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Johnson v. Johnson

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

January 15, 2020

Mary Ann JOHNSON, Appellant
v.
Chandler Elizabeth JOHNSON and Mary M. Johnson, Appellees

          From the Probate Court No. 2, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2017PC0180 Honorable Veronica Vasquez, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice Beth Watkins, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          BETH WATKINS, JUSTICE

         REVERSED AND RENDERED

         This is an appeal from a probate court order granting a motion to dismiss under the Texas Citizens Participation Act ("TCPA"). Because we conclude the probate court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider the underlying claims, we reverse its order and render judgment dismissing the claims of appellant Mary Ann Johnson ("Mary Ann") for business disparagement and intentional infliction of emotional distress for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         Background

         Bradley Keith Johnson ("Bradley") was found dead in his apartment on January 10, 2017. Mary Ann is Bradley's widow, appellee Chandler Elizabeth Johnson ("Chandler") is his adult daughter from a previous marriage, and appellee Mary M. Johnson ("Mary") is Bradley's mother. Mary Ann and Bradley were divorcing when he died, but their divorce was not final so that cause was mooted by his death. Bradley died intestate, and it is undisputed that Mary Ann and Chandler were his only heirs.

         On January 17, 2017, Chandler filed an application for dependent administration, letters of administration, and declaration of heirship ("the dependent administration") in Bexar County Probate Court Number 2. The next day, Mary Ann filed an opposition to Chandler's application, as well as her own application for determination of heirship and letters of administration. Mary Ann's application claimed that during their marriage, Bradley defrauded her separate estate and "'wasted' or depleted the community estate." In 2017, the probate court appointed a dependent administrator of Bradley's estate and signed an order approving the inventory, appraisal, and list of claims in the dependent administration.

         On January 8, 2019, Mary Ann filed an original petition in the probate court under the same cause number as the dependent administration, asserting claims of business disparagement and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Chandler and Mary ("the tort case"). In the tort case-which forms the basis for this appeal-Mary Ann alleged that after Bradley died, Chandler and Mary falsely reported to the Bexar County Medical Examiner that Mary Ann "was complicit in [Bradley's] death" and requested an autopsy on that basis. She also alleged that the false accusations resulted in the "economic devaluation of her nursing license" because she was "required to disclose any and all 'alleged' misconduct to her supervisor and [the] Board of Nursing for the State of Texas." She did not: allege any claims against Bradley himself or his estate; include the dependent administrator of Bradley's estate as a party; allege that Chandler and Mary had acted as personal representatives of Bradley's estate; argue that the causes of action she asserted would have any bearing on the collection or distribution of Bradley's estate; or contend that her asserted causes of action affected the court's previous order approving the inventory, appraisal, and list of claims.

         On February 5, 2019, Chandler and Mary filed a plea to the jurisdiction, arguing the probate court lacked jurisdiction to consider Mary Ann's claims in the tort case for three reasons:

1. "The estate has been admitted to probate and a dependent administrator appointed. The Court has already made its heirship findings and determination. The Court has approved the Inventory, Appraisement, and List of Claims of the Estate."
2. "None of the events relevant to Plaintiff's Cause of Action affect the Estate of the deceased. Neither the deceased, nor the estate, nor the Administrator are defendants."
3. "All actions alleged by Plaintiff occurred, if at all, after the decedent died. All actions alleged by Plaintiff occurred, if at all, personally and not in any representative capacity."

         Mary Ann did not file a response to the plea to the jurisdiction, and the record does not reflect that the plea was ever ...


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