Friday, April 27, 2012

Eviction suits & appeals are of limited scope

Limited nature of eviction suits does not change upon appeal from Justice Court to the County Court at Law even though county courts have broader jurisdiction with respect to suit that originate in those courts

The sole issue to be determined in a forcible detainer action is the entitlement to actual and immediate possession, and the merits of the title shall not be adjudicated. Hong Kong Dev., Inc. v. Nguyen, 229 S.W.3d 415, 434 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2007, no pet.); Dass, Inc. v. Smith, 206 S.W.3d 197, 200 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2006, no pet.).
A justice court in the precinct in which real property is located has jurisdiction over a forcible detainer suit but is expressly deprived of jurisdiction to determine or adjudicate title to land. See Tex. Prop. Code Ann. § 24.004 (West 2000); Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. § 27.031(a)(2),(b)(4) (West Supp. 2011). A forcible detainer suit may be appealed to the county court, in which trial is de novo. Tex. R. Civ. P. 749; Hong Kong, 229 S.W.3d at 433–34. A county court’s appellate jurisdiction is confined to the limits of the justice court. Hong Kong, 229 S.W.3d at 433–34. Thus, a county court that conducts a de novo review of a forcible detainer action is restricted to the jurisdictional limits that existed in the justice court, regardless of other statutory grants of jurisdiction to the county court. Black v. Washington Mut. Bank, 318 S.W.3d 414, 417 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2010, pet. dism’d w.o.j.).
The justice court, and a county court on appeal, lack jurisdiction to resolve any questions of title beyond the immediate right to possession but a justice court is not deprived of jurisdiction merely by the existence of a title dispute. See Rice v. Pinney, 51 S.W.3d 705, 713 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2001, no pet.). Rather, it is only deprived of jurisdiction if the right to immediate possession necessarily requires the resolution of a title dispute. Id. Courts have specifically addressed whether a justice court has jurisdiction over a forcible detainer suit where the case also involves a dispute over a trustee’s deed conveying property purchased at a foreclosure sale.
Courts have explained:
[A] judgment of possession in a forcible detainer action is a determination only of the right to immediate possession of the premises, and does not determine the ultimate rights of the parties to any other issue in controversy relating to the realty in question. . . . [Parties] have the right to sue in the district court to determine whether the trustee’s deed should be cancelled, independent of [the] award of possession of the premises in the forcible detainer action [.] Id. at 710 (quoting Martinez v. Beasley, 572 S.W.2d 83, 85 (Tex. Civ. App.—Corpus Christi 1978, no writ)) (emphasis in original). “To prevail in a forcible detainer action, a plaintiff is not required to prove title, but is only required to show sufficient evidence of ownership to demonstrate a superior right to immediate possession.” Id. at 709. In Rice, the Dallas Court of Appeals held that where a deed of trust established a landlord and tenant at sufferance relationship between the purchaser at the foreclosure sale and the previous owners or those holding under them, there was an “independent basis on which the trial court could determine the issue of immediate possession without resolving the issue of title to the property.” Id. at 712.


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