Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Do-it-Yourself in Justice Court (JP Court) not a good idea, much less on appeal

Pro Se Litigants (parties acting as their own attorney, also called pro-pers elsewhere) almost always come to grief, and have their legal incompetence pointed out for the whole world to see if they insist on pursuing their case in the court of appeals, as illustrated for the umptieth time in the following ….   


In this forcible detainer case, [former homeowner], acting pro se, appeals the trial court’s judgment granting Wells Fargo Bank, National Association, as Trustee for Securitized Asset-Backed Receivables, LLC 2005 FR3 Mortgage Pass-Through Certificates, Series 2005-FR3 (Wells Fargo) possession of [former home  owner]’s former residence.  [Former home  owner] complains that the trial court erred by (1) denying her the opportunity to seek legal counsel; (2) awarding possession to Wells Fargo in spite of a conflicting claim to ownership; (3) failing to address Wells Fargo’s failure to attend court-ordered mediation; and (4) abusing its authority by requiring her to post a $34,200 supersedeas bond for the appeal.  We hold that [former home  owner] waived these complaints and affirm.

After [former home  owner] defaulted on her mortgage, her private residence became the subject of a nonjudicial foreclosure sale.  Wells Fargo became owner of the residence under a substitute trustee’s deed.  [former home  owner] continued to live in the residence, so Wells Fargo instituted this forcible detainer lawsuit in justice court to obtain possession of the property.  The justice court granted Wells Fargo possession of the property, and [former home  owner] appealed that judgment to the county court at law.  The court at law tried the case de novo and entered final judgment in favor of Wells Fargo.


In its response brief, Wells Fargo contends that [former home  owner] failed to preserve any of her complaints on appeal.  In order to properly preserve a complaint for appellate review, the record must show that (1) the complaint was made to the trial court by a timely request, objection, or motion and (2) the trial court ruled on or refused to rule on the request, objection, or motion.  Tex. R. App. P. 33.1(a).  This rule applies equally to pro se litigants as it does to those represented by counsel.  “Pro se litigants,” like [former home  owner], “are held to the same standards as licensed attorneys and must comply with all applicable laws and rules of procedure.”  Hope’s Fin. Mgmt. v. Chase Manhattan Mortg. Corp., 172 S.W.3d 105, 107 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2005, pet. denied); Kanow v. Brownshadel, 691 S.W.2d 804, 806 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 1985, no writ); see West Columbia Nat’l Bank v. Griffith, 902 S.W.2d 201, 206 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 1995, writ denied); accord Scoville v. Shaffer, 9 S.W.3d 201, 204 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 1999, no pet.); see also Mansfield State Bank v. Cohn, 573 S.W.2d 181, 184–85 (Tex. 1978).

With respect to [former home  owner]’s first complaint, the record nowhere reflects that [former home  owner] asked for additional time to seek legal counsel before trial or that the trial court denied such a request.  On the contrary, the trial court’s final judgment states, “Defendant Cynthia [former home  owner] appeared pro se and announced ready.”  After the close of trial, [former home  owner] asked the trial court, “Could I have gotten an attorney?”  As [former home  owner]’s question reflects, this request was untimely.  Thus, [former home  owner] did not preserve this issue for appellate review.  See Tex. R. App. P. 33.1(a).

[former home  owner]’s complaint that the trial court’s ruling does not acknowledge a conflicting claim to ownership is likewise unpreserved.  [former home  owner] did not object to the admissibility of the evidence that Wells Fargo presented to the trial court, nor did she offer any evidence of her own to show that she or another had a superior right to immediate possession, which is the only issue in a forcible detainer action.  Tex. R. Civ. P. 746; see Dormady v. Dinero Land & Cattle Co., 61 S.W.3d 555, 557 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 2001, pet. dism’d w.o.j.).  To the extent [former home  owner] alleges that a conflicting right to ownership exists, that issue lies beyond the scope of a forcible detainer action.  Dormady, 61 S.W.3d at 557; see Fandey v. Lee, 880 S.W.2d 164, 169 (Tex. App.—El Paso 1994, writ denied) (“Where title to the property is directly involved in the suit, the justice and county courts lack jurisdiction.”). 

With respect to [former home  owner]’s third issue, the record does not contain any written order requiring the parties to mediate their dispute.  It shows only that the trial court delayed entry of judgment for half an hour so that [former home  owner] could “go talk to” Wells Fargo’s counsel “and see if you can’t work out an arrangement.”  This language does not require Wells Fargo to take any action.  Further, [former home  owner] did not move for sanctions against Wells Fargo based on any failure to attend mediation.  As a result, [former home  owner] waived this issue as well.

[former home  owner] waived her final complaint, that the trial court abused its authority in requiring her to supersede the judgment, by failing to present it to the trial court in the first instance.  The record shows that, although the justice court granted [former home  owner]’s request to proceed in forma pauperis, [former home  owner] informed the court that she was going to post the bond “right now because I do have $34,000.”  By agreeing to post the bond, [former home  owner] waived any complaint about the bond requirement.[1] 


We hold that [former home  owner] waived her appellate complaints.  We therefore affirm the judgment of the trial court.
                                                                      Jane Bland

Panel consists of Justices Keyes, Bland, and Sharp.

SOURCE:  First Court of Appeals - 01-10-00931-CV - 4/12/12 [ "former home owner" substituted for name of appellant ]

No comments: