Moser v. Dillon Invs., LLC, 05-21-00204-CV

CourtCourt of Appeals of Texas
Writing for the CourtOpinion by Justice Myers
Citation649 S.W.3d 259
Parties Christopher J. MOSER, TRUSTEE OF the ESTATE OF Morgan MASON, Appellant v. DILLON INVESTMENTS, LLC d/b/a Super 8 Addison, Appellee
Docket Number05-21-00204-CV
Decision Date02 August 2022

649 S.W.3d 259

Christopher J. MOSER, TRUSTEE OF the ESTATE OF Morgan MASON, Appellant
v.
DILLON INVESTMENTS, LLC d/b/a Super 8 Addison, Appellee

No. 05-21-00204-CV

Court of Appeals of Texas, Dallas.

Opinion Filed August 2, 2022


Caitlyn Hubbard, Katherine Hopkins, Kelly Hart & Hallman LLP, Fort Worth, Tej R. Paranjpe, PMR Law, Houston, Andrew K. Gardner, Baron and Budd, PC, Dallas, Benjamin H. Ruemke, William N. Haacker, PMR LAW - Paranjpe Mahadass Ruemke LLP, Houston, Louis M. Phillips, Kelly Hart & Pitre, Baton Rouge, LA, for Appellant.

Robert B. Gilbreath, Hawkins Parnell & Young LLP, Dallas, Troy David Helling, Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani, Dallas, Rebekah Breque, Hawkins Parnell & Young, LLP, Austin, Todd Alan Hoodenpyle, Singer & Levick, PC, Addison, for Appellee.

Before Justices Myers, Osborne, and Nowell

OPINION

Opinion by Justice Myers

Christopher J. Moser, trustee of the bankruptcy estate of Morgan Mason, appeals the summary judgment in favor of Dillon Investments, LLC d/b/a Super 8 Addison. Moser brings one issue on appeal contending the trial court erred by granting appellee's motion for summary judgment. We reverse the trial court's judgment and remand the cause for further proceedings.

649 S.W.3d 262

BACKGROUND

In her original petition, Morgan Mason alleged that on June 30, 2017, she was staying at Super 8 Addison's hotel. While she was showering, the bathtub floor shifted, she lost her balance, fell, and hit her head on the side of the bathtub. She alleged she "suffered pain and serious injury to her brain, head, neck, and back," which she described as "severe and permanent injuries."

On April 13, 2018, Mason filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding. She did not list her potential claim against appellee as one of her assets. She received a discharge on July 18, 2018. The bankruptcy case terminated on December 5, 2018.

On June 13, 2019, less than two years after the accident, Mason filed suit against appellee alleging appellee was negligent and caused her injuries. Mason sought damages of over $1 million.

Appellee moved for summary judgment on the ground that Mason lacked standing to bring the claim and was judicially estopped from bringing the claim. Appellee argued that when Mason filed the bankruptcy proceeding, all her assets became vested in the bankruptcy estate. Appellee asserted that because Mason did not disclose the claim in her bankruptcy schedules, the claim was not returned to her at the end of the bankruptcy proceeding but remained the property of the bankruptcy estate and that only the bankruptcy trustee had standing to assert the claim. Mason filed a motion in bankruptcy court to reopen her bankruptcy to amend her schedules to include her claim against appellee. The bankruptcy court granted the motion.

On January 5, 2021, more than two years after the accident, Moser, the trustee of Mason's bankruptcy estate, filed an amended petition in the trial court on behalf of Mason's bankruptcy estate. The amended petition alleged the same negligence cause of action as Mason's original petition. Appellee filed an answer to the amended petition asserting many affirmative defenses and bars to suit including lack of standing and the statute of limitations.

Appellee moved for summary judgment on the ground that the claim in the amended petition was barred by the statute of limitations because it was filed more than two years after Mason was injured. Appellee asserted that even though Mason's original petition in 2019 was timely, she lacked standing to bring the claim because her claim belonged to the bankruptcy estate and only the bankruptcy trustee had standing to bring the claim. Appellee argued that because Mason lacked standing in 2019, the trial court lacked jurisdiction over her claim, which made her petition a nullity, and Moser's amended petition filed in 2020 outside the limitations period could not relate back to Mason's original petition. The trial court granted appellee's motion for summary judgment, dismissing Moser's claim with prejudice.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT

In his issue on appeal, Moser contends the trial court erred by granting appellee's motion for summary judgment. The standard for reviewing a traditional summary judgment is well established. McAfee, Inc. v. Agilysys, Inc. , 316 S.W.3d 820, 825 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2010, no pet.). The movant has the burden of showing that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. TEX. R. CIV. P. 166a(c). In deciding whether a disputed material fact issue exists precluding summary judgment, the court considers evidence favorable to the nonmovant to be true. In re Estate of Berry , 280 S.W.3d 478, 480 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2009, no pet.). Every reasonable

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inference must be indulged in favor of the nonmovant and any doubts resolved in its favor. City of Keller v. Wilson , 168 S.W.3d 802, 824 (Tex. 2005). We review a summary judgment de novo to determine whether a party's right to prevail is established as a matter of law. Dickey v. Club Corp. of Am. , 12 S.W.3d 172, 175 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2000, pet. denied).

STANDING AND CAPACITY

When a debtor files a Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding, virtually all the debtor's assets are automatically vested in the bankruptcy estate. 11 U.S.C. § 541(a) ; Kane v. Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co. , 535 F.3d 380, 385 (5th Cir. 2008) (per curiam). The debtor must list all assets on the appropriate bankruptcy schedule. 11 U.S.C. § 521(a)(1)(B)(i). When the bankruptcy case is closed, any property listed on the asset schedule that is not disposed of in the bankruptcy proceeding "is abandoned to the debtor." Id. § 554(c). However, any undisposed asset that was not listed on the schedule of assets remains in the bankruptcy estate. Id. § 554(d) ("Unless the court orders otherwise, property of the estate that is not abandoned under this section and that is not administered in the case remains property of the estate."); Kane , 535 F.3d at 385. The trustee in a bankruptcy case is the representative of the estate and has the capacity to sue and be sued. 11 U.S.C. § 323.

When Mason filed her Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding, all her interest in her assets vested in her bankruptcy estate. See 11 U.S.C. § 541(a) ; Kane , 535 F.3d at 385. This included her claim for damages against appellee. She did not list this claim in her schedule of assets. When Mason was discharged and the bankruptcy proceeding was closed, the claim was not abandoned to her but remained in the bankruptcy estate because she did not list it in the schedule of assets.

When Mason filed her original petition against appellee less than two years after the accident, the claim was still part of the bankruptcy estate. Moser, the bankruptcy trustee, had authority to bring the claim, but he filed the amended petition about three-and-a-half years after the accident, which was outside the limitations period. See TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE ANN. § 16.003 (limitations period for personal injury is "two years after the day the cause of action accrues"). The question is whether Moser's amendment of Mason's suit "related back" to Mason's timely filed suit for limitations purposes. See id. § 16.068 (statutory relation-back doctrine).

Section 16.068 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code codifies Texas's relation-back doctrine:

If a filed pleading relates to a cause of action ... that is not subject to a plea of limitation when the pleading is filed, a subsequent amendment or supplement to the pleading that changes the facts or grounds of liability ... is not subject to a plea of limitation unless the amendment or supplement is wholly based on a new, distinct, or different transaction or occurrence.

Id. The relation-back doctrine cannot create jurisdiction where none existed. Cooke v. Karlseng , 617 S.W.3d 570, 578 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2019) ( Cooke I ), rev'd on other grounds , 615 S.W.3d 911 (Tex. 2021) (per curiam). Thus, if the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the original petition, it cannot toll limitations under the relation-back doctrine for an amended petition. Goss v. City of Houston , 391 S.W.3d 168, 175 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2012, no pet.).

In this case, Moser's amended petition alleges the same facts and cause of action as Mason's original petition. The amended

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petition also alleged the facts concerning Mason's bankruptcy. Mason's original petition was "not subject to a plea of limitation" because it was filed within two years of the accident, and Moser's amended petition was not "wholly based on a new, distinct, or different transaction or occurrence" because it alleged the same facts and cause of action as Mason's original petition. See CIV. PRAC. § 16.068. Therefore, unless Mason's original petition was a legal nullity, Moser's amended petition related back to Mason's timely original petition.

In its motion for summary judgment, appellee argued that because Mason's claim was part of the bankruptcy estate, Mason lacked standing to bring the lawsuit. Lack of standing, "in the true constitutional sense of that term, ... would deprive the trial...

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