In In re Troy S. Poe Trust, trustees of a trust that was embroiled in litigation filed suit to modify the trust to increase the number of trustees and change the method for trustees to vote on issues. No. 08-18-00074-CV, 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 7838 (Tex. App.—El Paso August 28, 2019, no pet.). After the trial court granted the modification, a party to the proceeding appealed and argued that the trial court erred in refusing him a jury trial on initial issues of fact.
The court of appeals first looked at a party’s general right to a jury trial in Texas:
The Texas Constitution addresses the right to a jury trial in two distinct provisions. The first, found in the Bill of Rights, provides that the “right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate.” But this provision has been held to “maintain a right to trial by jury for those actions, or analogous actions, tried by jury when the Constitution was adopted in 1876.” And Richard has not shown that trust modifications were tried to a jury in 1876 or before. The Texas Constitution also contains another provision governing jury trials in its judiciary article: “In the trial of all causes in the District Courts, the plaintiff or defendant shall, upon application made in open court, have the right of trial by jury; but no jury shall be empaneled in any civil case unless demanded by a party to the case, and a jury fee be paid by the party demanding a jury, for such sum, and with such exceptions as may be prescribed by the Legislature.” This section is broader than the Section 15 right to jury in the sense that it does not depend on court practice in 1876 or before. It is narrower in the sense that it only applies to “causes.” But the Texas Supreme Court views the term “causes” expansively, and that court has only restricted the right to jury trial in specific contexts where “some special reason” made jury trials unsuitable, such civil contempt proceedings, election contests, suits to remove a sheriff, and appeals in administrative proceedings. The Texas Constitution also gives the legislature authority to regulate jury trials to maintain their “purity and efficiency.” In that regard, we look to the statutory framework to determine whether parties possess a right to a jury trial.
Id. (internal citation omitted). The court then analyzed whether the Texas Property Code waived a party’s right to a jury trial regarding a claim to modify a trust:
[T]he Trust Code provides that “[e]xcept as otherwise provided, all actions instituted under this subtitle are governed by the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure and the other statutes and rules that are applicable to civil actions generally.” The Texas Constitution guarantees the right to trial by jury, subject to regulation by the legislature. Those regulations are largely found in the Rules of Civil Procedure and outline how one requests a jury. Compliance with those rules would thus give Richard a right to a jury trial. Bock urges, however, that the specific statutory language of Section 112.054 precludes jury trials in trust modification proceedings. That Section provides in subsection (a) that the “court may order” modifications of a trust upon certain conditions, and in subsection (b) that the “court shall exercise its discretion” in framing those modifications. And certainly, where there is an apparent conflict between two statutory provisions, the statute dealing with the specific topic controls over the general. If there were a conflict between Section 112.054 that controls trust modification, and the more general Section 115.002 that generally provides for jury trials, the specific provision would control. But we are not convinced of an actual conflict. Section 112.054 vests the trial court with the duty of redrafting the trust terms if one of five predicates are met. The statute does not explicitly provide that it is the trial court who determines whether those predicates exist. The legislature certainly knows how to unambiguously restrict the right to a jury trial on a specific issue. We find no comparable limitations in Section 112.054.
Under Texas law, the right to a jury trial extends to disputed issues of fact in equitable, as well as legal proceedings. And as a general rule, “when contested fact issues must be resolved before equitable relief can be determined, a party is entitled to have that resolution made by a jury.” “Once any such necessary factual disputes have been resolved, the weighing of all equitable considerations . . . and the ultimate decision of how much, if any, equitable relief should be awarded, must be determined by the trial court.” The trial court, and not the jury, determines the “expediency, necessity, or propriety of equitable relief.” Based on these general principles, Richard complains that the predicate question of whether there were changed circumstances, or the purpose of the trust had become impossible to fulfill, were for a jury to resolve.
Id. (internal citations omitted). The court of appeals agreed with the appellant and held that he had a right to a jury trial on those initial issues. The court reversed and remanded for further proceedings.