Court Rejected A Trustee’s Objection To Personal Jurisdiction In His Individual Capacity But Affirmed The Objection In His Capacity As Trustee

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In Hanschen v. Hanschen, a trustee challenged a default judgment. No. 05-19-01134-CV, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 4075 (Tex. App.—Dallas May 28, 2020, no pet. history). The family sued the trustee in his personal capacity and in his capacity as trustee for breaching fiduciary duties. While the trustee was in Texas, the family served him in his personal capacity. The family then obtained a default judgment against him in both capacities when he did not file an answer. Later, the trustee filed a special appearance challenging the court’s personal jurisdiction, and the trial granted the motion. The family then appealed.

The court of appeals reversed the special appearance against the trustee in his personal capacity. The court held that because the trustee was personally served in Texas, the trial court had personal jurisdiction over him:

In this case, the family personally served James with the petition and citation while he was in Texas. The family concedes they “have never asserted that Texas has general jurisdiction over James or that the traditional minimum contacts analysis would be met in the absence of his physical presence.” They are correct and the case law is clear that a trial court has authority to exercise in personam jurisdiction over a nonresident where the court’s jurisdiction grew out of the personal service of citation upon the nonresident within the state. A nonresident, merely by reason of his nonresidence, is not exempt from a court’s jurisdiction if he voluntarily comes to the state and thus is within the territorial limits of such jurisdiction and can be duly served with process.

Id. The trustee also argued that the court did not have adequate jurisdiction over him in his personal capacity because there were no claims against him in that capacity, but the court of appeals disagreed:

While we may agree with James that the default judgment granted relief against the entities for which it would be necessary for Texas courts to have jurisdiction over James in representative capacities, the family’s petition pleaded causes of action against James individually for breaches of fiduciary duties arising from his role as trustee of the Progeny Trust and his roles in NBR-C2, NBR-C3, and NBR-Needham. The family seeks exemplary damages against James for these alleged breaches of fiduciary duties. James does not make a specific argument why these claims are not pleaded against him personally. In Texas, generally an agent is personally liable for his own tortious conduct. For these reasons, we agree with the family that James was personally served with process in Texas, so the trial court has personal jurisdiction over him in that capacity.

Id.

The court of appeals then turned to whether the trial court had personal jurisdiction over the trustee in his capacity as trustee. The court noted that the citation was not issued to him in that capacity. The court held that this defect was dispositive and affirmed the special appearance for the trustee in his representative capacity:

We have held, “[t]he capacity in which a non-resident has contact with a forum state must be considered in the jurisdictional analysis.” James was not served with a citation directed to him in any representative capacity; only “JAMES HANSCHEN WHEREEVER HE MAY BE FOUND.” At oral argument, the family argued the listing of all the parties in the citation was sufficient to constitute service on James in each representative capacity he was listed as a defendant. We reject this contention and the family’s counsel acknowledged in oral argument a citation addressed to one defendant inadvertently served on a different, unrelated defendant would not constitute good service of process merely because all defendants’ names were in the list of defendants in the style of the lawsuit… In this case, James was not served with citations which were returned to the court clerk stating he had been served in his representative capacities. Any failure to comply with the rules regarding service of process renders the attempted service of process invalid, and the trial court acquires no personal jurisdiction over the defendant. A default judgment based on improper service is void. Accordingly, the trial court did not have personal jurisdiction over James in his representative capacities.

Id.

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