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Price v. Leger

Court of Appeals of Texas, Ninth District, Beaumont

December 12, 2019

J. STANLEY PRICE, Appellant
v.
DANIEL B. LEGER, MARGARET LEGER, AND DAN BARTON LEGER, Appellees

          Submitted on September 9, 2019

          On Appeal from the 172nd District Court Jefferson County, Texas Trial Cause No. E-202, 287

          Before McKeithen, C.J., Kreger and Johnson, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          STEVE MCKEITHEN CHIEF JUSTICE.

         Appellant J. Stanley Price appeals the trial court's order granting summary judgment in favor of Daniel B. Leger, Margaret Leger, and Dan Barton Leger (collectively "Defendants"). In two issues on appeal, Price argues: (1) the trial court erred in granting Defendants' traditional and no-evidence motions for summary judgment because Price's summary judgment evidence established a genuine issue of material fact as to the existence of the right of way ("ROW") and as to at least one element of each of Defendants' affirmative defenses; and (2) the trial court erred in denying Price's motion for partial summary judgment because Price's summary judgment evidence conclusively established, as a matter of law, that the ROW was established as a public road by a common law dedication. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Background

         Price sued Defendants for declaratory relief, asserting that the sixty-foot wide ROW at issue, which divides his property from Defendants' properties, is a dedicated public road governed solely by the authority of the Jefferson County Commissioners Court. Price alleged that the ROW is the primary access to his property, and that Defendants failed to present any evidence supporting their contention that Jefferson County, Texas, closed or abandoned the ROW. Price sought a declaration affirming that the ROW has not been abandoned and remains a dedicated public road and that Defendants' encroachment and assertion of ownership of the ROW are unlawful. Price also sought monetary damages due to Defendants' alleged actions disrupting and impeding the ROW.

         Defendants filed general denials, asserted affirmative defenses, including the abandonment of the alleged ROW, and filed counterclaims for declaratory judgment seeking a declaration that the alleged ROW is not a public road. Price filed a traditional and no-evidence motion for partial summary judgment. In his traditional motion, Price argued that he was entitled to summary judgment because he established, as a matter of law, that the ROW is valid and continuous and was never abandoned by Jefferson County. Price also argued that he was entitled to a no-evidence summary judgment because after an adequate time for discovery had passed, Defendants failed to present any evidence supporting an essential element of their counterclaims. According to Price, Defendants cannot prevail on their counterclaims because they failed to provide evidence showing that Jefferson County abandoned the ROW.

         Defendants filed responses to Price's hybrid motion for summary judgment and counter motions for summary judgment. Defendants argued that Price failed to present evidence establishing that the Commissioners Court declared the ROW for use as a public road and reserved its use for Jefferson County, Texas. Defendants argued that Price's allegation that the alleged ROW is the primary access to his property is false. Defendants also argued that because Price failed to establish, as a matter of law, that the Commissioners Court declared the ROW as a public road, Price's allegation that he established that the Commissioners Court never abandoned the alleged ROW is without merit. According to Defendants, the alleged ROW was never developed as a road. Defendants maintained that Price's no-evidence motion should be denied because they presented summary judgment evidence proving either (1) that the alleged ROW was never declared a public road, or (2) to the extent that the alleged ROW was ever a road, it was abandoned and never reestablished by the Commissioners Court. Defendants further argued that Price's claims should be dismissed on statute of limitations grounds and because Price lacks standing.

         Price filed a motion to strike Defendants' summary judgment evidence. Price also filed responses to Defendants' traditional and no-evidence motions for summary judgment. In his responses, Price argued that he conclusively established, as a matter of law, that the ROW is dedicated for use as a public road because the Nashland Plat, which is recorded in the Jefferson County real property records, is evidence that the ROW was dedicated and established as a public road by a common law dedication prior to the adoption of statutory procedures. According to Price, Defendants failed to offer any evidence supporting their contention that the ROW was abandoned. Price disputed Defendants' argument that he lacks standing, arguing that he provided competent summary judgment evidence showing that his property interest will suffer if the ROW is declared abandoned because it is the primary entrance to his property for business and public use.

         The trial court overruled Price's motion to strike Defendants' summary judgment evidence and denied Price's first amended traditional and no-evidence motion for partial summary judgment. The trial court granted Defendants' no evidence and traditional motions for summary judgment in their entirety, finding that "[t]he disputed strip of land identified in and at issue in this case as it crosses Defendants' property is not a public right of way." Price filed a motion for reconsideration, and in response, Defendants filed a supplemental traditional and no-evidence motion for summary judgment, in which Defendants argued they were entitled to summary judgment and Daniel and Dan argued they were entitled to attorney's fees. The trial court conducted a hearing, and after considering the evidence and the arguments of counsel, the trial court denied Price's motion for reconsideration, granted Defendants' response, and declined to award attorney's fees. Price appealed.

         ANALYSIS

         In issue one, Price complains that the trial court erred in granting Defendants' traditional and no-evidence motion for summary judgment because Price produced more than a scintilla of evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the Nashland Plat designated the ROW as a public road under Texas common law. Defendants argue that the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to show that the Nashland Plat established the dedication of the ROW as a public road, because the plat does not include any dedication language conveying the alleged ROW to Jefferson County for public use.

         We review rulings on motions for summary judgment using a de novo standard. See Provident Life & Accident Ins. Co. v. Knott, 128 S.W.3d 211, 215 (Tex. 2003). In resolving Price's issues, we must consider the ruling on the no-evidence part of Defendants' hybrid motion for summary judgment before considering the ruling on the traditional portion of Defendants' motion. See Ford Motor Co. v. Ridgway, 135 S.W.3d 598, 600 (Tex. 2004). In reviewing a no-evidence motion, we must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Id. at 601. The Texas Supreme Court has explained that the trial court must grant a no-evidence motion if (1) there is a complete absence of evidence of a vital fact, (2) the court is barred by rules of law or of evidence from giving weight to the only evidence offered to prove a vital fact, (3) the evidence offered to prove a vital fact is no more than a mere scintilla, or (4) the evidence conclusively establishes the opposite of the vital fact. King Ranch, Inc. v, Chapman, 118 S.W.3d 742, 751 (Tex. ...


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