Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio
IN THE ESTATE OF Patricia M. RIPLEY, Deceased
the Probate Court No. 2, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No.
2018-PC-1990 Honorable Tom Rickhoff, Judge Presiding
Sitting: Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice Rebeca C.
Martinez, Justice Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice
BRYAN MARION, CHIEF JUSTICE.
Ripley appeals the probate court's judgment declaring
himself and his two siblings Robert Ripley and Mary Guzman to
be the heirs of their mother Patricia M. Ripley, deceased.
The sole issue presented on appeal is whether the probate
court erred in denying John's "Motion for Directed
Verdict on the affirmative defenses of limitations, laches,
waiver, and estoppel." We affirm the trial court's
died intestate on February 26, 2008. On June 4, 2018, Robert
and Mary filed an application to determine heirship. The
application stated there had been no administration of
Patricia's estate and sought to have John, Robert, and
Mary declared to be Patricia's heirs.
August 31, 2018, John filed amended special exceptions
asserting the application was barred by limitations. Robert
and Mary filed a response asserting no express limitations
period exists for bringing an heirship action. On October 26,
2018, the probate court signed an order denying John's
amended special exceptions.
November 19, 2018, Robert and Mary filed a motion for leave
to present alternate evidence of heirship. Specifically, they
sought leave to present an expert report from a forensic
genealogist in lieu of the testimony of two disinterested
witnesses because locating peers of Patricia who could
testify was exceedingly difficult given that they would be
approximately one hundred years old if they were still alive.
On December 7, 2018, the probate court signed an order
granting Robert's and Mary's motion.
December 10, 2018, the probate court held a bench trial on
the application. Robert and Mary presented the forensic
genealogist's affidavit as evidence that Robert, Mary,
and John were Patricia's sole heirs. John then moved for
a "directed verdict" on the basis that the
application was barred by the residual four-year limitations
period. At the conclusion of the bench trial, the probate
court signed the judgment declaring John, Robert, and Mary to
be Patricia's heirs. John appeals.
proper motion to make after the plaintiff rests in a bench
trial is a motion for judgment," as opposed to a motion
for directed verdict. Bledsoe Dodge, L.L.C. v.
Kuberski, 279 S.W.3d 839, 841 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2009, no
pet.); see also Grounds v. Tolar Indep. Sch. Dist.,
856 S.W.2d 417, 422 n.4 (Tex. 1993) ("Technically, the
use of the term 'directed verdict' in a bench trial
is incorrect because there is no jury to direct. In this
situation, the correct procedure is for the defendant, at the
close of the plaintiff's evidence, to make a 'motion
for judgment.'"). Accordingly, we construe
John's motion as a motion for judgment. See Bledsoe
Dodge, L.L.C., 279 S.W.3d at 841. A trial court errs in
denying a defendant's motion for judgment if the evidence
conclusively establishes a defense to the plaintiff's
claim. Clifford v. McCall-Gruesen, No.
02-13-00105-CV, 2014 WL 5409085, at *3 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth
Oct. 23, 2014, no pet.) (mem. op.); see also Prudential
Ins. Co. of Am. v. Fin. Review Servs., Inc., 29 S.W.3d
74, 77 (Tex. 2000) (noting directed verdict for a defendant
is proper if "the evidence conclusively establishes a
defense to the plaintiff's cause of action").
reviewing a motion for judgment, just like a motion for
directed verdict, we are limited to the grounds stated in the
motion. See Batra v. Clark, 110 S.W.3d 126, 128
(Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2003, no pet.); Cooper v.
Lyon Fin. Servs., Inc., 65 S.W.3d 197, 207 (Tex. App.-
Houston [14th Dist.] 2001, no pet.). During the bench trial,
the only defense asserted in John's verbal motion for
judgment was the defense of limitations. Accordingly, we
limit our review of John's issue to his limitations
defense, and we do not consider the arguments raised in
John's brief regarding the ...