Cantu v. Medina, No. 13-16-00566-CV (Memorandum Opinion by Justice Contreras; Panel Members: Justices Rodriguez and Benavides)
In this appeal from a forcible detainer action, the Thirteenth Court of Appeals examined the standing and capacity requirements applicable to an eviction case in which the owner of the underlying real property has died.
Eddie and Elizabeth Medina filed a forcible detainer action again Juan Carlos Cantu on May 10, 2016, seeking to evict Cantu for failing to pay rent. Cantu responded that the Medinas did not have standing because Elizabeth Medina’s mother Julia Sosa—who died on April 12, 2016—was the true owner of the property. The justice court held a bench trial, and awarded possession and damages to the Medinas. Cantu appealed to the county court at law.
Meanwhile, Sosa’s will was admitted to probate, leaving the entire estate to the Medinas and designating Elizabeth Medina as executor.
The county court at law then held a trial de novo on the forcible detainer action, and again awarded possession of the property to the Medinas. Cantu was ordered to vacate the premises by October 26, 2016.
Cantu appealed, and later filed a petition for mandamus relief with the Thirteenth Court of Appeals. Cantu also filed a motion for supersedeas bond, but did not secure a ruling on the motion. Consequently, on October 28, 2016, the Hidalgo County Clerk issued a writ of possession ordering Cantu’s removal from the property. Cantu moved for a temporary restraining order and re-urged his motion to set a supersedeas bond. The county court granted the TRO and set the bond amount, which Cantu paid.
On appeal, Cantu argued that (1) the Medinas did not have standing or capacity to sue; (2) the county court abused its jurisdiction by allowing Elizabeth Medina to participate in the case as executrix as if the court had original jurisdiction; and (3) the county clerk erred by issuing a writ of possession. The Medinas did not file a response brief with the court of appeals.
Held: The Medinas lacked standing and capacity to file a forcible detainer action when they sued in justice court. The judgment was reversed and rendered that the Medinas take nothing.
The Thirteenth Court of Appeals only addressed Cantu’s first issue regarding standing and capacity, as it was dispositive of the appeal. The court reiterated that a plaintiff must have both standing and capacity to sue. Standing focuses on the person’s relationship to the suit as a personally aggrieved party, whereas capacity relates to the person’s legal authority to bring suit. Only a qualified and appointed representative may file suit on behalf of an estate. When the Medinas filed suit, it was undisputed that the property at issue belonged to Sosa’s estate, and Elizabeth Medina had not yet been appointed as executrix. Although the Medinas were heirs named in Sosa’s will, generally an heir cannot sue to recover real property on behalf of the estate.
Consequently, at the time the Medinas filed suit, they had no ownership interest in the property and no authority to act on the estate’s behalf. They thus lacked standing to sue themselves, and lacked capacity to sue on behalf of the estate. Although Elizabeth Medina was later named representative of the estate and thus obtained capacity to sue on the estate’s behalf, this did not occur until after the justice court rendered final judgment. The justice court had exclusive original jurisdiction over the suit. Consequently, the justice court’s judgment was erroneous.
The judgment was reversed and rendered that the Medinas take nothing.