Texas Court of Appeals

In In re Equinor Tex. Onshore Props., a trustee filed two cases against different defendants in the same county regarding a royalty dispute under oil and gas leases. No. 05-20-00578-CV, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 8042 (Tex. App.—Dallas October 7, 2020, original proceeding). Because the second-filed case was transferred to Dallas County, Texas, lacked dominance over the interrelated case still pending in the original venue, the court of appeals held that mandamus relief was appropriate to order the trial court to grant the plea in abatement.
Continue Reading Court Holds That Venue For Suit Over Royalties By A Trustee Was Proper Due To Statutory Venue Provision Even Though The Suit Did Not Pertain To The Trust

In Pense v. Bennett, the ward in a guardianship proceeding sued to invalidate the sale of real property from a trust created for his benefit to an affiliate of the trustee. No. 06-20-00030-CV, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 8002 (Tex. App.—Texarkana October 8, 2020, no pet.). The trial court granted summary judgment for the trustee, held that the sale was effective, but expressly refused to rule on a breach of fiduciary duty claim based on the transaction as it was pending in another proceeding. The ward appealed.

The court of appeals explained how the guardian had sought and obtained court approval for the creation of a management trust and the transfer of real property from the guardianship estate to the new trust. The trustee of that trust had the express authority to sell trust property:

Article VIII of the Trust Instrument lists the powers of the trustee. And, “[w]here the language of the trust instrument is unambiguous and expresses the intentions of the maker, the trustee’s powers are conferred by the instrument and neither the court nor the trustee can add or take away such power.” As pertinent here, the Trust Instrument authorized the trustee to: “[P]artition, exchange, release, convey or assign any right, title or interest of the trust in any real estate or personal property owned by the trust”; “[S]ell, exchange, alter, mortgage, pledge or otherwise dispose of trust property”; “[E]xecute and deliver any deeds, conveyances, assignments, leases, contracts, stock or security transfer powers, or any other written instrument of any character appropriate to any of the powers or duties herein conferred on the Trustee”; and “[H]old title to investments in the name of the Trustee or a nominee.”

In addition to these powers specified in the Trust Instrument, the Texas Trust Code authorizes “a trustee [to] exercise any powers . . . that are necessary or appropriate to carry out the purpose of the trust.” Those powers include the power to “contract to sell, sell and convey, or grant an option to sell real or personal property at public auction or private sale for cash or for credit or for part cash and part credit, with or without security.”


Continue Reading Court Holds That A Trustee Had The Power To Sell Trust Property To An Affiliate, Though Such An Act May Be In Breach Of A Duty

In In re Estate of Hines, the trial court held that an applicant was not equitably adopted by the decedent in an heirship proceeding. No. 06-20-00007-CV, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 8000 (Tex. App.—Texarkana July 27, 2020, no pet.). The applicant appealed, and the court of appeals affirmed. The court first addressed the law on equitable adoption:

Adoption by estoppel takes place “when [a person’s] efforts to adopt [a child] are ineffective because of failure to strictly comply with statutory procedures or because, out of neglect or design, agreements to adopt are not performed.” The doctrine of equitable adoption is not “the same as legal adoption” and does not contain “all of the legal consequences of a statutory adoption.” Courts in Texas have “long” recognized the doctrine of equitable adoption. The Texas Estates Code recognizes the doctrine, defining “child” as including a person adopted by “acts of estoppel.” For example, a child has been adopted by estoppel “when a natural parent delivers a child into the custody of others under an agreement between the parent and the custodians that the child will be adopted, and thereafter the custodians and child live in relationship with that of parent and child.” “In no case” has a court in Texas “upheld the adoptive status of a child in the absence of proof of an agreement or contract to adopt.” The agreement may be oral. Adoption by estoppel must be proved by a preponderance of the evidence. Even though Texas recognizes the doctrine of equitable adoption, it has “done so only with caution and within certain well-defined boundaries.” It exists to prevent “a situation where it would be inequitable and grossly unfair to the adopted child, who has performed services and rendered affection, for the adoptive parent or his privies to deny the adoption.” Yet, adoption by estoppel is not a statutory doctrine. Instead, it is a judicially created equitable doctrine…  [T]o establish that there was an agreement, Hilton was required to prove that Hines (1) executed “a statutory instrument of adoption in the office of the county clerk”; (2) attempted to complete the statutory adoption but failed “to do so because of some defect in the instrument of adoption, or in its execution or acknowledgment”; or (3) agreed with “[Hilton] to be adopted, or with [Hilton]’s parents, or some other person in loco parentis that he . . . would adopt [Hilton].”


Continue Reading Court Affirmed Finding That An Applicant Was Not Equitably Adopted Where There Was No Evidence Of An Agreement To Adopt The Applicant

In Benge v. Thomas, a settlor created a trust and appointed her daughter, Missi, as the trustee. No. 13-18-00619-CV, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 6888 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi August 27, 2020, no pet.). The trust owned an interest in a limited partnership that contained mineral interests. Missi’s daughter, Benge, was a beneficiary of the trust. Benge sued Missi for various claims of breach of fiduciary duty arising from the operation of the limited partnership and other issues. The trial court granted summary judgment for Missi, and Benge appealed.

The court of appeals first addressed Benge’s claim that Missi breached her fiduciary duty to the trust by allowing the limited partnership’ general partner to make objectionable transactions. Benge claimed that Missi breached her fiduciary duty in her capacity as trustee because she should have prevented the general partner from making the transactions. The court disagreed:

AFT Property as general partner had the authority to make these decisions. The evidence establishes as a matter of law that the 2012 Trust as a limited partner had no decision-making rights regarding AFT Minerals’ assets. Benge’s complaints all involve alleged damages to AFT Minerals and not to Benge herself. Thus, AFT Minerals would have had to bring these claims and not Missi in her capacity as trustee or Benge as a remainder beneficiary. See Hall v. Douglas, 380 S.W.3d 860, 873 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2012, no pet.) (“[C]laims for “a diminution in value of partnership interests or a share of partnership income” may be asserted only by the partnership itself.”); see also Adam v. Harris, 564 S.W.2d 152, 156-57 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 1978, writ ref’d n.r.e.) (“A clear line exists between actions of a trustee and those of an officer of a corporation owned wholly or in part by the trust, even where the same person ‘wears both hats.’”).


Continue Reading Court Addresses Claims Against A Trustee Arising From The Management Of A Limited Partnership Interest

In Roels v. Valkenaar, a shareholder filed a shareholder derivative suit against former and current officers and directors of the company based on multiple claims of breach of fiduciary duty. No. 03-19-00502-CV, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 6684 (Tex. App.—Austin August 20, 2020, no pet. history). The defendants filed a motion to dismiss, and the trial court denied it. The defendants appealed, and the court of appeals reversed in part and affirmed in part.

The plaintiffs’ first claim dealt with certain interested-direction transactions that were loans from the company. The court dismissed these claims because the evidence showed that regarding one transaction that there was director consent to the loan and regarding the other loans that there was not sufficient evidence of damages. The court stated:

Self-dealing (i.e., an “interested transaction”) may constitute breach of an officer’s or director’s fiduciary duty to the corporation. However, we need not determine whether the shareholders met their prima facie burden as to the element of breach because we conclude that they have not met the burden as to the element of damages. To prove the damage-to-plaintiff or benefit-to defendant element of a claim for breach of fiduciary duty based on self-dealing, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the fiduciary obtained a benefit for itself either at the expense of its principal or without equally sharing the benefit with the principal. While the shareholders have alleged in conclusory fashion that the loans contained “non-market terms” and have “disproportionately benefitted” Roels and Barshop, they have not identified any specific harm to the Company or benefit to the defendants as a direct result of the loans.


Continue Reading Court Addressed A Shareholder Derivative Suit Against Officers And Directors For Self-Interested Transactions, Misuse Of Company Assets, And Dereliction Of Duties

In In re Estate of Hallmark, an executrix of an estate filed suit in probate court for declarations regarding a partnership and sued the other partners. No. 11-18-00187-CV 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 7063 (Tex. App.—Eastland August 31, 2020, no pet. history). One partner filed a cross-claim against the other partner for mismanagement and sought a

In Kankonde v. Mankan, an attorney appealed the entry of an arbitration award on behalf of his clients, a doctor and his practice. No. 08-20-00052-CV, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 7040 (Tex. App.—El Paso August 31, 2020, no pet. history). The attorney then withdrew, and the wife of deceased doctor then filed an appellant’s brief.

In Keel Recovery, Inc. v. Tri City Adjusters, Inc., a company sued its former employee for breach of fiduciary duty related to reporting certain alleged criminal activity related to the repossession of vehicles. No. 05-19-00686-CV, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 7273 (Tex. App.—Dallas September 4, 2020, no pet. history). The defendants filed a motion to dismiss,

In In the Estate of Flarity, a son of the testator challenged the trial court’s probating of a 2004 will and the appointment of two of his siblings, named in that will, as executors. No. 09-19-00089-CV, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 7536 (Tex. App.—Beaumont September 17, 2020, no pet. history). The contestant alleged that the testator did not have mental competence. The court of appeals disagreed. The court first addressed the standard for mental competency challenges:

In reviewing evidence addressing a testator’s capacity, we focus on the condition of the testator’s mind on the day the testator executed the will. Under Texas law, whether a testator has the testamentary capacity hinges on the condition of the testator’s mind the day the testator executed her will. Thus, the proponents of the will must prove that, when the testator signed the will, she could understand: the business in which she was engaged, the nature and extent of her property, the persons to whom she meant to devise and bequeath her property, the persons dependent on her bounty, the mode of distribution that she elected to choose among her beneficiaries, a sufficient memory so she could collect the elements of the business she wanted to transact and hold it in mind long enough to allow her to perceive the relationship between property and how she wanted to dispose of it, all so she could form reasonable judgments about doing those things.


Continue Reading Court Affirmed Finding That Testator Had Capacity To Execute A Will, Was Not Unduly Influenced, And That The Appointment of Co-Executors Was Appropriate

In Michael D. Heatley v. Red Oak 86, L.P. & Charles Johnson, investors in a limited partnership sued the managing member for breach of fiduciary duty. No. 05-18-01083-CV, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 6592 (Tex. App.—Dallas August 17, 2020, no pet. history). The jury found that the defendants owed a fiduciary duty, breached the duty,