Cantu v. Howard S. Grossman, P.A.

Decision Date29 January 2008
Docket NumberNo. 14-06-00078-CV.,14-06-00078-CV.
Citation251 S.W.3d 731
PartiesMark A. CANTU, Appellant, v. HOWARD S. GROSSMAN, P.A., Appellee.
CourtTexas Court of Appeals

Juan Rocha Jr., Robert Schell, McAllen, for appellant.

Mark A. Cantu, McAllen, pro se.

Peter Michael Kelly, Houston, for appellee.

Panel consists of Justices FROST, SEYMORE, and GUZMAN.



In this case, we are asked to consider for the first time whether the filing of a foreign judgment is subject to our state's venue statutes. Appellee Howard S. Grossman, P.A. obtained a Florida judgment against appellant Mark A. Cantu and filed the judgment in Harris County. Cantu moved to transfer venue to Hidalgo County, where he resides and maintains his business and property. After considering the purpose of the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act and the interpretation of similar statutes by other states, we conclude that the general venue statute applies. We therefore reverse and remand with instructions to transfer the cause to a court of competent jurisdiction in Hidalgo County, and we do not reach Cantu's remaining issue.


Grossman sued Cantu in Florida for tortious interference with contract. After the Florida trial court struck Cantu's defensive pleadings as a discovery sanction, Grossman obtained a final summary judgment in the amount of $833,000 plus prejudgment interest of $516,665, for a total of $1,349,665. Cantu appealed. On an extensive record and after full briefing by both parties, a Florida court of appeals affirmed the final summary judgment. Grossman also obtained a final judgment for attorneys' fees and costs in the amount of $25,530.1

Pursuant to the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act ("UEFJA"), Grossman filed the two Florida judgments in the 215th District Court for Harris County, Texas.2 In response, Cantu filed a "Motion to Transfer Venue, and, Subject Thereto, Motion for New Trial, Alternatively, Motion for Denial of Recognition of Foreign Judgment." The trial court denied Cantu's Motion to Transfer Venue and his Motion for New Trial and Alternative Motion for Denial of Recognition of Foreign State Judgment.3 Cantu appealed. In two issues, he challenges the trial court's denial of both motions. Due to our disposition of the venue question, we do not reach Cantu's remaining issue.


In his first issue, Cantu argues the trial court erred in denying his motion to transfer venue to Hidalgo County. When reviewing the denial of a motion to transfer venue, we consider the entire record. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem.Code Ann. § 15.064(b) (Vernon 2002). Relying on Texas's general venue provision, Cantu contends venue is proper only in Hidalgo County, the county of his residence. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem.Code Ann. § 15.002(a)(2) (Vernon 2002) (providing all lawsuits shall be brought, inter alia, in county of defendant's residence). Grossman responds that under the UEFJA, venue is proper in any county, including Harris County. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem.Code Ann. § 35.003(a) (Vernon 1997) (providing copy of foreign judgment "may be filed in the office of the clerk of any court of competent jurisdiction of this state").

A. Venue Challenge

Venue concerns the geographic location within the forum where the case may be tried. See, e.g., Boyle v. State, 820 S.W.2d 122, 139-40 (Tex.Crim.App.1989) (en banc); see also Gordon v. Jones, 196 S.W.3d 376, 383 (Tex.App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2006, no pet.) ("Venue may and generally does refer to a particular county, but may also refer to a particular court."); Liu v. Cici Enters., LP, No. 14-05-00827-CV, 2007 WL 43816, at *2 (Tex.App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2007, no pet.) (mem. op.) (same). "Generally, chapter 15 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code governs venue of actions." In re Tex. Dept. of Transp., 218 S.W.3d 74, 76 (Tex.2007). The plaintiff has the first choice to fix venue in a proper county by bringing the action in the county of his choice. In re Masonite Corp., 997 S.W.2d 194, 197 (Tex. 1999). If a defendant objects to the plaintiff's choice through a timely motion to transfer venue, the plaintiff must prove that venue is proper in the county of suit. Id.; Wilson v. Tex. Parks & Wildlife Dept., 886 S.W.2d 259, 260-61 (Tex.1994). If the plaintiff fails to establish proper venue, the trial court must transfer venue to the county specified in the defendant's motion to transfer, provided that the defendant has requested transfer to another county of proper venue. Masonite, 997 S.W.2d at 197. On this point, the defendant has the burden to provide prima facie proof. Id.

In response to Cantu's challenge, Grossman asserted that venue was proper under the following terms of the UEFJA:

(a) A copy of a foreign judgment authenticated in accordance with an act of congress or a statute of this state may be filed in the office of the clerk of any court of competent jurisdiction of this state.[4]

(b) The clerk shall treat the foreign judgment in the same manner as a judgment of the court in which the foreign judgment is filed.

(c) A filed foreign judgment has the same effect and is subject to the same procedures, defenses, and proceedings for reopening, vacating, staying, enforcing, or satisfying a judgment as a judgment of the court in which it is filed.

Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem.Code Ann. § 35.003 (Vernon 1997). Grossman offered no additional evidence supporting the venue choice of Harris County but instead asserts that, under section 35.003, a foreign-judgment creditor may maintain venue in any Texas court of competent jurisdiction. Cantu, on the other hand, argues that this court should follow the reasoning of the courts of our sister states, conclude that the UEFJA is silent regarding venue, and apply our general venue statutes.

Although our dissenting colleague contends that we should determine whether the general venue statute applies to the filing of a foreign judgment by focusing on the word "lawsuit" in the venue statute, we follow the approach of every other state that has addressed this question, and begin our analysis with the Uniform Act.

B. Construction of the UEFJA

The construction of a statute is a question of law, which we review de novo. F.F.P. Operating Partners, L.P. v. Duenez, 237 S.W.3d 680, 683 (Tex.2007). And because the UEFJA is a uniform act, we must begin our analysis with the Act's purpose. Tex. Gov't Code Ann. § 311.028 (Vernon 2005) ("A uniform act included in a code shall be construed to effect its general purpose to make uniform the law of those states that enact it"); see also id. § 312.005 ("In interpreting a statute, a court shall diligently attempt to ascertain legislative intent and shall consider at all times the old law, the evil, and the remedy."); Panhandle & S.F. Ry. Co. v. Friend, 91 S.W.2d 922, 925 (Tex.Civ.App.-Austin 1936, no writ) (interpreting a statute with language similar to section 311.028, and stating, "This rule has peculiar application to procedural statutes ... to secure to the litigant as simple, prompt, and expeditious determination of his case as is consistent with fair and impartial justice, reducing as far as practical to a minimum the delay and expense incident to reversal and new trial.").

Our ultimate goal in construing a statute is to give effect to the Legislature's intent as expressed in the language of the statute. F.F.P. Operating Partners, L.P., 237 S.W.3d at 683; Horizon/CMS Healthcare Corp. v. Auld, 34 S.W.3d 887, 892 (Tex.2000). In doing so, we must always consider the statute as a whole rather than its isolated provisions. Helena Chem. Co. v. Wilkins, 47 S.W.3d 486, 493 (Tex.2001) (citing Morrison v. Chan, 699 S.W.2d 205, 208 (Tex.1985)). "We should not give one provision a meaning out of harmony or inconsistent with other provisions, although it might be susceptible to such a construction standing alone." Id. (citing Barr v. Bernhard, 562 S.W.2d 844, 849 (Tex.1978)). Instead, we presume that both the statute and the legislative act are intended to be effective in their entirety. Allegheny Mut. Cas. v. State, 710 S.W.2d 139, 141 (Tex.App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1986, pet. ref'd). Thus, in construing a statute—regardless of whether it is ambiguous on its face—we may consider, among other matters, the object sought to be attained; the circumstances under which the statute was enacted; common law or former statutory provisions, including laws on the same or similar subjects; and the consequences of a particular construction. See Tex. Gov't Code Ann. § 311.023 (Vernon 2005).

C. Purpose of the UEFJA

By examining the rulings of other states that have enacted various versions of the UEFJA, we can determine that the Act is

(a) intended "to give the holder of foreign judgment the same rights and remedies as holders of domestic judgments, and to make foreign judgments just as easy to enforce." Redondo Constr. Corp. v. U.S., 157 F.3d 1060, 1065 (6th Cir.1998). Thus, the UEFJA is not intended to give holders of foreign judgments greater rights than holders of domestic judgments.

(b) "designed merely as a facilitating device and was not intended to alter any substantive rights of the parties in an action for enforcement of a foreign judgment." Me. v. SeKap, S.A. Greek Co-op. Cigarette Mfg. Co., S.A., 392 N.J.Super. 227, 920 A.2d 667, 672 (N.J.Super.Ct.App.Div.2007). It is reasonable, then, to interpret the Act in a manner that does not alter the substantive rights afforded by Texas venue statutes to Texas defendants.

(c) enacted "to facilitate the interstate enforcement of judgments in any jurisdiction where the judgment debtor is found." Hamwi v. Zollar, 299 Ill.App.3d 1088, 234 Ill.Dec. 253, 702 N.E.2d 593, 597 (Ill.App.Ct.1998). Thus, the UEFJA may be interpreted in a manner consistent with the general venue statute, under which venue may be maintained in the county of the...

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