In Barcroft v. Walton, a statutory probate court entered sanctions, struck a defendant’s pleadings, and entered a default judgment against a defendant in a trust case. No. 02-16-00110-CV, 2017 Tex. App. LEXIS 8541 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth September 7, 2017, no pet. history). The defendant appealed on multiple grounds, and the court of appeals first addressed the defendant’s jurisdictional complaints.
The court of appeals addressed its prior precedent. In In re Guardianship of Gibbs (Gibbs I), 253 S.W.3d 866, 869, 877 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2008, pet. dism’d), the court concluded that the probate court lacked jurisdiction over tort claims raised in a trust case. In determining that the probate court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over claims for restitution and breach of fiduciary duty in Gibbs I, the court reviewed the then-applicable statutes and noted that a statutory probate court’s jurisdiction over actions involving trusts is concurrent with that of a district court. The court reviewed the list of ten items that former Texas Property Code section 115.001(a) set out for actions “concerning trusts” over which a district court had jurisdiction. The court determined that the plaintiff’s causes of action were not enumerated in former Section 115.001(a) and did not fall within its scope. In Gibbs I, the court stated that the mere fact that trust funds were implicated by a claim did not transform the claim into one “concerning” or “involving” trusts, and because no law at that time gave the trial court subject matter jurisdiction over tort claims, the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over those claims.
The court in Barcroft noted that the Texas Legislature amended Texas Property Code section 115.001 in 2007 and added subsection (a-1) and some additional language to subsection (a). The new statute provides that “a district court has original and exclusive jurisdiction over all proceedings by or against a trustee and …” the other items mentioned in the statute. Tex. Prop. Code Ann. § 115.001(a-1). Further, subsection (a-1) provides: “The list of proceedings described by Subsection (a) over which a district court has exclusive and original jurisdiction is not exhaustive. A district court has exclusive and original jurisdiction over a proceeding by or against a trustee or a proceeding concerning a trust under Subsection (a) whether or not the proceeding is listed in Subsection (a).” Id. The court held that under the new statutory terms, that the trial court had jurisdiction:
This case was brought in the probate court to remove a trustee but also to obtain damages for tort claims—fraud and other misdeeds—involving the trust. Because the legislature has expressly provided that the list of proceedings in subsection 115.001(a) is not exhaustive and that a district court has jurisdiction over a proceeding by or against a trustee or a proceeding concerning a trust under subsection (a) “whether or not the proceeding is listed” therein, and because “the district court’s jurisdiction over actions involving trusts determines the extent of a statutory probate court’s jurisdiction over such actions,” Gibbs I, 253 S.W.3d at 871, we conclude that the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction to hear the case.
The court then overruled the appellant’s other procedural complaints because they were waived by the appellant failing to comply with rules of civil and appellate procedure. In one complaint, the appellant, who was pro se, complained that the trial court was biased against pro se parties and always ruled against them. The court of appeals noted: “Barcroft did not support this claim in his motion with any sort of documentation and he ignored entirely the more obvious reason pro se litigants might tend to lose, i.e., their lack of legal education or training, which tends to lead them, as here, to critical mistakes of form and substance.” Id. at n. 11.