In Austin v. Mitchell, a wife filed suit alleging her ex-husband fraudulently transferred a portion of his limited partnership interest in a family limited partnership to a trust for the benefit of his children. No. 05-19-01359-CV, 2021 Tex. App. LEXIS 4536 (Tex. App.—Dallas June 8, 2021, no pet. history). The trial court granted summary judgment for the husband and the wife appealed.

The court of appeals first discussed the husband’s statute of repose defense. The wife alleged that the transfer of the husband’s partnership interest to the trust was fraudulent because it was made:  without fair consideration and the husband was left insolvent as a result (Tex. Bus. & Com. § 24.006(a)); with the actual intent to hinder, delay, or defraud the wife (id. § 24.005(a)(1)); or without receiving reasonably equivalent value at a time when the husband believed or should have believed his debt to the wife was beyond his ability to pay as payments became due (id. § 24.005(a)(2)(B)). The court discussed the statute of repose for fraudulent transfer actions:

Section 24.010 provides that a cause of action with respect to a fraudulent transfer “is extinguished” unless action is brought: (1) under Section 24.005(a)(1) of this code, within four years after the transfer was made or the obligation was incurred or, if later, within one year after the transfer or obligation was or could reasonably have been discovered by the claimant; (2) under Section 24.005(a)(2) or 24.006(a) of this code, within four years after the transfer was made or the obligation was incurred; or (3) under Section 24.006(b) of this code, within one year after the transfer was made… Statutes of repose are absolute in nature and, while they may work inequitable hardship in some cases, the “Legislature has balanced this hardship against the benefits of the certainty that a statute of repose provides by extinguishing claims upon a specific deadline.”

Id. Because the evidence showed that the wife should have known of the transfer more than four years before the suit due to the husband’s testimony in a deposition attended by the wife’s attorney, the court affirmed summary judgment on the repose defense.

The wife had also asserted an accounting and disgorgement claim against the trustee of the trust. The court of appeals held that the wife did not have a sufficient connection to the trust to have standing to bring those claims. Regarding standing, the court stated:

The property code provides that an “interested person” may bring an action against a trustee for an accounting and to make determinations of fact affecting a trust, including determinations regarding trust administration and distributions. Tex. Prop. Code §§ 115.011, 115.001. An “interested person” is: [A] trustee, beneficiary, or any other person having an interest in or a claim against the trust or any person who is affected by the administration of the trust. Whether a person, excluding a trustee or named beneficiary, is an interested person may vary from time to time and must be determined according to the particular purposes of and matter involved in any proceeding. Tex. Prop. Code § 111.004(7).

Id. The wife alleged that because she had a claim against the trust, she had standing. The court disagreed, and held that because the wife’s claim was meritless, she did not have sufficient connection to the trust:

Absent her fraudulent transfer claim against Mitchell, Austin has no claim against the trustee. She did not allege and there is no evidence that the trustee owed any duty to Austin. Any claim she has is through claims against Mitchell, and the only claim alleged was fraudulent transfer, but that claim is extinguished by the statute of repose. Thus, she does not have a “claim against the trust.” Prop. § 111.004(7). Mitchell testified in his affidavit that he does not control the trust and has never used its accounts for his personal expenses. Mitchell created the irrevocable trust for the benefit of his children; its purpose is to provide for the health, education, maintenance, and support of the beneficiaries. Austin is not a beneficiary or trustee of the trust. She is not named as a contingent beneficiary and the trust document expressly excludes her from becoming a successor trustee. Considering the purpose of the trust and the matter involved in this proceeding, Austin is not an interested person and does not have standing to bring her claims against the trustee.

Id.

Photo of David Fowler Johnson David Fowler Johnson

dfjohnson@winstead.com
817.420.8223

David maintains an active trial and appellate practice and has consistently worked on financial institution litigation matters throughout his career. David is the primary author of the Texas Fiduciary Litigator blog, which reports on legal cases and issues impacting the fiduciary…

dfjohnson@winstead.com
817.420.8223

David maintains an active trial and appellate practice and has consistently worked on financial institution litigation matters throughout his career. David is the primary author of the Texas Fiduciary Litigator blog, which reports on legal cases and issues impacting the fiduciary field in Texas. Read More

David’s financial institution experience includes (but is not limited to): breach of contract, foreclosure litigation, lender liability, receivership and injunction remedies upon default, non-recourse and other real estate lending, class action, RICO actions, usury, various tort causes of action, breach of fiduciary duty claims, and preference and other related claims raised by receivers.

David also has experience in estate and trust disputes including will contests, mental competency issues, undue influence, trust modification/clarification, breach of fiduciary duty and related claims, and accountings. David’s recent trial experience includes:

  • Representing a bank in federal class action suit where trust beneficiaries challenged whether the bank was the authorized trustee of over 220 trusts;
  • Representing a bank in state court regarding claims that it mismanaged oil and gas assets;
  • Representing a bank who filed suit in probate court to modify three trusts to remove a charitable beneficiary that had substantially changed operations;
  • Represented an individual executor of an estate against claims raised by a beneficiary for breach of fiduciary duty and an accounting; and
  • Represented an individual trustee against claims raised by a beneficiary for breach of fiduciary duty, mental competence of the settlor, and undue influence.

David is one of twenty attorneys in the state (of the 84,000 licensed) that has the triple Board Certification in Civil Trial Law, Civil Appellate and Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

Additionally, David is a member of the Civil Trial Law Commission of the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. This commission writes and grades the exam for new applicants for civil trial law certification.

David maintains an active appellate practice, which includes:

  • Appeals from final judgments after pre-trial orders such as summary judgments or after jury trials;
  • Interlocutory appeals dealing with temporary injunctions, arbitration, special appearances, sealing the record, and receiverships;
  • Original proceedings such as seeking and defending against mandamus relief; and
  • Seeking emergency relief staying trial court’s orders pending appeal or mandamus.

For example, David was the lead appellate lawyer in the Texas Supreme Court in In re Weekley Homes, LP, 295 S.W.3d 309 (Tex. 2009). The Court issued a ground-breaking opinion in favor of David’s client regarding the standards that a trial court should follow in ordering the production of computers in discovery.

David previously taught Appellate Advocacy at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law located in Fort Worth. David is licensed and has practiced in the U.S. Supreme Court; the Fifth, Seventh, and Eleventh Federal Circuits; the Federal District Courts for the Northern, Eastern, and Western Districts of Texas; the Texas Supreme Court and various Texas intermediate appellate courts. David also served as an adjunct professor at Baylor University Law School, where he taught products liability and portions of health law. He has authored many legal articles and spoken at numerous legal education courses on both trial and appellate issues. His articles have been cited as authority by the Texas Supreme Court (twice) and the Texas Courts of Appeals located in Waco, Texarkana, Beaumont, Tyler and Houston (Fourteenth District), and a federal district court in Pennsylvania. David’s articles also have been cited by McDonald and Carlson in their Texas Civil Practice treatise, William v. Dorsaneo in the Texas Litigation Guide, and various authors in the Baylor Law ReviewSt. Mary’s Law JournalSouth Texas Law Review and Tennessee Law Review.

Representative Experience

  • Civil Litigation and Appellate Law