Appeals court rules no additional attorney's fees in Montgomery County property dispute

By Karen Kidd | Jan 21, 2019

MorgueFile - xandert

BEAUMONT – A woman who wanted additional attorney fees following her successful claim on a deed to a Montgomery County property won't be getting any more than the trial court awarded her, according to a recent appeals court's decision.

In its 13-page memorandum opinion issued Jan. 17, the 9th District Court of Appeals at Beaumont affirmed a lower court's judgment to award $3,000 in attorney's fees.

"After considering all the evidence in a light most favorable to the challenged finding and indulging every reasonable inference that would support it, we cannot say that the finding of the trial court is so contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence as to be clearly wrong and unjust," the opinion said. "In this case, the trial court may have determined that the fees were unsegregated and that a significant portion of the attorney's fees were attributable to claims upon which attorney's fees are not recoverable. We cannot say the trial court abused its discretion in awarding the fees."

Appeals Court Judge Leanne Johnson wrote the opinion in which Judge Hollis Horton and Judge Charles Kreger concurred.

The Appeals Court handed down the opinion in Cresencia Betancourt's appeal in her breach of contract claim against the estate of Greg Ohmer "and certain named sole heirs," the opinion states. Betancourt alleged breach of contract in her suit to quiet title on real property in Magnolia that she had purchased via a payment agreement with Ohmer.

Betancourt had asked the Montgomery County 284th District Court for a declaratory judgment that she is the sole and rightful owner of the property and that the court partition the property and apportion taxes, penalties, interest and costs, according to the background portion of the Appeals Court's opinion. Betancourt also asked for "reasonable and necessary attorney's fees," including fees that might be necessary should she have to appeal the case up to the Texas Supreme Court.

In the district court's judgment, Betancourt did end up as owner of the property but that court denied her claim for attorney's fees of more than $3,000. The trial court ruled that under state law, she was entitled to "a reasonable fee for the necessary services rendered by Ms. Betancourt's attorney in enforcing the contract" with the estate, the opinion said.

In her appeal, Betancourt argued the trial court abused its discretion in its attorney fee award, arguing the District Court had made an oral finding that she failed to meet the presentment element for recovery of those fees under the Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code.

"According to Betancourt, her counsel presented sufficient evidence about reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees for her breach of contract claim in the amount of $16,000 and court costs of $2,503.70, and she was entitled to receive the full amount as an offset to the remaining owed amounts on the note," the opinion said.

The Appeals Court countered that the trial court made written findings of fact and conclusions of law.

"In the written findings and conclusions, the trial court did not make any findings or conclusions concerning presentment of Betancourt's claim for attorney's fees," the Appeals Court's opinion said. "Accordingly, in determining the basis for the trial court's ruling, we do not consider the trial court's oral statement about a demand for attorney's fees or the presentment element of Betancourt’s attorney's fees on her breach of contract claim."

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Court of Appeals - 9th District of Texas at Beaumont Texas Supreme Court

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