San Patricio County v. Nueces County

Decision Date07 December 2006
Docket NumberNo. 13-05-075-CV.,No. 13-05-022-CV.,13-05-022-CV.,13-05-075-CV.
PartiesSAN PATRICIO COUNTY, Appellant, v. NUECES COUNTY, Appellee.
CourtTexas Court of Appeals

William G. Burnett, Sinton, for appellant.

Laura Garza Jimenez, County Atty., Douglas E. Chaves, James W. Wray, Jr., Chaves, Resendez & Rivero, LLP, Corpus Christi, for appellee.

Before Chief Justice VALDEZ and Justices CASTILLO and GARZA.


Opinion by Justice CASTILLO.

The parties filed separate appeals. Both appeals stem from a suit San Patricio County filed against Nueces County to determine their common boundary ("boundary suit").1 The trial court severed from the original suit, San Patricio's claim for ad valorem taxes Nueces collected on disputed property ("tax suit"). A third suit between the same parties arose because Nueces filed a bill of review in connection with the trial court's declaratory judgment in the boundary suit ("bill of review suit"). We reverse and render the judgment entered in the bill of review suit in appeal number 13-05-075-CV. We affirm the declaratory judgment entered in the boundary suit.2 We reverse and remand the judgment in the tax suit in appeal number 13-05-022-CV.


On May 31, 1972, San Patricio filed its original petition seeking a declaratory judgment that would establish the true boundary line between San Patricio and Nueces, designate in which county certain artificial and natural modifications belonged, and force Nueces to account for ad valorem taxes collected on property within the San Patricio boundary line. By declaratory judgment entered after a bench trial in the boundary suit, the trial court fixed the boundary line between the two counties. The trial court entered the judgment on April 11, 2003. The judgment became final thirty days later.3 Neither party appealed.

Alleging lack of notice of the trial court's final judgment in the boundary suit, Nueces filed a bill of review to attack the judgment on appeal. After considering the parties' competing summary-judgment motions, the trial court denied San Patricio's motion and granted Nueces's motion. In its judgment on the bill of review, the trial court incorporated the judgment previously entered in the boundary suit. On different grounds, both parties appeal the judgment.

In the tax suit, San Patricio alleged a cause of action for money had and received.4 After considering the parties' competing summary-judgment motions, the trial court granted Nueces summary judgment on jurisdictional grounds of governmental immunity and denied San Patricio's motion. San Patricio appeals the judgment, asserting the doctrine of governmental immunity does not apply.

San Patricio County's Appeal

By two issues, San Patricio appeals the bill of review judgment and the tax judgment. By its first issue, it asserts that the trial court improperly granted Nueces's bill of review because Nueces did not adduce evidence of two requirements of a bill of review. It argues that the summary judgment evidence did not prove that (1) the boundary judgment was rendered final and unappealable unmixed with any fault or negligence of Nueces, and (2) Nueces had a meritorious ground of appeal. By its second issue, San Patricio asserts that the trial court improperly dismissed the tax suit on governmental immunity grounds because the State conferred no immunity to Nueces to collect ad valorem taxes on property within San Patricio's boundary.5

B. Nueces County's Cross-Appeal

By five issues, Nueces cross-appeals the declaratory judgment in the boundary suit. It argues that the evidence is legally insufficient to sustain the determination of the boundary line as well as the natural and artificial modifications within that boundary.6


On December 17, 2002, the trial court convened a bench trial to decide the issue of the common boundary, including the natural and artificial modifications included within the boundary. The trial court entered a final judgment on April 11, 2003 that, along with other relief, determined and declared the boundary line, with natural and artificial modifications, between San Patricio and Nueces Counties. Claiming that it did not receive timely notice of the judgment and, thus, could not appeal the erroneous declaratory judgment, Nueces filed a petition for a bill of review.7 On September 24, 2004, Nueces filed a motion for partial summary judgment on grounds of a meritorious ground of appeal and official mistake. Exhibits attached to the motion include an affidavit of a court clerk and Nueces's counsel regarding the date of notice of the judgment.

San Patricio filed a response and countered with a no-evidence motion for summary judgment asserting as grounds no evidence to meet the requirements for entitlement to a bill of review and, in particular, the requirement for a bill of review that the failure to file a motion for new trial was unmixed with any fault or negligence on the part of Nueces or its counsel. Nueces filed a response to the no-evidence summary-judgment motion, conceding that it had the burden of proof as to the challenged requirements of a bill of review proceeding.

After considering the competing summary-judgment motions, the trial court granted Nueces's motion and entered judgment granting its bill of review.8 Entered on January 7, 2005, the bill of review judgment recites:

On November 9, 2004, the Court heard both parties' motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff and Defendant appeared by their lawyers and argued for [sic] their motions.

The Court found that Nueces County established conclusively and as a matter of law that this Court should grant its motion for a bill of review, therefore;

The Court grants [Nueces County's] motion for summary judgment and denies [San Patricio County's] motion for summary judgment.

The Court further ORDERS the consolidation of this case and cause No. 4704 [the boundary suit], styled, San Patricio County v. Nueces County and the adoption of the judgment rendered on April 11, 2003, in cause 4704 [the boundary suit] for all purposes in this case No.2004-6-9840 [the bill of review suit].

The Court further ORDERS that these rulings constitute an appealable final judgment in both cases because all claims have been disposed of.

Both parties appealed the judgment on different grounds. Nueces challenges solely the declared boundary. San Patricio challenges the grant of the bill of review.

A. The Law of Bill of Review Proceedings in the Summary-Judgment Context
1. The Requirements to Sustain a Post-Trial Bill of Review

A bill of review is an independent equitable action brought by a party to a former action seeking to set aside a judgment, which is no longer appealable or subject to motion for new trial. See Tex.R. Civ. P. 329b(f); Middleton v. Murff, 689 S.W.2d 212, 213 (Tex.1985) (per curiam); Baker v. Goldsmith, 582 S.W.2d 404, 406 (Tex.1979); Thomason v. Freberg, 588 S.W.2d 821, 824 (Tex.App.-Corpus Christi 1979, no writ).9 In a case where the parties have participated at trial and the losing party has been prevented from filing a motion for new trial or perfecting an appeal, in order to prevail upon a petition for bill of review, the petitioner must plead and prove (1) a failure to file a motion for new trial or a failure to advance an appeal (2) caused by the fraud, accident, or wrongful act of the opposing party or by an official mistake, (3) unmixed with any fault or negligence on the petitioner's part, and (4) a meritorious ground of appeal.10 Petro-Chemical Transport v. Carroll, 514 S.W.2d 240, 244-46 (Tex.1974); Thompson v. Ballard, 149 S.W.3d 161, 164 (Tex.App.-Tyler 2004, no pet.); McDaniel v. Hale, 893 S.W.2d 652, 659-63 (Tex.App.-Amarillo 1994, writ denied). Final judgment in a bill of review proceeding should either deny any relief to the petitioner or grant the bill of review and set aside the former judgment. See Baker, 582 S.W.2d at 409. Only one final judgment may be entered in a bill of review action. Id.

2. Standards of Review
a. Bill of Review

We review the granting or denial of a bill of review under an abuse of discretion standard. Manley v. Parsons, 112 S.W.3d 335, 337 (Tex.App.-Corpus Christi 2003, pet. denied). We indulge every presumption in favor of the trial court's ruling and will not disturb that ruling unless the trial court abused its discretion. Layton v. Nationsbanc Mortgage Corp., 141 S.W.3d 760, 763 (Tex.App.-Corpus Christi 2004, no pet.); Narvaez v. Maldonado, 127 S.W.3d 313, 319 (Tex.App.-Austin 2004, no pet.); Manley, 112 S.W.3d at 337. A trial court abuses its discretion if it acts in an unreasonable or arbitrary manner, or without reference to guiding rules and principles. Layton, 141 S.W.3d at 763.

When the inquiry on the bill of review concerns questions of law, such as whether an appellant presented prima facie proof of a meritorious ground of appeal, we review the trial court's decision de novo. See BMC Software Belg., N.V. v. Marchand, 83 S.W.3d 789, 794 (Tex.2002); Mayhew v. Town of Sunnyvale, 964 S.W.2d 922, 928 (Tex.1998); Manley, 112 S.W.3d at 337 n. 2. We determine the correctness of the trial court's legal conclusions drawn from the facts. Marchand, 83 S.W.3d at 794. If we determine that a conclusion of law is not correct, but the trial court rendered the proper judgment, the incorrect conclusion of law does not require reversal. Id. Thus, in reviewing challenges to a trial court's conclusions of law, we sustain the judgment on any legal theory supported by the evidence. Id. We do not reverse an incorrect conclusion of law if the trial court's findings of fact support a correct legal theory. Id.

When the inquiry is as to the trial court's findings of historical facts, our review is deferential because the trial court is in a better position to weigh credibility and make such determinations. In re R.J.H.,...

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    • United States
    • Texas Court of Appeals
    • January 16, 2008
    ...must establish "a meritorious ground of appeal." Id. (quoting Overton v. Blum, 50 Tex. 417, 426 (1878)); see also San Patricio County v. Nueces County, 214 S.W.3d 536, 544 (Tex.App.-Corpus Christi 2006, no pet.);4 Thompson v. Ballard, 149 S.W.3d 161, 164 (Tex.App.-Tyler 2004, no Thus, when ......
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