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Gonzalez v. Ahrens

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

August 29, 2019


          On Appeal from the 165th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 2015-14365

          Panel consists of Justices Wise, Zimmerer, and Spain.



         Appellant Anna Gonzalez brought a claim for strict liability against appellee Erwin Ahrens after she sustained injuries in an incident with Ahrens's sheep "Lamby." After a bench trial, the trial court signed a final judgment awarding a take-nothing judgment in favor of Ahrens. On appeal, Gonzalez argues that the trial court's implied findings against her on her strict-liability claim were not supported by legally- and factually-sufficient evidence. We affirm the trial court's judgment as challenged.

         I. Background

         Ahrens owned a farm near Yoakum, Texas, with sheep, goats, cows, horses, chickens, donkeys, and domestic cats and rabbits. Ahrens kept one sheep, "Lamby," as his pet. Lamby slept in Ahrens's house. Ahrens kept Lamby as a "guard sheep" because of prior break-ins. Lamby was friendly but could be territorial and protective when interacting with strangers. On occasion, when he was agitated, Lamby has headbutted (or butted) Ahrens and his girlfriend. Ahrens joked about and showed Lamby's butting to family and friends "because it was rather amusing." Ahrens used to run a kolache shop in Houston; he "would come and go" and split his time between Houston and Yoakum.

         In 2013, Ahrens scheduled an appointment to be fitted for hearing aids with a company owned by Cindy Castello. Gonzalez was a trainee. Before the appointment, Ahrens told Castello and Gonzalez to call him before they came over because he was not always at the farm and because he kept a "guard sheep."

         Castello and Gonzalez went to Ahrens's farm for the appointment. Ahrens met them at the gate. Ahrens had a "No Trespassing" sign on his gate. Lamby usually has "free run of the property," but Ahrens penned up Lamby with the other sheep during the visit. Castello and Gonzalez met and petted Lamby. Ahrens told them that he bottle-fed and raised Lamby as an orphan sheep. Ahrens was supposed to have another appointment after he had some ear wax buildup removed. Ahrens again told Castello and Gonzalez they should call him beforehand because he might not be there, and they should not enter the property if he was not there. Ahrens did not receive any call about a follow-up appointment.

         On Thursday, August 29, 2013, Ahrens was in Houston. That same day, Castello and Gonzalez returned to Ahrens's farm. They opened the gate and drove to the house, and Lamby trotted up to them. While they were removing items from the truck, Lamby butted Castello. Castello and Gonzalez made it to the porch and knocked on the front door, but there was no answer. They discussed what they should do. Gonzalez, who lived on a farm with livestock, told Castello she could "handle" Lamby. While Castello returned to the truck without incident, Gonzalez was chased by Lamby. According to Gonzalez, Lamby butted her several times with enough force that she "went airborne" and "everything went black." According to Castello, when Lamby caught up with Gonzalez, Lamby butted Gonzalez one time, and she "hit the license plate a little bit." Gonzalez's sunglasses and flip-flops "fell off," and she suffered a scrape on her foot. Gonzalez got back into the truck.

         Gonzalez drove back to the company office, about an hour's drive from Ahrens's farm. According to their coworker, Robert Jakobeit, when Castello and Gonzalez returned to the office, Gonzalez told him about the encounter with the sheep and was laughing about it. Jakobeit stated that Gonzalez was not in distress and only had a red mark on her foot from the broken flip-flop. Gonzalez sought medical assistance the day after the incident. According to Gonzalez, she suffered a traumatic brain injury, underwent shoulder and back surgeries, and would require additional surgeries as a result of the incident.[1]

         Ahrens did not find out about the incident until several months later when he received a letter from Gonzalez's attorney. He was shocked to find out that Lamby injured someone. Before the incident, Ahrens never received any complaint that Lamby attacked someone while he was not there.[2]

         Gonzalez filed suit against Ahrens, [3] alleging claims of strict liability and negligence.[4] The parties filed an agreed motion to waive jury trial and for a preferential setting, which the trial court granted. The case proceeded to a bench trial. Ahrens, Gonzalez, Castello, and Jakobeit testified.

         The trial court signed its final judgment, rendering judgment in favor of Ahrens and ordering that Gonzalez take nothing against Ahrens. No party filed a post-judgment motion or requested findings of fact and conclusions of law. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 296, 329b. Gonzalez timely appealed.

         II.Analy ...

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