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Feldman v. Watts

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

October 24, 2019

STEWART A. FELDMAN, INDIVIDUALLY, THE FELDMAN LAW FIRM LLP, RAPID SETTLEMENTS, LTD., RAPID MANAGEMENT CORP., RSL-3B-IL, LTD., RSL-3B-IL MANAGEMENT CORP., RSL-5B-IL MANAGEMENT CORP., RSL-5B-IL, LTD., RSL SPECIAL MANAGEMENT CORP., AND RSL-SPECIAL IV, LTD., Appellants
v.
JOSEPH K. WATTS, ANGELA M. WATTS, AND JOSEPH K. WATTS, P.C., Appellees

          On Appeal from the 55th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 2009-09825

          Panel consists of Chief Justice Frost and Justices Zimmerer and Hassan.

          OPINION

          Kem Thompson Frost, Chief Justice.

         In this appeal from a final judgment in a turnover proceeding, the judgment creditors assert that the trial court erred in denying their request for reasonable attorney's fees under section 31.002(e) of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. Because the judgment creditors did not seek reasonable attorney's fees for any services of their attorneys in successfully prosecuting a request for turnover relief, we affirm.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         In May 2009, appellants Stewart A. Feldman, individually, The Feldman Law Firm LLP, Rapid Settlements, Ltd., Rapid Management Corp., RSL-3B-IL, Ltd., RSL-3B-IL Management Corp., RSL-5B-IL Management Corp., RSL-5B-IL, Ltd., RSL Special Management Corp., and RSL-Special IV, Ltd. (collectively the "Feldman Parties") obtained a judgment (the "Judgment") against appellees Joseph K. Watts, Angela M. Watts, and Joseph K. Watts, P.C. (collectively the "Watts Parties").

         Several years later, the trial court signed an order, dated March 23, 2015, granting the Feldman Parties' application for a turnover order and commanding the Watts Parties to turn over of all of their property not found by the trial court to be exempt (the "Turnover Order"). The trial court also ordered the Watts Parties to continue to turn over certain categories of property immediately upon receiving the property, until the Judgment was "fully paid [or] settled." Though the Feldman Parties had requested attorney's fees under Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code section 31.002(e), the trial court did not award any attorney's fees in the Turnover Order. No party appealed the Turnover Order.

         A few months after issuing the Turnover Order, the Feldman Parties filed a "Supplemental Application for Turnover After Judgment," seeking additional turnover relief as well as attorney's fees. The trial court denied this application.

         In March 2017, the Feldman Parties filed a motion asserting that the Watts Parties had failed to comply with various post-judgment, trial-court orders, including the Turnover Order, and seeking (1) coercive sanctions in the form of the detention of Angela Watts and Joseph Watts or per diem monetary sanctions until they complied with all of these orders, (2) the appointment of a receiver under the trial court's equitable powers to supervise and oversee payment of the Judgment in compliance with the trial court's orders, (3) an order holding the Watts Parties in contempt for failure to comply with the trial court's orders, (4) an award of $170, 000 in attorney's fees, which, according to affiant Stewart Feldman, were incurred after rendition of the Turnover Order and in connection with the enforcement of the Turnover Order, as either "sanctions" or "post judgment collection costs relating to the [Turnover Order] and application for a receiver" (the "Motion"). Joseph Watts made a cash payment of $15, 000 on the Judgment in mid-March 2017, and a couple of weeks later, he made a payment by cashier's check in the amount of $27, 434.72. Joseph Watts testified that loans were the source of the funds for these payments.

         The trial court ruled on different parts of the Motion in three different orders.[1] By the time the trial court rendered the final judgment from which the Feldman Parties appeal, the trial court had denied the Motion in its entirety.

         The Feldman Parties filed a motion for new trial in which they asked the trial court to reconsider its ruling on their request for attorney's fees. The trial court denied this motion.

         II. Issues and Analysis

         A. Does this court lack jurisdiction over this appeal because the Judgment is void ab initio?

         On appeal, Joseph K. Watts and Joseph K. Watts, P.C. (collectively the "Joseph Parties") suggest that the trial court below lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over this turnover proceeding and that this court lacks jurisdiction over this appeal because the Judgment is void ab initio. According to the Joseph Parties, the Judgment is void ab initio because the arbitrator's award is void, and the arbitrator's award is void because there was no dispute for the arbitrator to resolve ...


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