Wells Fargo Bank v. Riojas

Decision Date03 March 2016
Docket NumberNUMBER 13-15-00279-CV
CourtTexas Court of Appeals

On appeal from the County Court of Live Oak County, Texas.


Before Chief Justice Valdez and Justices Rodriguez and Benavides

Memorandum Opinion by Justice Rodriguez

Appellant Wells Fargo Bank, National Association, as Trustee for Securitized Asset Backed Receivables LLC Trust 2006-OP1, Mortgage Pass-Through Certificates, Series 2006-OP1 (Wells Fargo) appeals a take-nothing judgment rendered on its forcible entry and detainer action against appellees Alice M. Riojas and Hector G. Riojas and/or all occupants. Wells Fargo had previously filed a forcible entry and detainer suit against appellees, which the justice court dismissed for want of jurisdiction. When Wells Fargo filed the second forcible entry and detainer suit which is at issue here, the justice court held the suit was barred by res judicata on the issue of jurisdiction. On appeal to the county court, the court agreed with the res judicata assessment and issued a take-nothing judgment. By two issues, Wells Fargo argues that the county court erred, both because res judicata does not apply and because the justice court otherwise properly had jurisdiction over Wells Fargo's claim.1 We reverse and remand.


Appellees purchased the property in question via a deed of trust with a power of sale, which was executed on June 22, 2005. The mortgage fell into delinquency, and foreclosure proceedings were initiated. Wells Fargo purchased the property at a non-judicial foreclosure sale on November 5, 2013. Wells Fargo demanded possession from appellees, who refused to vacate. Wells Fargo instituted a forcible entry and detainer suit in the justice court of Live Oak County, Precinct 4. Appellees filed a plea to the jurisdiction, and the justice court dismissed the action based on lack of jurisdiction. Wells Fargo did not appeal.

Following the dismissal, Wells Fargo sent a new demand to vacate and filed a second detainer action. The justice court found that res judicata was triggered by thecourt's prior order of dismissal for want of jurisdiction. Consequently, the justice court entered a take-nothing judgment on Wells Fargo's claim.

Wells Fargo appealed to the county court at law for a trial de novo. In their answer, appellees pled the affirmative defense of res judicata. After a bench trial, the county court found that res judicata applied so as to bar the parties from relitigating jurisdiction and issued a take-nothing judgment. The county court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law related to res judicata, including that "Both forcible detainer actions involved the same Plaintiff, the same Defendants, the same Deed of Trust to be foreclosed on, the same foreclosure sale, the same property, and the same default." This appeal followed.


By its second issue, which we address first, Wells Fargo argues that the county court erred when it found that res judicata applied so as to bar the court from obtaining jurisdiction.2 Wells Fargo's principal argument is that forcible entry and detainer suits are generally immune from res judicata. However, because we are able to dispose ofthis issue using well-established rules of general application, we find it unnecessary to reach Wells Fargo's argument, which appears to seek an extension of the law of res judicata as it applies to forcible entry and detainer suits.

Whether a trial court has jurisdiction is a question of law subject to de novo review. See Tex. Parks and Wildlife Dept. v. Sawyer Trust, 354 S.W.3d 384, 388 (Tex. 2011); Tex. Natural Res. Conservation Comm'n v. IT-Davy, 74 S.W.3d 849, 855 (Tex. 2002). If a claim is not within a court's jurisdiction, and the impediment to jurisdiction could be removed, the court may abate proceedings to allow a reasonable opportunity for the jurisdictional problem to be cured. Am. Motorists Ins. Co. v. Fodge, 63 S.W.3d 801, 805 (Tex. 2001). However, if the impediment to jurisdiction cannot be removed, the claim must be dismissed. Id. Ordinarily, any such dismissal is without prejudice and does not render a judgment on the merits. Harris County v. Sykes, 136 S.W.3d 635, 639 (Tex. 2004). If a suit is dismissed without prejudice, res judicata does not apply. McConnell v. Attorney Gen. of Tex., 878 S.W.2d 281, 283 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 1994, no writ).

For claim preclusion to apply, there must be (1) a prior final judgment on the merits by a court of competent jurisdiction; (2) identity of parties or those in privity with them; and (3) a second action based on the same claims that were raised or could have been raised in the first action. Citizens Ins. Co. of America v. Daccach, 217 S.W.3d 430, 449 (Tex. 2007).

Res judicata in the sense of claim preclusion does not apply here. An order that dismisses a lawsuit for want of jurisdiction is not res judicata of the merits of that lawsuit and does not bar the plaintiff from bringing the same cause again once the impediment to jurisdiction has been removed. Ab-Tex Beverage Corp. v. Angelo State Univ., 96S.W.3d 683, 686 (Tex. App.—Austin 2003, no pet.) (citing Brown v. Prairie View A & M Univ., 630 S.W.2d 405, 408 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 1982, writ ref'd n.r.e.)). Likewise, as we have held in a case dealing with federal law, "a dismissal for lack of jurisdiction is not a judgment on the merits, and does not bar a subsequent suit on the same claim." Fluor Daniel, Inc. v. H.B. Zachry Co., Inc., 1 S.W.3d 166, 170 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 1999, pet. denied) (citing Shell Pipeline Corp. v. Coastal States Trading, Inc., 788 S.W.2d 837, 843 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 1990, writ denied)).3 As in Fluor Daniel, the judgment of dismissal did not reach the merits, see Sykes, 136 S.W.3d at 639; cf. Daccach, 217 S.W.3d at 449, and was issued by a court that expressly found itself not to be "a court of competent jurisdiction." Cf. Daccach, 217 S.W.3d at 449. Thus, Appellees did not satisfy the first element of res judicata. See id. We conclude that the trial court erred in finding that res judicata applied. We sustain Wells Fargo's second issue.


In its first issue, Wells Fargo contends that jurisdiction is otherwise proper. It asks this Court to render judgment to that effect.

When reviewing a trial court's ruling on a challenge to its jurisdiction, we consider the plaintiff's pleadings and factual assertions, as well as any evidence in the record that is relevant to the jurisdictional issue. City of Elsa v. Gonzalez, 325 S.W.3d 622, 625 (Tex. 2010); In re Champion Indus. Sales, LLC, 398 S.W.3d 812, 822 (Tex. App.—CorpusChristi 2012, no pet.). By statute, a justice court in the precinct in which the real property is located has jurisdiction in forcible entry and detainer suits. TEX. GOV'T CODE ANN. § 27.031 (West, Westlaw through 2015 R.S.); TEX. PROP. CODE ANN. § 24.004 (West, Westlaw through 2015 R.S.).

Here, Wells Fargo's petition alleged that the property which is the subject of the forcible entry and detainer action is located in the precinct of the justice court that heard this case originally. See TEX. GOV'T CODE ANN. § 27.031; TEX. PROP. CODE ANN. § 24.004. However, we note that the record is undeveloped as to any "evidence . . . relevant to the jurisdictional issue." See City of Elsa, 325 S.W.3d at 625. Up until now, appellees successfully pursued their case solely on the theory of res judicata, and had no reason to develop the jurisdiction arguments that led the justice court to dismiss the first detainer suit for want of jurisdiction. Having found error, "[a]s long as there is a probability that a case has, for any reason, not been fully developed, an appellate court has discretion to remand . . . rather than render a decision." In re Estate of McNutt, 405 S.W.3d 194, 197 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 2013); Ahmed v. Ahmed, 261 S.W.3d 190, 196 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2008, no pet.); see In re S.E.W., 168 S.W.3d 875, 886 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2005, no pet.). "Moreover, remand is appropriate if a case needs further development to establish and present evidence regarding an alternative legal theory." McNutt, 405 S.W.3d at 197; Ahmed, 261 S.W.3d at 196; see also Westgate, Ltd. v. State, 843 S.W.2d 448, 455 (Tex. 1992).

We have found error, and the record is not fully developed on the issue of jurisdiction. We thus have broad discretion to remand the matter in the interests ofjustice. See McNutt, 405 S.W.3d at 197. Wells Fargo's first issue is overruled.4


We reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.



Delivered and filed the 3rd day of March, 2016.

1. Appellees have not filed a brief in this appeal.

2. Complicating matters some, we note that the parties have commingled the doctrines of issue preclusion and claim preclusion,...

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