In Cortes v. Wendl, an elderly woman signed a deed conveying her mineral rights to two individuals. No. 06-17-00121-CV, 2018 Tex. App. LEXIS 4457 (Tex. App.—Texarkana June 20, 2018, no pet.). When the woman’s nurse and friend learned of the transaction, she obtained a power of attorney and filed a lawsuit on the woman’s behalf, claiming that the mineral deed was executed as a result of duress, coercion, and undue influence, and that no consideration was paid for the conveyance. The defendants alleged that the plaintiff had no capacity to sue. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s implied finding that the plaintiff had capacity:
“A power of attorney is a written instrument by which one person, the principal, appoints another person, the attorney-in-fact, as agent and confers on the attorney-in-fact the authority to perform certain specified acts on behalf of the principal.” An agent has express authority to take all actions designated by the principal. An agent has implied authority “to do whatever is necessary and proper to carry out the agent’s express powers.” Wendl introduced the durable power of attorney executed by Hardy as an exhibit, without objection. The power of attorney explicitly granted Wendl: “[a]uthority to initiate a claim and litigation, if necessary; negotiate; make decisions; and pursue the legal claim [Hardy] may have against Johnny Coutts, Charles [Randy] Hardy, and/or Isabel Cortes, or anyone else involved, and to pursue those claims or litigation as she sees fit for [Hardy] and/or [Hardy’s] estate. [Wendl] is further given specific authority to negotiate and make all decisions on [Hardy’s] behalf including accepting or rejecting offers of settlement, contracting for and payment of attorney’s fees, and costs.” The record supports the trial court’s implied finding that Wendl, in her capacity as agent and attorney-in-fact for Hardy, had the capacity to bring the lawsuit on Hardy’s behalf.
The court then analyzed whether there was sufficient evidence to establish that the deed was procured by undue influence. “In deciding whether there was undue influence in executing a deed, the court considers three factors: (1) the existence and exertion of an influence; (2) whether the influence operated to subvert or overpower the grantors’ minds when they executed the deed; and (3) whether the grantors would not have executed the deed but for the influence.” The court stated:
[A]lthough undue influence implies the existence of sufficient mental capacity to execute a deed if not hindered by another’s overriding influence, “weakness of mind and body, whether produced by infirmities of age or by disease or otherwise, may be considered as a material circumstance in determining whether or not a person was in the condition to be susceptible to undue influence.” Further, a beneficiary’s voluntary participation in the preparation or signing of a deed can be one of the considerations used to determine if there was undue influence, as can an unnatural disposition of property by the grantor, Long.
Cortes and Fernandes visited Hardy monthly to deliver the note payment on the property previously owned by Hardy. During these visits, they continually complained to Hardy that the property was no good without the minerals and that they wanted to purchase the minerals. These continual complaints and entreaties caused the elderly Hardy to feel pressured, frightened, and nervous. They were making her a “nervous wreck.” They often met with Hardy one-on-one in her room at the assisted living facility and made these complaints to her privately. This frightened Hardy, and she began to lock the door to her room during the day, as she thought Cortes and Fernandes might hurt her. Hardy testified to these things and further testified that, when she failed to relent, Cortes and Fernandes told her that the IRS was going to come after her if she did not sell the minerals. Hardy was told that she needed to sign over her mineral rights to Cortes so that she would not be in trouble. Hardy testified that she felt that she had to do something because the IRS was coming after her. Threats about the IRS caused Hardy to become so nervous that she was shaking, and she thought she was going to have seizures, as she did after her husband passed away. The evidence further suggests that Hardy was essentially tricked into going alone with Cortes to the title company in Longview to sign the mineral deed. Hardy testified that she was not paid anything for her mineral rights, and she was not aware that the deed provided that Cortes was entitled to all past royalties not yet cashed out—to include the royalty payment from Sabine Oil & Gas Corporation. Hardy’s testimony alone is evidence of the existence and exertion of Cortes’ and Fernandes’ influence.
Jimmy Don Reedy, who executed the 2010 agreement with Hardy and Randy to excavate topsoil from the property, testified that he removed less than ten fourteen-yard loads of topsoil from the property. According to Reedy, the removal of that quantity of topsoil is not enough to cause any kind of damage to the land. The topsoil was not removed over a five-year period. Instead, Reedy testified that it was removed fairly near the time of the agreement. In 2010, Fernandes asked Reedy to leave the property, and he did so. According to Reedy, if Cortes told Hardy that the land was no good because the topsoil had been removed, that would be false.
Id. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s rescinding the mineral deed after finding that the evidence was legally and factually sufficient to support the trial court’s implied findings.