Court of Appeals of Texas, Sixth District, Texarkana
Submitted: November 13, 2019
Appeal from the County Court at Law Nacogdoches County, Texas
Trial Court No. CV1713898
Morriss, C.J., Burgess and Stevens, JJ.
R. Morriss, III Chief Justice.
her marriage to Leland House and before predeceasing him,
Dianne House received a conveyance of over 874 acres from
Elizabeth Spradley Bauman, her aunt. The question before us
now, after Dianne's death, is whether the conveyance to
her was a gift or a sale. If it was a sale, the land became
community property, and Leland has an interest as
Dianne's surviving husband. If a gift, as found by a
Nacogdoches County jury, the property became Dianne's
separate property, and Leland has no claim.
Dianne's death, Leland pursued his claim that the
property was community property by suing Dianne's son,
David Webb, individually and as independent executor of the
estate of Dianne House, deceased, and Duncan Webb
(collectively the Webbs) to quiet title to the property. The
Webbs asserted a counterclaim to quiet title and argued that
the deed, made in consideration of Bauman's "love
and affection" for Dianne, was a gift. After a
Nacogdoches County jury found that, by clear and convincing
evidence, the property had been a gift to Dianne, the trial
court quieted title in David Webb, as trustee of the Dianne
House Testamentary Trust.
appeal, Leland argues that the trial court erred in failing
to construe the unambiguous deed as a sale and, as a result,
erred in allowing parole evidence in support of the
Webbs' position that the conveyance was a
gift. Alternatively, Leland argues that the deed
was ambiguous and that the jury's verdict was not
supported by sufficient evidence. Because we find the deed to
be an unambiguous gift, we affirm.
general, characterization of property is determined by the
time and circumstances of its acquisition, often referred to
as the 'inception of title' doctrine."
Jennings v. Piazza, No. 12-18-00253-CV, 2019 WL
2710276, at *3 (Tex. App.-Tyler June 28, 2019, no pet.) (mem.
op.) (quoting Rivera v. Hernandez, 441 S.W.3d 413,
420 (Tex. App.-El Paso 2014, pet. denied)). It is presumed
that property possessed by spouses during marriage is
community property, but this presumption can be overcome by
clear and convincing evidence that it is the separate
property of a spouse. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §§
3.002-3.003. Property a spouse acquires "during marriage
by gift, devise, or descent" is separate property. Tex.
Fam. Code Ann. § 3.001(2).
it is undisputed that Bauman conveyed a 757-acre tract of
land known as the "Big Loco Farm" and a 117.36-acre
tract known as "Little Farm" (collectively the
Property) to Dianne while she was married to Leland.
Accordingly, the Property was presumed to be community
property unless clear and convincing evidence demonstrated
that it was a gift. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §
3.001; Jennings, 2019 WL 2710276, at *5. "A
gift is a voluntary transfer of property to another made
gratuitously and without consideration."
Jennings, 2019 WL 2710276, at *5 (citing In re
Marriage of Moncey, 404 S.W.3d 701, 710 (Tex.
App.-Texarkana 2013, no pet.)). To determine whether the
Property was conveyed as a gift or as the result of a sale,
we first examine the deed.
parties argue that the deed is unambiguous, but each also
contends that the terms of the deed favor his own position.
"Whether a written instrument is ambiguous is a question
of law for the court." Richardson v. Mills, 514
S.W.3d 406, 413 (Tex. App.-Tyler 2017, pet. denied) (citing
J.M. Davidson, Inc. v. Webster, 128 S.W.3d 223, 229
(Tex. 2003); Coker v. Coker, 650 S.W.2d 391, 394
(Tex. 1983)). "Therefore, we review the trial
court's decision de novo." Id. (citing
Kachina Pipeline Co. v. Lillis, 471 S.W.3d 445, 449
(Tex. 2015)). "When conducting a de novo review, we
exercise our own judgment and redetermine each issue while
according no deference to the trial court's
decision." Id. "If, after we apply the
relevant rules of construction, the written instrument can be
given a definite legal meaning or interpretation, it is not
ambiguous." Id. (citing Frost Nat'l
Bank v. L & F Distribs., Ltd., 165 S.W.3d
310, 312 (Tex. 2005) (per curiam); R & P Enters. v.
LaGuarta, Gavrel & Kirk, Inc., 596 S.W.2d 517, 519
(Tex. 1980)). But, if "a deed is subject to two or more
reasonable interpretations, then the deed is ambiguous, and a
fact issue exists as to the parties' intent."
Jennings, 2019 WL 2710276, at *2 (citing
Columbia Gas Transmission Corp. v. New Ulm Gas,
Ltd., 940 S.W.2d 587, 589 (Tex. 1996); Hausser v.
Cuellar, 345 S.W.3d 462, 467 (Tex. App.-San Antonio
2011, pet. denied)). "[A]n ambiguity does not arise
merely because the parties advance conflicting
interpretations of the deed's language; instead, for an
ambiguity to exist, both interpretations must be
deed is determined to be unambiguous, we review it
"without considering parole evidence."
Richardson, 514 S.W.3d at 413. If a deed is
unambiguous, "our primary duty when construing [it] . .
. is to ascertain the intent of the parties from all of the
language in the deed by applying a fundamental rule of
construction known as the 'four corners' rule."
Id. (citing Luckel v. White, 819 S.W.2d
459, 461 (Tex. 1991)). "We discern . . . intent from the
entirety of the deed's language without reference to
matters of mere form, relative position of descriptions,
technicalities, or arbitrary rules." Id.
(citing Stribling v. Millican DPC Partners, LP, 458
S.W.3d 17, 20 (Tex. 2015)). "No single provision taken
alone will be given controlling effect." Id.
(citing SAS Inst., Inc. v. Breitenfeld, 167 S.W.3d
840, 841 (Tex. 2005) (per curiam)). "We consider the
entire writing and attempt to harmonize and give effect to
all of its provisions by analyzing those provisions with
reference to the document as a whole." Id.
(citing Frost Nat'l Bank, 165 S.W.3d at 312).
"We must assume the parties to the instrument intended
every clause to have some effect; therefore, the language of
the deed should be interpreted so that no clause is rendered
meaningless." Id. (citing Union Pac. R.R.
Co. v. Ameriton Prop., Inc., 448 S.W.3d 671, 678 (Tex.
App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2014, pet. denied)).
Texas Supreme Court has instructed that, if a court can
ascertain the parties' intent from the language of the
deed, "that should [generally] be the end of our
analysis." Wenske v. Ealy, 521 S.W.3d
791, 794 (Tex. 2017). The warranty deed in question reads,
I, ELIZABETH SPRADLEY BAUMAN, . . . for and in consideration
of the love and affection which I have for my niece, the
Grantee, have GRANTED, SOLD AND CONVEYED, and by these
presents do GRANT, SELL AND CONVEY unto DIAN[N]E HOUSE . . .
all of the surface (without the present merchantable timber)
and mineral estate in the following described real property
in Nacogdoches County, Texas, to-wit: . . . "Big Loco
Farm" . . . and "Little Farm."
argues that the deed does not contain the word
"gift" or indicate that it is to be Dianne's
sole and separate property. Because the terms
"sold" and "sell" are included, Leland
argues that the deed merely shows that Bauman loved Dianne
and sold her the Property. Leland's argument
requires us to ignore the provision that the property was
granted, sold, and conveyed "for and in
consideration of" love and affection. In other
words, the price of the sale, as plainly stated by ...