Beaumont Bank, N.A. v. Buller, No. C-9202

CourtSupreme Court of Texas
Writing for the CourtCOOK; GONZALEZ, J., files concurring opinion joined by CORNYN; MAUZY; GONZALEZ; CORNYN; MAUZY
Citation806 S.W.2d 223
PartiesBEAUMONT BANK, N.A., and its Successor-in-Interest, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Petitioner, v. Patricia H. BULLER, Individually and as Legal Representative of the Estate of Paul Buller, Respondent
Decision Date03 April 1991
Docket NumberNo. C-9202

Page 223

806 S.W.2d 223
BEAUMONT BANK, N.A., and its Successor-in-Interest, the
Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Petitioner,
v.
Patricia H. BULLER, Individually and as Legal Representative
of the Estate of Paul Buller, Respondent.
No. C-9202.
April 3, 1991.

Page 224

William B. Allison, William B. Paddock, for petitioner.

C. Marshall Rea, Houston, for respondent.

OPINION

COOK, Justice.

This case arises from the trial court's application of the Texas "turnover" statute, the procedural device by which judgment creditors may reach assets of a debtor that are otherwise difficult to attach or levy on by ordinary legal process. 1 The trial judge found that the respondent, Patricia H. Buller, both individually and as estate representative, possessed cash that was owned by the estate of her deceased husband. The trial court ordered Mrs. Buller to turn over the cash to the sheriff as partial satisfaction of the bank's judgment against the decedent's estate. The court of appeals reversed, holding there was "no evidence of the existence of the asset which is the subject of the turnover." 777 S.W.2d 763, 765. The issue presented to this court is whether the court of appeals properly reversed the trial court on "no evidence" grounds. For the reasons set forth below, the judgment of the court of appeals is reversed.

Paul Buller died on October 25, 1985, leaving a will designating his wife, Patricia Buller, sole heir and independent executrix of his estate. At the time of his death, Paul Buller owned a $100,000 certificate of deposit ("C.D."), which was deposited at the First State Bank of Lumberton in a bank account held jointly with his wife. This C.D. was scheduled as community property in the estate inventory. Mr. Buller was also guarantor on promissory notes totalling $199,553.09 held by Beaumont Bank.

On December 2, 1985, proceeds from the C.D. totalling $99,736.99 were transferred from the Lumberton bank account into the "Special Trust Account" of Marshall Rea--Mrs. Buller's attorney. Between December 23, 1985 and February 20, 1986, Mr. Rea made three wire transfers, totalling $47,010, from another trust account (styled "Trust Account no. 5") to Mrs. Buller's relatives. Although at the time of these

Page 225

wire transfers "Trust Account no. 5" did not contain estate money, Mr. Rea testified he considered these transfers to be "loans" against the estate funds. On February 28, 1986, Mr. Rea transferred $101,590 from the "Special Trust Account" to "Trust Account no. 5". Subsequently, Mr. Rea allegedly made more than thirty additional disbursements, including mortgage payments for Mrs. Buller's home, cash payments to Mrs. Buller, and payments for Mr. Rea's legal fees. During the approximately two years that Marshall Rea managed the estate of Paul Buller, he disbursed a total of $103,661.24 pursuant to the instructions of Mrs. Buller.

Soon after Mr. Buller's death, representatives of Beaumont Bank contacted Mr. Rea requesting that Mr. Buller's estate pledge the $100,000 C.D. as additional collateral against the promissory notes guaranteed by Mr. Buller. The parties engaged in several discussions concerning Beaumont Bank's claims against the Buller estate. A primary concern of these discussions was the ultimate disposition of the C.D., which Beaumont Bank believed was still deposited in the Lumberton Bank. At some point in these negotiations, Mr. Rea revealed to Beaumont Bank that the C.D. money had been transferred into his personal trust account.

In January 1986, the promissory notes guaranteed by the decedent went into default. In February 1986, Beaumont Bank filed suit on the notes, recovering a judgment in excess of $270,000. Subsequently, the Bank filed a motion for turnover relief, and a hearing was held on this issue on January 7, 1988 and February 8, 1988. 2 Judgment was rendered in favor of Beaumont Bank, and on March 14, 1988, the trial court issued an Order for Turnover Relief in the amount of $97,661.24.

At the turnover relief hearing, Mrs. Buller testified that the funds transferred from the Lumberton account to Mr. Rea's trust fund were the proceeds from the $100,000 C.D. belonging to Mr. Buller's estate. Mrs. Buller also testified that she was fully cognizant of her fiduciary duties as a personal representative of the estate, which included a duty to ascertain the liabilities of the estate. Nonetheless, Mrs. Buller admitted to personally authorizing the transfers from Mr. Rea's trust accounts for the express purpose of thwarting the seizure of the C.D. monies by Beaumont Bank, a legitimate creditor of the estate. The evidence at the hearing showed many, if not all, of the various disbursements from Mr. Rea's trust account were made to Mrs. Buller and other persons having no legitimate claim on the estate of Paul Buller.

When ordered by the trial court to provide receipts of the disbursements of the $100,000, Mrs. Buller provided only one: a receipt of the $17,000 wire transfer from Mr. Rea's "Special Trust Account" to the account of her son-in-law, who had no legitimate claim against the estate. Mrs. Buller claimed to have no other receipt that could account for how she spent the C.D. monies. Other testimony by Mrs. Buller revealed that she transferred approximately $250,000 to an account in the Cayman Islands in the summer of 1986. Mrs. Buller claimed that these Cayman Island funds were proceeds from an unspecified life insurance policy; however, no evidence was ever introduced as to the origin or exact amount of the alleged life insurance policy. Indeed, when questioned under oath about

Page 226

this account, Mrs. Buller claimed she could not even remember the name of the city in which this account was located. At this point in her testimony, Mrs. Buller was reprimanded by the trial court for laughing on the witness stand. Based on these facts, the trial court granted the requested turnover relief.

Although the court of appeals reversed the trial court on the ground that there was "no evidence" to support the issuance of the turnover order, the court of appeals should have reviewed the trial court's judgment under an abuse of discretion standard. See, e.g., Buttles v. Navarro, 766 S.W.2d 893 (Tex.App.--San Antonio 1989, no writ); Sloan v. Douglass, 713 S.W.2d 436 (Tex.App.--Fort Worth 1986, writ ref'd n.r.e.); Barlow v. Lane, 745 S.W.2d 451 (Tex.App.--Waco 1988, writ denied). Whether there was no evidence to support the turnover award would, of course, be a relevant consideration in determining if the trial court abused its discretionary authority in issuing the order.

A trial court may be reversed for abusing its discretion only when the court of appeals finds the court acted in an unreasonable or arbitrary manner. See Downer v. Aquamarine Operators, Inc., 701 S.W.2d 238 (Tex.1985). Stated somewhat differently, abuse of discretion occurs when a trial court acts "without reference to any guiding rules and principles." Id. at 241-42 (citations omitted). A corollary principle is that the court of appeals may not reverse for abuse of discretion merely because it disagrees with a decision by the trial court, if that decision was within the trial court's discretionary authority. Id. at 242. In the context of turnover orders, it has been held that a trial court's issuance of a turnover order, even if predicated on an erroneous conclusion of law, will not be reversed for abuse of discretion if the judgment is sustainable for any reason. Buttles, 766 S.W.2d at 894-95. We now address whether the trial court abused its discretionary authority in ordering Mrs. Buller to turn over the nearly $100,000 in cash directly traceable to her in her representative capacity.

The evidence is indisputable that the proceeds from the original C.D., which was estate property, were traced to Mrs. Buller. Thus, since Mrs. Buller held estate property, she became a holder of property of a judgment debtor, the estate. 3 Once these assets were traced to her in her representative capacity, a presumption arose that those assets were in her possession. The burden then shifted to her to account for the assets. This is consistent with the legislative intent underlying the turnover statute:

The changes [in the turnover statute] are open-ended in that they allow a judgment creditor to get aid in collection from the Court in the form of an order which requires the debtor to bring to the Court all documents or property used to satisfy a judgment. The actual effect of the bill is to require the burden of production of property which is subject to execution to be placed with the debtor instead of a creditor attempting to satisfy his judgment.

Hittner, Texas Post-Judgment Turnover and Receivership Statutes, 45 Tex.Bar J. 417, 418 (April 1982) (quoting House and Senate Committee reports, Tex.Rev.Civ.Stat.Ann. art. 3827a (Vernon Supp.1980) (now Tex.Civ.Prac. & Rem.Code sec. 32.001 (Vernon 1986 and Supp.1991))). The efficacy of such a rule is underscored when the asset is cash. Unlike other assets, cash is fungible; thus, it will almost always be impossible for a judgment creditor to specifically identify a particular cash sum. Consequently, we hold that once cash was traced to Mrs. Buller, she was presumed to possess the entire amount traced and it became her burden to show she was not in possession of all or part of the traced amount.

At trial, Mrs. Buller's primary defense to enforcement of the statute was her argument that she had spent the original $100,000

Page 227

entrusted to her. 4 The basis of Mrs. Buller's defense is whether or not she can prove that estate monies were exhausted. A careful analysis of the evidence and testimony before the trial court shows that the evidence was not so compelling as to require the trial court's acceptance of Mrs. Buller's blanket assertion that all of the estate funds were expended. Clearly, the trial court was within its discretionary authority in disbelieving Mrs. Buller's...

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646 practice notes
  • In Re: Jane Doe 2, No. 00-0191
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • March 7, 2000
    ...principles, e.g., Goode v. Shoukfeh, 943 S.W.2d 441, 446 (Tex. 1997), or to rule without supporting evidence, Beaumont Bank v. Buller, 806 S.W.2d 223, 226 (Tex. 1991)."). 27. In re Missouri Pacific R.R. Co., 998 S.W.2d 212, 216 (Tex. 1999) ("A trial court does not have the discretion to mak......
  • CSR Ltd. v. Link, No. 95-0933
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • August 16, 1996
    ...the trial court's decision, if that decision was within the trial court's discretionary authority. See Beaumont Bank, N.A. v. Buller, 806 S.W.2d 223, 226 (Tex.1991). The reviewing court must give deference to the trial court's resolution of a factual issue, and cannot set that decision asid......
  • In re Lee, No. 11–0732.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • September 27, 2013
    ...bases its decisions on conflicting evidence.” (quoting Davis v. Huey, 571 S.W.2d 859, 862 (Tex.1978))); Beaumont Bank, N.A. v. Buller, 806 S.W.2d 223, 226 (Tex.1991) (“Although the court of appeals reversed the trial court on the ground that there was ‘no evidence’ to support the issuance o......
  • Madeksho v. Abraham, Watkins, Nichols Etc., No. 14-01-00453-CV.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • July 10, 2003
    ...through injunction or other means in order to reach property to obtain satisfaction of judgment); Beaumont Bank, N.A. v. Buller, 806 S.W.2d 223, 224 (Tex. 1991) (explaining that turnover statute is "the procedural device by which judgment creditors may reach assets of a debtor that are othe......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
646 cases
  • In Re: Jane Doe 2, No. 00-0191
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • March 7, 2000
    ...principles, e.g., Goode v. Shoukfeh, 943 S.W.2d 441, 446 (Tex. 1997), or to rule without supporting evidence, Beaumont Bank v. Buller, 806 S.W.2d 223, 226 (Tex. 1991)."). 27. In re Missouri Pacific R.R. Co., 998 S.W.2d 212, 216 (Tex. 1999) ("A trial court does not have the discretion to mak......
  • CSR Ltd. v. Link, No. 95-0933
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • August 16, 1996
    ...the trial court's decision, if that decision was within the trial court's discretionary authority. See Beaumont Bank, N.A. v. Buller, 806 S.W.2d 223, 226 (Tex.1991). The reviewing court must give deference to the trial court's resolution of a factual issue, and cannot set that decision asid......
  • In re Lee, No. 11–0732.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • September 27, 2013
    ...bases its decisions on conflicting evidence.” (quoting Davis v. Huey, 571 S.W.2d 859, 862 (Tex.1978))); Beaumont Bank, N.A. v. Buller, 806 S.W.2d 223, 226 (Tex.1991) (“Although the court of appeals reversed the trial court on the ground that there was ‘no evidence’ to support the issuance o......
  • Madeksho v. Abraham, Watkins, Nichols Etc., No. 14-01-00453-CV.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • July 10, 2003
    ...through injunction or other means in order to reach property to obtain satisfaction of judgment); Beaumont Bank, N.A. v. Buller, 806 S.W.2d 223, 224 (Tex. 1991) (explaining that turnover statute is "the procedural device by which judgment creditors may reach assets of a debtor that are othe......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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