homeowners Association ("the HOA"). Ohio Development claimed an easement over Wild Turkey Boulevard ("the Boulevard"), [1] a road that is privately owned and maintained by the HOA, to reach and develop a residential subdivision on acreage north of property maintained by the HOA. The trial court found in favor of the HOA, and Ohio Development appeals. We reverse the trial court's judgment, render in part, and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.

         Background

         The 711 Ranch, owned by the Nordan Trust, originally encompassed 11, 381.19 acres in Kendall and Kerr Counties. On June 3, 1998, the Nordan Trust conveyed the entirety of the 11, 381.19 acres to Jabat Investments, Ltd., and the 711 Ranch was subdivided into the Champee Springs Ranches. On January 13, 1999, Jabat conveyed 370.77 acres ("the Property") from Champee Springs Ranches Tract No. 2 to Tapatio Springs Development Company, Inc. ("TSDC"). The following day, January 14, 1999, TSDC conveyed the Property to Kendall County Development Company, L.P. ("KCDC"). In 2014, Ohio Development acquired the Property through a foreclosure sale deed from KCDC.

         A section of the Property's southern boundary borders the northern boundary of the Tapatio Springs Subdivision (the "Subdivision"), the common areas and roadways of which are maintained by the HOA. Some evidence supports that the Property's southern boundary is a straight east to west line. However, there is a fence that bows south of that line for approximately half of a mile, and there is some evidence that supports the fence line is the Property's southern boundary. The area of land between the straight line and the fence line is about 1.628 acres, and is referred to as the "Strip." The Boulevard runs parallel to the Strip through a portion of the Subdivision.

         After it acquired the Property, Ohio Development filed an application for preliminary plat approval in order to begin development of a residential area on the Property. A survey indicated that the southern boundary of the Property and the northern fence line bordering the Boulevard are not entirely contiguous as they are separated by the Strip. Therefore, to access the Property from the Boulevard, Ohio Development would need to cross the Strip. A Kendall County Commissioner "declined to approve the preliminary application until Ohio [Development] could establish the location of its southern boundary line and that Ohio [Development] has a right of access to the southern part of its property using [the Boulevard, ] an existing road[, ] located in the subdivision." Ohio Dev., LLC v. Tapatio Springs Homeowners Ass'n, No. 04-17-00002-CV, 2017 WL 2351103, at *1 (Tex. App.-San Antonio May 31, 2017, pet. denied) (mem. op.).

         Ohio Development thereafter filed suit against the HOA and "Unknown Owners" of the Strip to establish a right to use the Strip and the Boulevard to access the Property. Prior to the trial on the merits, Ohio Development filed a Notice of Abandonment of Claims, in which it abandoned its trespass-to-try-title claim against the HOA for ownership of the Strip. Following the presentation of Ohio Development's case during the trial on the merits, the HOA moved for judgment in its favor, arguing Ohio Development did not carry its burden. The trial court granted the HOA's motion, entered a take-nothing judgment on each of Ohio Development's claims, and awarded the HOA $383, 682.00 in attorney's fees. The trial court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law, to which Ohio Development filed objections and a request for additional findings and conclusions. Ohio Development additionally filed a motion for reconsideration. The trial court overruled Ohio Development's motions, and this appeal followed.

         Analysis

         Ohio Development contends: the trial court improperly disregarded the testimony of three witnesses; the HOA lacked standing to contest Ohio Development's right to use the Strip or the authority to interfere with Ohio Development's use of the Strip; Ohio Development established an easement to use the Boulevard to access the Property; and the evidence is insufficient to support the attorney's fees ordered by the trial court.

         Easement Interests

         Ohio Development contends it established an express easement to use the Boulevard to access the Property. In response, the HOA argues "the reserved easement was not appurtenant, did not run with the land, and was never conveyed to Ohio [Development], and would not benefit the [Property]."

         Standards of Review

         We review declaratory judgments under the same standards as other judgments and look to the procedure used to resolve the issue at trial to determine the standard of review on appeal. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 37.010; Berryman's S. Fork, Inc. v. J. Baxter Brinkmann Int'l Corp., 418 S.W.3d 172, 196 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2013, pet. denied). When a declaratory judgment is entered after a bench trial, we review the trial court's factual findings and conclusions of law de novo. Van Dam v. Lewis, 307 S.W.3d 336, 339 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2009, no pet.).

         We review the findings for sufficiency of the evidence using the same standards we apply to jury findings. See Catalina v. Blasdel, 881 S.W.2d 295, 297 (Tex. 1994). In reviewing a finding for legal sufficiency, we consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the finding, crediting favorable evidence if a reasonable factfinder could and disregarding contrary evidence unless a reasonable factfinder could not. City of Keller v. Wilson, 168 S.W.3d 802, 827 (Tex. 2005). "The final test for legal sufficiency must always be whether the evidence at trial would enable reasonable and fair-minded people to reach the verdict under review." Id.

         Applicabl ...


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