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Dominguez v. Dominguez

Court of Appeals of Texas, Eighth District, El Paso

August 16, 2019


          Appeal from the 210th District Court of El Paso County, Texas (TC# 2014-DCV0981)

          Before McClure, C.J., Rodriguez, and Palafox, JJ.



         This case involves a dispute between Hector Dominguez (Appellant) and Marvin Dominguez (Appellee), father and son, respectively, regarding ownership of property located at 6948 Oveja, El Paso, Texas (the property). After Appellant filed a trespass to try title suit, Appellee countered with affirmative defenses and a tortious interference with contract claim. Following a bench trial, the trial court confirmed that Appellee owned the property in its entirety, declared the property free of any claim of Appellant, and entered judgment in favor of Appellee on his claim of tortious interference. In four issues, Appellant challenges the trial court's judgment. We affirm in part and reverse and render in part.

         Factual Background and Procedural History

         At trial, Appellant and Appellee admitted documents by agreement, and other than their own testimony, no other witnesses testified in the proceeding. Appellant began by describing that he and Appellee purchased the property on October 31, 2008. Appellant identified a Special Warranty Deed with Vendor's Lien, executed on October 31, 2008, as proof that Francisco Z. Acosta and Alberto Acosta, acting in their capacities as successor co-trustees of the Zenaido Acosta and Cristina S. Acosta 2004 Living Trust (the sellers), granted, sold, and conveyed the property known as 6948 Oveja to Appellant and Appellee. Along with the deed, Appellant also identified his signature on the related Deed of Trust which provided a security lien to sellers for a principal loan of $107, 000, owed by Appellant and Appellee, as borrowers of the debt.

         Appellant further testified that he agreed to loan Appellee $13, 000 for their down payment to buy the property. To fund the payment, Appellant testified that he borrowed funds from his bank credit card. Appellant claimed that Appellee promised he would make monthly payments on the property until fully paid, and additionally, he would pay a minimum payment of $109 per month to Appellant's credit card until the original loan of $13, 000 was fully reimbursed.

         Appellant further claimed that, about February 2014, he became suspicious when Appellee stopped answering his phone or his door when he went to his house to collect the credit card payment. His suspicions led him to the county courthouse where he discovered a Special Warranty Deed executed on March 11, 2013, which purportedly transferred title of the property from joint ownership of Appellant and Appellee, to sole ownership by Appellee. Although the newly discovered deed purportedly contained his signature, Appellant testified it was forged, and, in any case, he was in Mexico on the date the deed was executed. Once again, Appellant testified that Appellee would not answer his phone or open his door to speak with him when he tried to have a discussion. As for the credit card debt, Appellant described that Appellee made payments up to about $5, 000, but he owed a balance of $8, 000.

         On cross-examination, Appellant acknowledged that the loan funded from his credit card was never documented in writing. When Appellant was next shown a Durable Power of Attorney dated March 11, 2013, which empowered Appellee to act as Appellant's agent for any transaction, Appellant denied he had signed the instrument even though, on its face, his signature showed it was acknowledged by a notary and two other witnesses. Lastly, when Appellant was shown a Warranty Deed dated June 2013, which purportedly displayed his own signature and that of Modesta Dominguez, his former wife, Appellant testified that both signatures were valid even though other evidence admitted at trial established that his wife had been deceased for over three years from the date of execution. Appellant completed his testimony stating that he had not been aware that Appellee was selling the property to another party until after he filed his lawsuit and later learned about the contracts for sale during a deposition.

         When Appellee took the stand, he contradicted Appellant's testimony principally from the point that Appellant accused him of fraudulently transferring title from their joint ownership to his individual ownership. In his defense, Appellee testified that Appellant himself personally prepared the deed dated March 11, 2013, which conveyed title over the property from Appellant and Appellee, jointly, to Appellee in its entirety. Appellee testified he recognized his own signature, and that of Appellant's, as shown on the face of the deed that was entered of record. Appellee testified that he and Appellant had signed the deed at the same time on the trunk of his car. As for the later deed that followed, Appellee identified the deed at trial and testified that he received it from his father. Appellee explained that he had wanted to add his wife to the title of the property, but he did not want to spend money to hire an attorney. Instead, he asked his father for help, which he provided, but it took a while to get it. He and his wife signed the deed that Appellant provided on August 27 and they filed it the next day.

         Appellee further testified that he never borrowed money from his father to purchase the property, and instead, he bought the property wholly on his own. He testified that he later lost two opportunities to sell the property. To establish proof, two contracts for sale were admitted into evidence. Appellee testified the first contract was signed by the purported buyer on October 2, 2014, for a purchase price of $139, 000. The second had a prospective execution date of June 10, 2015, and a purchase price of $135, 000. Appellee further testified he was unable to complete either transaction explaining that "[b]ecause of [Appellant's] lawsuit against me." Appellee added, "I tried selling the property, title company came back, can't do it because of the lawsuit."

         Pleadings of the Parties

         On March 27, 2014, Appellant filed his original petition for trespass to try title against Appellee. Appellant's petition described that he and Appellee were initially granted title to the property by means of a Special Warranty Deed with Vendor's Lien dated October 31, 2008, which he attached to his petition. Appellant's suit alleged that, after they had acquired the property, Appellee fraudulently transferred title into his own name by a Special Warranty Deed dated March 11, 2013. Appellant further claimed that Appellee later transferred the property a second time by means of a Special Warranty Deed dated August 27, 2013, by which he conveyed his sole ownership to joint ownership by himself and his wife, Perla Marisol Dominguez. By his suit, Appellant sought judgment to establish title and right to possession of the property and to remove Appellee as registered owner in the public records of El Paso County, Texas. In responding, Appellee denied Appellant's claim and filed his own counter suit against Appellant. Among other allegations, Appellee accused Appellant of disturbing his quiet possession of title, using fraudulent and forged documents, and tortiously interfering with an existing contract of sale of property.

         At the conclusion of the proceeding, the trial court ruled in open court that Appellant did not carry his burden of proving his claim of trespass to try title, confirmed title in favor of Appellee, ordered the property be cleared of any cloud of title, and awarded $135, 000 to Appellee on his counterclaim for tortious interference with a contract of sale. The trial judge plainly stated that Appellant's testimony was not credible. At a later hearing on the entry of judgment, the trial court added, "I didn't find that it was a frivolous claim. ...

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