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Capps v. The Known and Unknown Heirs of Priscilla Foster

Court of Appeals of Texas, Tenth District

August 21, 2019


          From the 272nd District Court Brazos County, Texas Trial Court No. 12-001362-CV-272

          Before Chief Justice Gray, Justice Davis, and Justice Neill



         In two issues, appellant, Curtis Capps, challenges an "Order and Judgment Granting Injunction" granted in favor of appellees, the known and unknown heirs of Priscilla Foster. Specifically, Capps asserts that: (1) the trial court lacked jurisdiction to grant an easement in this case; and (2) even if the trial court had jurisdiction, the Foster heirs failed to establish the elements for an easement claim. We reverse and render.[1]

         I. Background

         For a second time, a certain landlocked, 285.5-acre tract of land in Brazos County, Texas, is in dispute.[2] See generally Capps v. Foster, No. 10-14-00061-CV, 2016 Tex.App. LEXIS 626 (Tex. App.-Waco Jan. 21, 2016, pet. denied) (mem. op.) ("Capps I"). In Capps I, Capps filed suit to remove a cloud on the title to this property. See id. at *4. The Foster heirs filed an adverse-possession counterclaim. Id. The trial court awarded to the Foster heirs title to four tracts contained within the larger 285.5-acre tract, and we affirmed.[3] Id. at *4, **20-21.

         On August 14, 2018, the Foster heirs filed a "Motion to Enforce Judgment and Request for Injunctive Relief." In this filing, the Foster heirs alleged that, commencing in September 2017, Capps began engaging in a course of conduct to defy the terms of the trial court's final judgment in Capps I. Specifically, the Foster heirs contended that Capps: (1) maliciously harassed them by "removing from the Movants' easement and property Movants' signs and board of instructions," "swearing out or causing to be sworn false complaints of criminal theft," and "causing the sheriff's department to arrest and jail individuals visiting the property who were guests, and in at least one case, the spouse of one of Priscilla Foster's Heirs who is a movant herein"; (2) installed new locked gates and placed locks on long-existing gates located on Day Road in order to prevent access; and (3) performed acts of intimidation, including written statements that amounted to threats aimed at discouraging use of Day Road by the Foster heirs and their invitees. The Foster heirs argued Capps' actions obstructed and prevented them from enjoying full use of their property, as granted by the trial court's prior judgment in Capps I. Accordingly, the Foster heirs sought to enforce the trial court's prior judgment and requested a permanent injunction against Capps "from interfering in any manner with Movants' continued possession and use of said Day Road as the easement of access for their properties as adjudged and ordered . . . ."

         The trial court conducted an evidentiary hearing on the Foster heirs' motion and request and ultimately ruled in favor of the Foster heirs. The trial court's "Order and Judgment Granting Injunction" provided the following, in relevant part:

Having considered the evidence and arguments, the Court finds and concludes that the Defendants [the Foster heirs] are entitled to enforcement of their Final Judgment signed and entered on January 22, 2014, and the relief necessary for such enforcement as hereinafter given.
IT IS THEREFORE, ORDERED that the Plaintiff be and hereby is commanded to cease, desist and refrain from blocking, impeding, interfering and preventing full access by Defendants on, along and across Day Road, aka Day Lane, aka Day Street in their travel on such easement and right-of-way from FM 2154 through any and all property in which he claims an interest, including, but not limited to the 9.437 acres, called 10.6582 acre and known as the ANITA VASQUEZ TRACT and Plaintiff [Capps] is to cease and desist taking any actions which would impede, interfere, discourage, frustrate or prevent the Defendants and their families, agents, contractors, invitees, tenants and lessees from having and enjoying full use and freedom of access and passage along, by, across and through the easement designated in Plaintiff's Exhibit 44, Defendants' Exhibit 15 in the record of the original trial of this case . . . which easement has and continues to be known as Day Road, aka Day Lane, aka Day Street, as it passes through and across both DEVER SURVEY and the J.M. BARRERA SURVEY to the four (4) tracts of land set forth in the Judgment of this Court.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Plaintiff be, and hereby is, commanded on or before Oct[ober] 19, 2018, to remove all locks on any gates located on said road, easement and right-of-way, to remove any threatening signs, to cease filing criminal proceedings in the County Courts requesting punishment to individuals using the easement and right-of-way known as Day Road, aka Day Lane, aka Day Street and restore the boards of instructions previously posted by Defendants.

         The trial court also entered findings of fact and conclusions of law. This appeal followed.

         II. Jurisdiction

         In his first issue, Capps contends that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to amend its judgment after its plenary power expired. In particular, Capps argues that "the Foster heirs never sought an easement-nor was one purportedly granted-until four years after the judgment was entered. At that point, the court's plenary power had lapsed, the court lacked jurisdiction, and its judgment granting an easement is therefore void." The Foster heirs counter that they presented evidence at the 2013 bench trial that they were entitled to an implied easement appurtenant known as Day Road by both necessity and prior use. According to the Foster heirs, their right of access by easement necessarily passed with the property awarded.

         With regard to a trial court's plenary power, the expiration of that power, and orders entered by the trial court after plenary power expires, Texas courts have stated:

A court order is void if it is apparent that the court had no jurisdiction of the parties or property, no jurisdiction of the subject matter, no jurisdiction to enter the particular judgment, or no capacity to act. A trial court cannot act when it has no jurisdiction, and a reviewing court cannot find jurisdiction where none exists. Orders issued outside of a trial court's plenary power are typically void, because a court no longer has jurisdiction to act once its plenary power has expired.
The Texas Rules of Civil Procedure limit a trial court's jurisdiction after it has entered a final judgment. Rule 329b generally provides that a trial court retains jurisdiction over a case for a minimum of thirty days, during which time the trial court has plenary power to change its judgment. Certain post-judgment motions, if filed within this initial thirty day period, extend the trial court's plenary jurisdiction over its judgment for up to an additional seventy-five days. After the time set forth in the ...

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