In the Estate of Gibbs, Bell transferred money to Gibbs for the purchase of real property and a trust agreement was executed that clarified that they owned the property equally. No. 02-18-00086-CV, 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 4452 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth May 30, 2019, no pet. history). Later, Bell learned that Gibbs had transferred Bell’s half of the property to Gibbs’ wife during a divorce proceeding. Bell sued Gibbs’s estate and his wife’s estate for a declaration that she owned the property and for a constructive trust. The trial court entered a judgment for the defendants, and Bell appealed.
The court of appeals first addressed whether Bell could raise her claim to an interest in the property via a declaratory judgment claim and not as a trespass to try title. The court concluded: “Bell’s request for a declaratory judgment to ascertain the nature of that equitable interest is a proper subject of a declaratory judgment claim rather than a trespass to try title claim.” Id. “Bell [was] entitled to bring her claim seeking clarification of her equitable status under the Trust Agreement as a declaratory judgment claim.” Id.
The court then addressed whether Bell could raise a constructive trust claim:
Bell argues that Bert owed her a fiduciary duty by holding the Real Property — an identifiable res — partially in trust for her and that he breached that duty by attempting to convey her equitable interest in the Real Property to a third party without her knowledge. She also argues that Kenneth, as the Estate’s executor, has further breached a duty to her by refusing to acknowledge her trust interest. She further argues that Bert and the Estate have been unjustly enriched by disclaiming her interest, which she claims entitles her to part of any income from the Real Property. This is the type of claim for which the trial court may consider imposing a constructive trust as an equitable remedy.
Id. The court also rejected the defendant’s statute of limitations argument and found that there was a fact issue on that defense. The court reversed the summary judgment motion and remanded for further proceedings.