Massie v. Hutcheson

Decision Date27 June 1925
Docket Number(No. 634-4153.)
PartiesMASSIE v. HUTCHESON et al.
CourtTexas Supreme Court

Kinder & Russell, of Plainview, Kenneth Bain, of Floydada, and I. W. Stephens, of Fort Worth, for plaintiff in error.

Martin & Williams, of Plainview, T. P. Adams, of Wichita Falls, and P. B. Randolph, of Plainview, for defendants in error.


The land in controversy is survey 109, block 1, Floyd county, Tex. Suit was filed January 3, 1910. The parties will be designated as in the trial court. Prior to 1878, this survey of land was owned by Joseph Jones, and plaintiffs are his heirs. Defendant, Massie, claimed the land under a tax deed made in 1892, and which by the trial court was held ineffectual to pass title. He also claimed under deed from the heirs of one C. W. Haxton. His main contention was that on January 14, 1878, Jones and wife and delivered to Haxton a deed to the land in controversy, and thereby all title passed from them, leaving plaintiffs as their heirs, without title on which to base their action.

On trial of the case, it was sought to prove by parol testimony and circumstantial evidence execution of the deed of January 14, 1878, and its contents. The plaintiffs objected to the introduction of all of the evidence offered, and also to the submission of any issue as to the execution and delivery of the deed referred to, on the ground that if there had ever been such deed, C. W. Haxton had voluntarily destroyed the same, and he and those holding under or through him should not be permitted to resort to secondary evidence to prove the execution or contents of same. The trial court submitted to the jury two special issues, as follows:

"First. Did Dr. Jones and wife execute and deliver to C. W. Haxton on or about the 14th day of January, 1878, a deed to survey No. 109, the land in controversy in this cause?"

"Second. Did C. W. Haxton voluntarily burn the instrument which he claimed was a deed to land in Texas?"

Both of these issues were answered in the affirmative. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the plaintiffs for the land in controversy By recitations in the judgment and statements in findings of fact and conclusions of law filed by him, the judge explains his action in so entering judgment, and the substance of his explanation is this: That when the question of the admissibility of evidence as to the execution and contents of the deed came up, defendant's counsel insisted that the question of whether or not the deed was voluntarily destroyed by Haxton was one for the jury to determine, and not the court, before it could be held that the evidence was inadmissible on that ground. At defendant's request, the court therefore submitted this question to the jury, in connection with special issue No. 1. That when the jury returned their answers, showing that Haxton had voluntarily destroyed the deed in question, he concluded that the testimony with reference to the deed and its contents was improper, and should not have been permitted to go to the jury, upon the principle that Haxton having willfully destroyed the deed, he and those claiming under him, would not be permitted to offer parol testimony as to its existence and contents. He therefore felt authorized to disregard special issue No. 1 and the finding thereto, because there was no legal evidence authorizing its submission.

The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court. In doing so it held that the first issue was a material one, but further held that the evidence was insufficient to support the finding of the jury to that issue. For that reason it was concluded that the judgment was correct, and should be affirmed, although the trial court stated an erroneous reason for entering it. 258 S. W. 244.

The fundamental question for decision is this: The trial court having submitted to the jury special issue No. 1, which was a material one under the pleadings, and the jury having returned an answer thereto, which was accepted by the court, could the court thereupon enter a judgment contrary to such finding, even though it be found, by reason of the answer to special issue No. 2, that all the evidence upon which answer to special issue No. 1 is based was improperly admitted, and such answer is in effect without any legal evidence to support it? If the trial court was without power, in the face of the statute, to disregard such finding, even though without any evidence to support it, then the Court of Civil Appeals was without power to affirm the judgment, even though it was a correct one in the light of the undisputed facts.

Article 1990, V. S. Tex. Civil Statutes, in its plain language, and as interpreted by the courts of this state, gives an unequivocal answer to this query. That article provides:

"In all cases where a special verdict of the jury is rendered * * * the court shall, unless the same be set aside and a new trial granted, render judgment thereon."

In the case of Waller v. Liles, 96 Tex. 21, 70 S. W. 17, tried upon special issues, the court say:

"It is deducible from the ruling in that case [Ablowich v. Bank, 95 Tex. 429], that the findings of the jury upon the issues made by the pleadings in a case, although against the undisputed evidence or without evidence to support them, cannot be disregarded, but must constitute the only basis upon which any proper judgment can be rendered."

See, also, Henne & Meyer v. Moultrie, 97 Tex 216, 77 S. W. 607; Fant v. Sullivan (Tex. Civ. App.) 152 S. W. 515; Swearingen v. Swearingen (Tex. Civ. App.) 193 S. W. 445; Thompkins v. Hooker (Tex. Civ. App.) 229 S. W. 351.

We think the authorities unquestionably establish the proposition that if the trial court submits an issue to the jury which under the pleadings is a material one to the decision of the case, and the jury is permitted to answer that issue, which answer is received by the court, then, under the statute, the trial court is without discretion except to set aside the finding and grant a new trial, or to render judgment upon and in conformity to the finding, even though the court should conclude that all of the testimony on which the answer to such issue is based was improperly admitted, and there is no evidence to uphold the finding.

In the present case, the issue as to whether or not Jones and wife executed and delivered the deed to Haxton was the one vital issue in the case. If answered in the affirmative and properly supported by legal evidence, it precluded a recovery by plaintiffs. If answered in the negative, plaintiffs were entitled to prevail. If submitted to the jury at all, its materiality did not depend upon the sufficiency of the proof to sustain an...

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    ...because of failure to respond to discovery requests ... often involve resolution [by a judge] of questions of fact."); Massie v. Hutcheson, 270 S.W. 544, 545 (Tex.Com.App.1925, holding approved) (stating that determining whether a party intentionally destroyed evidence is a preliminary ques......
  • Massie v. Hutcheson
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    ...on it was required to rebut all inferences of fraudulent intent or purpose before secondary evidence was admissible. Massie v. Hutcheson (1925), 110 Tex. 558, 270 S.W. 544, opinion Applying the foregoing rules to the case at bar, the following conclusions are in our opinion inescapable: The......
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