Jackson v. Jackson (Tex.App.- Houston [14th Dist.] Apr. 28, 2009)(Guzman)
(
divorce property division, right to cross-examine)
AFFIRMED: Opinion by
Justice Guzman  
Before Justices Brock Yates, Guzman and Sullivan)
14-07-00917-CV Lottie Jackson v. Wilbert Jackson
Appeal from 310th District Court of Harris County

Affirmed and Memorandum Opinion filed April 28, 2009.

In The

Fourteenth Court of Appeals
_______________

NO. 14-07-00917-CV
_______________

LOTTIE JACKSON, Appellant

V.

WILBERT JACKSON, Appellee
                                                                                                                                        
On Appeal from the 310th District Court
Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Cause No. 2007-00969
                                                                                                                                        
M E M O R A N D U M   O P I N I O N

In this appeal from the trial court's rendering of a final decree of divorce, appellant contends that the trial
court improperly limited her cross-examination of appellee.  She further asserts that the trial court should
have compelled appellee to respond to her questions regarding her contribution of funds to improve his
separate property.  We affirm the trial court's judgment.

I.  Factual and Procedural Background

Wilbert and Lottie Jackson were married in May 1997, but ceased living together in December 2006.  Wilbert
filed for divorce on January 9, 2007; Lottie filed a pro se response on February 20, 2007, asserting a general
denial and seeking alternative dispute resolution.  Our record contains no filings between Lottie's response
and the trial court's order retaining this case on its docket on May 30, 2007.  This order states that alternative
dispute resolution was waived.

On July 23, 2007, the trial court conducted a bench trial on Wilbert's petition for divorce.  Wilbert was
represented by counsel; Lottie appeared pro se.  As is relevant here, Lottie's cross-examination of Wilbert
proceeded as follows:

[Lottie]:          I would like to know where is the Ford Mustang car?  Where is it?

[Wilbert]:       Where is - - I don't know where.

[Wilbert's counsel]:  Speak up now.

[Wilbert]:       I don't know where the Mustang is.[[1]]

[Lottie]:          I want to know when are you going to give me my $4,000.00 for the roof that I put on your 1959
house?  I paid $4,000.00 for your roof.  When are you going to pay me back $4,000.00 for the roof at 10915
Dewayne.  I paid for it with my social security disability.  I'm legally blind and disabled.  I took that money and
put a roof over your house and I want my money back.  It's $4,000.00.

The Court:      Do you have any questions you want to ask him?

[Lottie]:          I want to know when he's going to pay me back my $4,000.00.

[Wilbert]:       That roof was put on the house while I was in the hospital.

[Lottie]:          When are you going to pay me back?

The Court:      You can't be popping him, sir.  I mean it's his testimony, not yours.

[Lottie]:          That's the way it's always been.  That's what it's been since 2006.  They harrasing [sic] me and
my husband.  That's why we are here today because of those people in the background.  We were doing just
fine.  We had a perfect marriage.  We were doing okay until his family decided they didn't want to give me
some land that his aunt - -

The Court:      Do you have any questions you want to ask him?

[Lottie]:          I want to know when he's going to give me my $4,000.00.

The Court:      I don't think he is going to answer that.  You got another one?

[Lottie]:          Okay.  I want to know where is the car?

[Wilbert]:       You had the car.

[Lottie]:          I don't have the car.  The car was under repossession just like the house that was foreclosed on
that I put a roof on.  All your things went bankrupt because of your daughter - -

The Court:      Ma'am, I'll pass the witness.  I'm not going to listen to you make arguments.

[Lottie]:          Oh, okay.  I'm sorry.  He didn't answer any questions.

The Court:      Well, you know what, I have given you a chance to ask him questions.

[Lottie]:          I want my money.

The Court:      Well. . .

[Lottie]:          When can I get it?

The Court:      Well, you're out.

On redirect, Wilbert testified that the house had been foreclosed on before the roof was replaced.  Lottie
testified that she was not aware of the foreclosure proceedings before she paid for the roof.

At the conclusion of the trial, the trial court granted the divorce and later signed the divorce decree.  Lottie
subsequently retained counsel and filed a motion for new trial.[2]  After this motion was overruled,[3] this
appeal timely ensued.

II.  Issue and Analysis

In a single issue, Lottie asserts that the trial court erred by limiting her cross-examination of Wilbert and
instead should have compelled Wilbert to answer her questions regarding her contribution of separate funds
to improve Wilbert's property.  But as the excerpted testimony supra demonstrates, Lottie did not present this
complaint to the trial court.

To preserve an error for appellate review, the rules of appellate procedure require that the record show (i)
the complaining party made a timely request, objection or motion that stated the grounds for the complaint
with sufficient specificity to make the trial court aware of the complaint; and (ii) the trial court expressly or
implicitly ruled on the request, objection or motion. Tex. R. App. P. 33.1(a)(1)B(2); see also Ford Motor Co. v.
Ledesma, 242 S.W.3d 32, 43 (Tex. 2007) (stating that, generally, preservation of error depends on whether
the party timely made the trial court aware of the specific complaint and obtained a ruling).  That Lottie
represented herself in the trial court does not relieve her from preservation-of-error requirements.  Salmeron
v. T-Mobile W. Corp., No. 14-07-00524-CV, 2009 WL 396212, at *1 (Tex. App.- Houston [14th Dist.] Feb. 19,
2009, no pet. h.) (mem. op.) (“We note that appellant's pro se status does not relieve him from the
preservation-of-error requirements applicable to a licensed attorney."); see also Nabelek v. Bradford, 228 S.
W.3d 715, 717 (Tex. App.- Houston [14th Dist.] 2006, pet. denied) (noting that courts liberally construe pro se
filings, but must still hold pro se litigants to the same standards as licensed attorneys).

On appeal, Lottie argues that the trial court “cut off" her cross-examination rather than compelling Wilbert to
answer her questions.  Lottie, however, never objected to the non-responsiveness of Wilbert's answer, asked
the trial court to compel Wilbert to answer, or lodged any complaint regarding the trial court's alleged
limitation of her cross-examination.  Thus, Lottie failed to preserve this issue for our review.  Tex. R. App. P.
33.1(a); see also Phillips v. Phillips, CS.W.3dC, 2009 WL 792756, at *9, *12 (Tex. App.- El Paso March 26,
2009, no pet. h.) (concluding wife waived complaints regarding charge error and closing argument by failing
to object at trial).

Moreover, even if we infer from the above-excerpted testimony that the trial court was aware of Lottie's
complaint regarding its alleged limitation of her cross-examination of Wilbert and implicitly overruled this
complaint, a trial court “shall exercise reasonable control over the mode and order of interrogating witnesses .
. . ."  Tex. R. Evid. 611(a).   The manner and scope of cross-examination rest in the sound discretion of the
trial court.  Hogue v. Kroger Store No. 107, 875 S.W.2d 477, 480 (Tex. App.- Houston [1st Dist.] 1994, writ
denied).  As the above-excerpted testimony shows, Lottie's Across-examination" of Wilbert devolved quickly
into argument.  Rather than attempting to establish that her expenditures were subject to a claim for economic
contribution[4] or reimbursement,[5] Lottie focused only on when she could get her money back from Wilbert.
[6]  Thus, Lottie has not established that the trial court abused its discretion in controlling the manner and
scope of her cross-examination of Wilbert.[7]

Under these circumstances, we overrule Lottie's sole issue and affirm the trial court's judgment.

/s/        Eva M. Guzman

Justice

Panel consists of Justices Yates, Guzman, and Sullivan.

[1]  Wilbert had testified on direct that Lottie had this car.

[2]  This motion provided, among other things, that Lottie “was acting pro se and the visiting judge who heard
her divorce case limited her presentation of her side of the case to one question . . . ."

[3]  Although our record does not contain a ruling on this motion, both Lottie's notice of appeal and the trial
court's docket sheet indicate that it was denied after a hearing on September 20,  2007.

[4]  Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 3.403(a) (Vernon 2006).  Under the Texas Family Code, “economic contribution"
does not include money expended on ordinary maintenance or repair.  Id. § 3.402(b)(1).

[5] Id. § 3.408(b) (Vernon Supp. 2008).

[6]  Further, Lottie did not file any pleadings seeking either economic contribution or reimbursement.  The
failure to plead economic contribution or prove reimbursement due generally precludes these claims. See
Raymond v. Raymond, 190 S.W.3d 77, 82-83 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2005, no pet.).

[7]  The entirety of Lottie's argument section of her brief is as follows:

Cross-examination is a safeguard essential to a fair trial and a cornerstone of the quest for truth, and thus
longstanding principles of jurisprudence recognize the right and necessity of full and complete cross-
examination.  Russell Stover Candies, Inc. [v]. Elmore, 58 S.W.3rd 154 (Tex. Civ. App.-Amarillo 2001, review
denied). [sic]

The purpose of cross examination is to test the truth of the evidence given on the examination in chief.  
Dorman v. Malloy, 481 S.W.2nd (Tex. Civ. App.-Beaumont 1966, writ refused n.r.e.) Halpert v. Upper Neches
River Municipal Water Authority, 367 S.W.2nd 879 (Tex. Civ. App. Houston 1963, writ refused n.r.e.). [sic]

Here, the Appellant repeatedly asked Appellee about the $4,000.00 she had spent putting a new roof on the
Petitioner[']s house, but never got a direct response.  The trial [j]udge cut off that part of Appellant's cross-
examination rather than compel the Appellee to answer the Appellant's questions on cross-examination  
(Reporter's Record, Volume 1, page 10).

The explanation for Appellee's lack of responsiveness to Appellant's questions is that Appellee was avoiding
making any statement that might have been construed as an admission that Appellee had any liability [to
Appellant] for reimbursement to Appellant for reimbursement [sic] of Appellant's separate funds that Appellant
spent to improve Appellee's separate property.

It is irrelevant that the house might have been foreclosed on before Appellant paid to have a new roof put [on]
Appellee's house because Appellee continued to live in the house and did not tell Appellant that the house
had been foreclosed on, which would have resulted from Appellee's failure to make the contractual payments
he agreed to make when he financed the house.

Many of these statements are conclusory, opaque, and not supported by any legal authority or record
references.  See Tex. R. App. P. 38.1(i) (”the brief must contain a clear and concise argument for the
contentions made, with appropriate citations to authorities and to the record.").  We further note that the
statement-of-facts section of Lottie's brief contains no record references.  See Tex. R. App. P. 38.1(g)
(stating that this section of an appellant's brief must be supported by record references).