File: 070366F - From documents
Opinion Filed April 9, 2008.
Court of Appeals
District of Texas at Dallas
MALCOLM L. SHAW, Appellant
COUNTY OF DALLAS, IN ITS OWN
BEHALF AND ON BEHALF OF OTHER POLITICAL SUBDIVISIONS WHOSE TAXES ARE COLLECTED BY THE DALLAS COUNTY TAX COLLECTOR, THE CITY
OF DALLAS, THE DALLAS INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, THE DALLAS COUNTY SCHOOL
EQUALIZATION FUND, THE DALLAS COUNTY COMMUNITY COLLEGE DISTRICT, AND THE
PARKLAND HOSPITAL DISTRICT, Appellees
On Appeal from the 101st Judicial District
Trial Court Cause No.
FitzGerald, Lang-Miers, and Mazzant
By Justice Lang-Miers
L. Shaw appeals the trial court's judgment denying his claim for attorney's fees in a suit to
collect delinquent ad valorem taxes. See Footnote 2
For the following reasons, we affirm.
2002, Shaw obtained a personal judgment against Pete Anguiano. He filed an abstract of judgment in Dallas County that same
year. Pete Anguiano paid the judgment, and Shaw executed a release of lien in
April 2003. In 2004, appellees (the Taxing Authorities) sued Pete Anguiano,
David Anguiano, and others to collect delinquent ad valorem taxes on property
owned by Pete Anguiano located in Dallas County. They also sued Shaw and Bank of
Texas, N.A. as lienholders having an interest in the property.
the Taxing Authorities' lawsuit, denied an ownership interest in the property and personal liability for the taxes, filed a
cross-action for indemnification against the Anguianos, and filed a
“cross-action” (counterclaim) against the Taxing Authorities for a declaration
of non- liability and for attorney's fees under the Uniform Declaratory
Judgments Act (UDJA). The case was set for trial in July 2005. Prior to trial,
the Taxing Authorities moved for a continuance, arguing that they needed
additional time to perfect service on the heirs of Pete Anguiano, who was
deceased, and others. The trial court granted the continuance over Shaw's
objection and reset the case for disposition in April 2006.
April trial setting, the delinquent taxes and penalties on the property
were paid and the Taxing Authorities moved to
dismiss all claims against all defendants. They did not set a hearing on the
motion. When the case was called for trial, the issues pending before the court
were the Taxing Authorities' motion to dismiss and Shaw's counterclaim for
attorney's fees. See Footnote 3
The court heard evidence on Shaw's claim for attorney's fees and took the matter
under advisement. After trial, Shaw filed an application for leave to file an
amended pleading to conform to issues tried by consent. Shaw sought leave to
allege that the Taxing Authorities violated rule 13 of the Texas Rules of Civil
Procedure by filing a groundless lawsuit against him. He did not obtain a ruling
on the motion. In January 2007, the trial court signed a final judgment in which
it ordered the claim against Shaw dismissed with prejudice but denied Shaw's
claim for attorney's fees. The trial court made findings of fact and conclusions
of law, expressly stating that it considered Shaw's claim for attorney's fees
under both rule 13 and the UDJA and concluded that Shaw failed to establish any
claim or right to that relief.
In six issues on appeal,
Shaw argues that the trial court erred when it failed to grant his motion for leave to file the amended pleading to
conform to issues tried by consent, denied his claim for attorney's fees under
rule 13 and the UDJA, and granted appellees' motion for continuance. He also
contends that appellees' suit against him violated his constitutional right to
appealing from a nonjury trial in which the trial court made findings of
fact and conclusions of law should direct his
attack on the sufficiency of the evidence at specific findings of facts, rather
than at the judgment as a whole. See Nw. Park Homeowners Ass'n, Inc.
v. Brundrett, 970 S.W.2d 700, 704 (Tex. App.-Amarillo 1998, pet. denied). A
challenge to an unidentified finding of fact may be sufficient if we can fairly
determine from the argument the specific finding of fact which the appellant
challenges. See Tittizer v. Union Gas Corp., 171 S.W.3d 857, 863 (Tex.
2005) (per curiam).
Findings of fact in an
appeal from a nonjury trial carry the same weight as a jury verdict and are reviewed under the same standards that are
applied in reviewing evidence to support a jury's verdict. Walker v. Cotter
Prop., Inc., 181 S.W.3d 895, 899 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2006, no pet.). In
evaluating the legal sufficiency of the evidence to support a finding, we must
credit favorable evidence if reasonable jurors could, and disregard contrary
evidence unless reasonable jurors could not. City of Keller v. Wilson,
168 S.W.3d 802, 827 (Tex. 2005). The ultimate test is whether the evidence
allows reasonable minds to reach the finding under review. See id.
Anything more than a scintilla of evidence is legally sufficient to support a
challenged finding. Walker, 181 S.W.3d at 899. When a party attacks the
factual sufficiency of an adverse finding on which he has the burden of proof,
he must demonstrate on appeal that the adverse finding is against the great
weight and preponderance of the evidence. Dow Chem. Co. v. Francis, 46
S.W.3d 237, 242 (Tex. 2001) (per curiam). We will set aside a finding for lack
of factual sufficiency only if it is so contrary to the overwhelming weight of
the evidence as to be clearly wrong and unjust. Cain v. Bain, 709 S.W.2d
175, 176 (Tex. 1986) (per curiam). We review a trial court's legal conclusions
de novo. Walker v. Anderson, 232 S.W.3d 899, 908 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2007,
no pet.). We evaluate those conclusions independently to determine whether the
trial court correctly drew the conclusion from the facts.
Additionally, in a
nonjury trial, the trial court is the sole judge of the credibility of the witnesses and the testimony's weight. Tate v.
Commodore County Mut. Ins. Co., 767 S.W.2d 219, 224 (Tex. App.-Dallas 1989,
writ denied). The trial court may believe one witness and disbelieve others and
may resolve any inconsistencies in a witness's testimony. McGalliard v.
Kuhlmann, 722 S.W.2d 694, 697 (Tex. 1986).
Issues Tried By
In his first
issue, Shaw argues that the trial court never formally ruled on his amended “cross- action” to conform to issues tried by
consent, specifically his request for attorney's fees under rule 13. But Shaw
also concedes that the trial court stated in its findings of fact and
conclusions of law that it considered his rule 13 request for attorney's fees
and concluded he failed to establish any right to that relief. We conclude that,
although the trial court did not expressly grant Shaw's motion, it impliedly did
so because it ultimately denied the relief he requested. See Tex. R. App.
Shaw also argues that the
court improperly denied his claim for attorney's fees in finding of fact 12, which states, “At trial, [Shaw] requested the
recovery of attorneys fees for a frivolous filing by [the Taxing Authorities]
under Rule 13, Texas Rules of Civil Procedure and for a declaratory finding that
[the Taxing Authorities] frivolously included [Shaw] in the lawsuit without any
legal basis or foundation.” After a review of the record, we conclude that
finding of fact 12 does not, as Shaw contends, deny his claim for attorney's
fees. Instead, it merely states the basis of Shaw's claim for attorney's fees
and, as such, is an accurate statement of Shaw's pleadings.
Shaw's first issue against him.
In his second
and third issues, Shaw argues that the trial court abused its discretion by failing to award him attorney's fees either as
sanctions under rule 13 of the Texas Rules of Civil
Procedure or under section 37.009 of the UDJA. See Footnote 4
We construe these issues as challenges to the trial court's conclusion of law 3,
which states, “[Shaw] has failed to establish any claim or right for declaratory
relief or for sanctions under Rule 13, Texas Rules of Civil
Shaw argues that the
trial court should have imposed sanctions against the Taxing Authorities because there was no basis for suing him for personal
liability for Pete Anguiano's delinquent taxes. He contends that the Taxing
Authorities did not make a reasonable inquiry, as required by rule 13, before
filing the lawsuit against him because the Taxing Authorities did not discover
that he had released the lien against Pete Anguiano a year before this lawsuit
was filed. He also contends that the prayer for relief in the Taxing
Authorities' petition continued to request personal judgment against him even
after the Taxing Authorities amended their petition to
specifically name Shaw as a defendant in rem only. See Footnote 5
For the same reasons, Shaw contends that the court should have awarded him
attorney's fees pursuant to his declaratory judgment action.
Attorney's fees as sanctions under rule
Rule 13, Texas Rules of
Civil Procedure, states
signatures of attorneys or parties constitute a certificate by them that
they have read the pleading, motion, or other
paper; that to the best of their knowledge, information and belief formed after
reasonable inquiry the instrument is not groundless and brought in bad faith or
groundless and brought for the purpose of harassment. . . If a pleading, motion
or other paper is signed in violation of this rule, the court, upon motion or
upon its own initiative, after notice and hearing, shall impose an appropriate
sanction . . . .
Tex. R. Civ. P. 13. A trial court may not impose sanctions under rule 13
“except for good cause.” Id. “Groundless”
in this context “means no basis in law or fact and not warranted by a good faith
argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law.”
Id. “Bad faith” means the conscious doing of a wrong for dishonest,
discriminatory, or malicious purpose, and not simply bad judgment or negligence.
Elkins v. Stotts-Brown, 103 S.W.3d 664, 668 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2003, no
pet.). When determining whether rule 13 sanctions are proper, the trial court
must examine the circumstances existing at the time the pleading was filed.
Id. Trial courts must presume that pleadings, motions, and other papers
are filed in good faith. Tex. R. Civ. P. 13. The party moving for sanctions has
the burden of overcoming this presumption. GTE Commc'ns Sys. Corp. v.
Tanner, 856 S.W.2d 725, 731 (Tex. 1993) (orig.
We review a trial
court's ruling on a motion for sanctions under rule 13 for an abuse of discretion. Cire v. Cummings, 134 S.W.3d 835,
838 (Tex. 2004); see Low v. Henry, 221 S.W.3d 609, 614 (Tex. 2007). In
our review, we consider the entire record-the pleadings, the evidence, and the
trial court's findings of fact and conclusions of law. Am. Flood Research,
Inc. v. Jones, 192 S.W.3d 581, 583 (Tex. 2006) (per curiam). We will not
reverse that ruling unless we conclude that the trial court acted without
reference to any guiding rules and principles. Cire, 134 S.W.3d at
Attorney's fees under
Section 37.009 of the
UDJA states that a “court may award costs and reasonable and necessary attorney's fees as are equitable and just.” Tex.
Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 37.009 (Vernon 1997). We will reverse a trial
court's ruling on a request for attorney's fees under section 37.009 only if the
court's decision is arbitrary, unreasonable, and without regard to guiding legal
principles. See Bocquet v. Herring, 972 S.W.2d 19, 21 (Tex. 1998).
Whether an award is equitable and just is “a matter of fairness in light of all
the circumstances.” See Ridge Oil Co., Inc. v. Guinn Invs., Inc., 148
S.W.3d 143,162 (Tex. 2004).
shows that the Taxing Authorities did not discover that Shaw had released the abstract of judgment against Pete Anguiano prior
to filing this tax lawsuit and learned of it for the first time when Shaw
offered the instrument into evidence at trial in April 2006. Shaw did not prove
how the failure to discover the release was anything but negligence. And
negligence will not support a finding of bad faith. See Ziemian v. TX
Arlington Oaks Apts., Ltd., 233 S.W.3d 548, 558 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2007, pet.
struck). But even if the Taxing Authorities had discovered the release, Shaw did
not prove that the release was intended to release the judgment he obtained
against Pete Anguiano, because the release stated only that it released a
specific piece of property: “Holder of the note and lien(s) acknowledges its
payment and releases the property from all lien(s) held by holder of the
note and lien(s) . . . .” (emphasis added). It is undisputed that the property
described as being released was not the same property that is the subject of
this tax lawsuit.
evidence shows that after Shaw learned that the basis of this lawsuit against him was the abstract of judgment he filed
against Pete Anguiano, he chose not to notify the Taxing Authorities about the
release because “it was a matter of public record.” Instead, Shaw waited until
trial to offer that evidence.
Shaw also did not prove
that the Taxing Authorities sought personal liability against him. The original petition specifically stated that Shaw was sued
as a lienholder and cited the property records following his name: “(C2 2002104
8753 AJ).” To make it clear, the Taxing Authorities amended their petition to
expressly name Shaw as an “(IN REM)” defendant only. Shaw has not shown how the
prayer for relief, which prays for personal judgment jointly and severally
against all defendants “as appropriate by law,” seeks to turn the in rem
allegations into ones seeking personal liability against him as a lienholder.
See Tex. Tax Code Ann. § 32.07(a) (Vernon Supp. 2007) (property taxes are
personal obligation of person who owns property); Sadeghian v. City of
Denton, 49 S.W.3d 403, 406 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2000, pet. denied)
(lienholder does not own legal title to property on which he holds lien and,
thus, is not property owner for purposes of payment of property taxes). See
also In re City of Dallas, 977 S.W.2d 798, 804 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 1998,
orig. proceeding) (prayer for relief must be read in context of other language
in body of petition); Doctor v. Pardue, 186 S.W.3d 4, 16 (Tex.
App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2005, pet. denied) (substance of pleading gleaned from
body of pleading and prayer for relief).
We conclude that Shaw did
not rebut the presumption that the Taxing Authorities' lawsuit was filed in good faith, and the trial court did not
abuse its discretion when it denied sanctions under rule 13. Additionally, under
these circumstances, we cannot conclude that the trial court abused its
discretion by failing to award Shaw attorney's fees under the
We resolve Shaw's second
and third issues against him.
his fourth issue: “The court erred in finding there was any or color
of lien in Shaw's favor.” In it, he states that
he specifically attacks findings of fact 4, 6, 8, 9, and 10, and conclusions of law 1 and 2.
See Footnote 6
Shaw challenges these factual findings, but he does not state whether he
challenges the legal or factual sufficiency of the evidence to support the
factual findings. Additionally, he does not argue this issue under the
appropriate standards of review, and he does not specify which part of his
argument applies to which of the court's findings and conclusions. See
Watts, 629 S.W.2d at 696. This issue is multifarious and inadequately
briefed. Tex. R. App. P. 38.1(h); see Watts, 629 S.W.2d at 696. However,
to the extent we understand the issue, we will address it.
We first note
that findings of fact 6, 8, 9, and 10 merely recite what the undisputed evidence showed. Therefore, we construe Shaw's
fourth issue as essentially complaining that the trial court erred by concluding
that he had an interest in the property (finding of fact 4) and that, as a
result, the Taxing Authorities did not act in bad faith by suing him on that
basis (conclusions of law 1 and 2).
The attorney for the
Taxing Authorities testified that they sued Shaw because he filed an abstract of judgment against Pete Anguiano and,
as a result, had an interest in the property subject to the tax lawsuit. And it
was clear from the attorney's testimony that the Taxing Authorities only learned
about the release when Shaw showed it to them during trial. Even then, the
Taxing Authorities testified that they could not discern from reading the
release whether it impacted their suit against Shaw. That is because, as we have
noted, the release purported to release only the unrelated described property,
and did not specifically state that it released the abstract of
In spite of this
language, Shaw argues, “Inasmuch as there was but one judgment against Pete Anguiano in favor of Appellant Shaw, there can be
but one satisfaction.” And Shaw argues that when that debt was satisfied, the
“Release of Lien applied to every real estate interest that Pete Anguiano had of
record.” Shaw did not raise this argument below, however, and it is not
preserved for our review. Tex. R. App. P. 33.1.
For the same reasons that
we addressed in Shaw's first and second issues, we conclude that the evidence is legally and factually sufficient to support
the trial court's factual finding that Shaw had an interest in the property
subject to the tax lawsuit as a result of filing the abstract of judgment
against Pete Anguiano. We further conclude that the evidence is legally
sufficient to support the trial court's conclusion that the Taxing Authorities'
lawsuit against Shaw “was not groundless or without legal merit or
We resolve Shaw's fourth
issue against him.
In his fifth
issue, Shaw contends that the trial court abused its discretion by granting the Taxing Authorities' motion for continuance over
his objection. A trial court, however, exercises broad discretion when deciding
whether to grant or deny a motion for continuance. See Gen. Motors
Corp. v. Gayle, 951 S.W.2d 469, 476 (Tex. 1997) (orig. proceeding); Bank
of Texas, N.A., Trustee v. Mexia, 135 S.W.3d 356, 364 (Tex. App.-Dallas
2004, pet. denied). We will reverse for an abuse of discretion only when, after
examining the entire record, we determine that the trial court's ruling was
clearly arbitrary and unreasonable. Mexia, 135 S.W.3d at
The Taxing Authorities
moved for continuance prior to the first trial setting on the ground that they had not been able to obtain service of
process on Pete and David Anguiano. Shaw argued that the Taxing Authorities did
not exercise diligence in serving the defendants and offered no explanation for
the failure to obtain service by other means. However, the record shows that
service was attempted on these defendants but that they had moved and left no
forwarding address. It also shows that Pete Anguiano was deceased and that the
Taxing Authorities were attempting to locate his heirs. In that regard, the
record shows that Shaw himself suggested to the Taxing Authorities that certain
heirs of Pete Anguiano needed to be sued. As a result, the Taxing Authorities
also sought a continuance to amend their petition to add those heirs as
defendants and to locate and serve them. Based on these circumstances, we cannot
conclude that the trial court abused its discretion by granting the
We resolve Shaw's fifth
issue against him.
In his sixth
issue, Shaw argues that “the allegation of unfounded personal liability” and prayer for costs, attorney's fees, and
abstractor's fees against him constituted a taking of his property without due
process or just compensation. He contends that the Fourteenth Amendment to the
U.S. Constitution guarantees him the right not to be sued on a groundless claim.
However, Shaw did not raise this constitutional claim below. To preserve a
complaint for appellate review, a party generally must present it to the trial
court by timely request, motion, or objection, stating the specific grounds, and
obtain a ruling. Tex. R. App. P. 33.1(a). This rule applies to constitutional
claims. See In re L.M.I., 119 S.W.3d 707, 710-11 (Tex. 2003); City of
San Antonio v. Schautteet, 706 S.W.2d 103, 104 (Tex. 1986) (per curiam).
Because Shaw did not raise this issue below, it presents nothing for our
We resolve Shaw's sixth
issue against him.
all of Shaw's issues against him and affirm the trial court's
Both appellees' brief and the
trial court's judgment spell Mr. Shaw's first
name as “Malcom.” However, appellees sued “Malcolm” Shaw, and Mr. Shaw spelled
his first name as “Malcolm” in all court documents. Therefore, we will refer to
The trial court sua sponte
expressed concern about whether the county was
protected by governmental immunity against Shaw's claim for attorney's fees and
stated it would take the matter under advisement. The trial court entered final
judgment against Shaw on the merits of his claim. We conclude, therefore, that
the trial court impliedly concluded that it had jurisdiction. The jurisdictional
issue is not raised on appeal.
Shaw nonsuited his cross-action
for indemnification against the Anguianos.
See Footnote 8 Shaw
also argues that sanctions are appropriate and
should have been awarded pursuant to sections 9.012 and 10.001 of the Texas
Civil Practice & Remedies Code. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code
Ann. § 9.012 (signing pleadings), 10.001 (frivolous pleadings and motions)
(Vernon 2002). These issues were not preserved for our review. SeeTex. R.
App. P. 33.1(a); Greene v. Young, 174 S.W.3d 291, 299 (Tex. App.-Hous.
[1st Dist.] 2005, pet. denied).
The prayer for relief stated in
relevant part, “Plaintiffs pray for personal
judgment jointly and severally against the defendants, as appropriate by law,
and for the imposition and collection of a lien on all other assets, real or
personal owned by the defendants. . . .”
Shaw specifically challenges:
[Shaw] was named as a defendant and
had an interest in the Subject Property as a result of an Abstract of Judgment he caused to be filed against defendant Pete
On December 27, 2004, [Shaw] filed a general denial with the
Prior to the filing of the Original Petition, [Shaw] caused to be filed a
Release of Lien with the Deed Records of Dallas
County, Texas, said Release located at Volume 2003085, Page 06149 (the “Release
The Release of Lien filed by [Shaw] released Pete Anguiano and property
described as follows:
Lot 18, block 2/6427,
TIMBERBROOK ADDITION, FOURTH INSTALLMENT, an Addition to tthe City of Dallas, Dallas County, Texas, according to Plat
THEREOF recorded in Volume 29, Page 145, of the Map Records of Dallas County,
Based on the foregoing, at the time that [the Taxing Authorities] filed
the Original Petition, the Release of Lien filed
by [Shaw] did not specifically release and refer to the Subject
[The Taxing Authorities] named [Shaw]
as an interested party to the litigation in light of his Abstract of Judgment against Pete Anguiano. Therefore, the
filing of Plaintiffs' Original Petition was not groundless or without legal
merit or justification;
[The Taxing Authorities] acted in good faith in naming [Shaw]
as in [sic] “In Rem” litigant to clarify that no
personal liability was being sought against [Shaw] . . . .
This argument was based on the Taxing Authorities' prayer for relief in their
lawsuit, which stated, in relevant
Plaintiffs pray for personal judgment
jointly and severally against the defendants, as appropriate by law, and for the imposition and collection of a lien on
all other assets, real or personal owned by the defendants. . .
This argument was based on the Taxing Authorities' prayer for relief in their
lawsuit, which stated, in relevant
Plaintiffs pray for personal judgment jointly and severally against the
defendants, as appropriate by law, and for the
imposition and collection of a lien on all other assets, real or personal owned
by the defendants. . . .