Trojacek v. Estate of Kveton (Tex.App.- Houston [14th Dist.] Apr. 7, 2009)(Sullivan)
(
real estate dispute, constructive trust, cancellation of deeds, breach of fiduciary duty,
lis pendens, property transfer in expectation of marriage, lack of consideration)
AFFIRMED IN PART DISMISSED IN PART: Opinion by
Justice Sullivan   
Before Justices Brock Yates, Guzman and Sullivan)
14-07-00911-CV  Theresa Elizabeth Trojacek and Ronald David Ludwig v. Estate of Magnolia Kveton
Appeal from County Court at Law of Austin County

M E M O R A N D U M  O P I N I O N

This longstanding real-estate dispute arose in Austin County and involves unusual factual complexity.  
The parties are:  (1) Magnolia Kveton (“Kveton”), an elderly lady who owned 333 acres of land that she
deeded to her putative fiancé, Ronald David Ludwig (“Ludwig”); (2) Ludwig, an already-married young
veterinarian who has since been incarcerated for capital murder, and (3) Ludwig’s ex-wife, Theresa
Elizabeth Trojacek (“Trojacek”), who continues to litigate about ownership of the land in which she
admittedly has no legal interest.  

In 1990, after discovering that Ludwig was married, Kveton sued him for fraud and breach of fiduciary
duties, seeking a return of the property she deeded to him.  Following a bench trial conducted
seventeen years later, in 2007, the trial court concluded that Ludwig in fact breached fiduciary duties to
Kveton and restored ownership of the property to the estate of the now-deceased Kveton (the “Estate”).

In one issue on appeal, Ludwig challenges the trial court’s subject matter jurisdiction, contending that
the amount in controversy in the underlying proceeding exceeded the jurisdictional limits for a statutory
county court.  In addition, Trojacek has separately appealed, raising five issues, under the presumption
that she has some legal rights to the acreage.  She does not.  Because Trojacek lacks standing to
challenge the judgment, we dismiss her appeal for want of jurisdiction.  Otherwise, we affirm the
judgment as to Ludwig.
                                                        
BACKGROUND

In the late 1970s, Kveton owned roughly 333 acres of land located in Austin County and Colorado
County.  When she was almost ninety years old, she was befriended by Ludwig, a veterinarian in his
mid-20s.  As their friendship developed, Kveton apparently came under the impression that Ludwig
intended to marry her.  Over a period of nine years that began in 1979,  Kveton transferred the 333
acres to Ludwig in the form of six real-estate deeds that were executed at different times.  She later
alleged, and the trial court found, that Ludwig did not give consideration for these deeds.

During the time that Kveton claimed Ludwig as her fiancé, he was already married to Trojacek.  
However, in 1989, Trojacek sued Ludwig for divorce in Harris County district court and, in that
proceeding, characterized the 333 acres as the couple’s community property.  Kveton apparently
learned of the divorce action and, realizing that Ludwig was already married, demanded that he return
the real-estate deeds to her.  When he declined, Kveton intervened in the divorce proceeding.  She
accused LudwigCand Trojacek, tooCof fraud and breach of fiduciary duties, and asked that the
acreage be re-conveyed to her.  Kveton died during the pendency of the divorce action, however, and
the petition for intervention was thereafter prosecuted by her estate.  Kveton’s will was probated in the
County Court at Law of Austin County.

The Harris County district court ordered that the intervention be severed from the main divorce action
but, after that point, the record indicates there was no further activity on the intervention until March 30,
2007, almost fifteen years later.[1]  Meanwhile, in February 1992, the district court signed a divorce
decree that awarded the 333 acres to Ludwig, as his separate property.  Importantly, Trojacek has
never appealed that determination, and she openly acknowledges that the divorce decree effectively
extinguished any claim she might have in the acreage.

Ludwig did not hold title to the property for long.  During the pendency of the divorce action, Ludwig was
indicted for the capital murder of his brother-in-law (Joseph Trojacek) and five-year-old nephew
(Matthew Trojacek).  He was convicted and sentenced to incarceration for life.  See Ludwig v. State,
872 S.W.2d 771, 771 (Tex. App.- Waco 1994), aff’d, 931 S.W.2d 239 (Tex. Crim. App. 1996).  
Katherine Marie Trojacek (“Katherine”), who was Joseph’s widow and Matthew’s mother, obtained a civil
judgment against Ludwig for $50,016,962.00.  In 1993, Katherine, presumably collecting on the civil
judgment, acquired whatever interest Ludwig had in the 333 acres pursuant to sheriffs’ deeds in Austin
County and Colorado County.

In 2007, Katherine attempted to sell some of the real property; however, a title company discovered that
the acreage was subject to a lis pendens notice that the Estate had filed in Austin County in March
1992.  At that point, Theresa TrojacekCnot KatherineCapproached the Estate to terminate the lis
pendens.  When the Estate refused, Trojacek threatened, apparently on her sister’s behalf, to bring
litigation.

In March 2007, the Estate filed a motion asking that the intervention, which had lain dormant in Harris
County for many years, be transferred to Austin County and consolidated with the Estate’s probate
proceeding.  The county court in Austin County, sitting as a probate court, granted the transfer and
consolidation request.  Trojacek responded by filing several motions seeking termination of the lis
pendens notice relating to the 333 acres, although she admitted by affidavit that she held no legal
interest in the land.

The case proceeded to a bench trial in Austin County.  The Estate continued to press claims against
Ludwig and Trojacek for fraud and breach of fiduciary duty.  Trojacek also pursued a counterclaim
against Ludwig and the Estate, alleging that both had filed frivolous pleadings.  The trial court found in
Trojacek’s favor as to all of the Estate’s claims against her, but rejected Trojacek’s frivolous-pleading
counterclaims.  As to Ludwig, the trial court also found in his favor on the Estate’s fraud allegations.  
However, on the Estate’s breach-of-fiduciary duty claims against Ludwig, the court found that (1) Ludwig
had a confidential relationship with Kveton, giving rise to fiduciary duties; (2) Ludwig breached those
duties to Kveton; (3) Ludwig held all six deeds in constructive trust for Kveton; and (4) Ludwig did not
give consideration for the real-estate transfers.  Therefore, the trial court rescinded the deeds from
Kveton to Ludwig, and ordered Ludwig to pay $108,546.79 in damages to the Estate.

Ludwig and Trojacek have separately appealed the trial court’s judgment, collectively raising six issues.  
In his only issue, Ludwig contends that the trial court lacked jurisdiction because the amount in
controversy exceeded $100,000, the maximum jurisdictional limit for a statutory county court.  Trojacek
has also appealed the trial court’s fiduciary-breach finding against Ludwig, arguing in five issues that
(1) the Estate’s petition was, or should have been, dismissed for want of prosecution; (2) the trial court’s
finding of a constructive trust is factually insufficient; and (3) the trial court abused its discretion by
failing to grant a new trial after Trojacek allegedly discovered new evidence indicating that Ludwig had,
in fact, paid consideration for the real-estate conveyances.

We hold that Trojacek lacks standing to appeal a judgment that did not injuriously affect her rights.  
Therefore, we dismiss her appeal for lack of jurisdiction.  We also hold that the trial court had subject
matter jurisdiction over the Estate’s claims against Ludwig.  Accordingly, we affirm the judgment as to
him.
                                                            
STANDING

The doctrine of standing exists to identify lawsuits that are appropriate for judicial determination.  
Concerned Cmty. Involved Dev., Inc. v. City of Houston, 209 S.W.3d 666, 670 (Tex. App.- Houston [14th
Dist.] 2006, pet. denied).  Standing is implicit in the concept of subject matter jurisdiction and, as such,
is never presumed and cannot be waived.  Tex. Ass’n of Bus. v. Tex. Air Control Bd., 852 S.W.2d 440,
445 (Tex. 1993).  Thus, although none of the parties have addressed Trojacek’s standing on appeal,
standing may be raised for the first time on appeal, even by a court acting sua sponte.  See id. at 445-
46.

An appealing party lacks standing to complain about errors that do not injuriously affect her, or that
merely affect the rights of others.  Torrington Co. v. Stutzman, 46 S.W.3d 829, 843 (Tex. 2000);
Buckholts Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Glaser, 632 S.W.2d 146, 150 (Tex. 1982); Gorman v. Gorman, 966 S.W.
2d 858, 864 (Tex. App.- Houston [1st Dist.] 1998, pet. denied).  Therefore, although Trojacek was a
party to the Estate’s lawsuit, her own interests must be prejudiced before she has standing to appeal.  
See Gorman, 966 S.W.2d at 864.

On its face, the judgment does not expressly grant any relief against Trojacek.  To the contrary, the
judgment specifically recites that she is not responsible for fraud or breach of fiduciary duty, the only
causes of action asserted by the Estate.  Nevertheless, she raises five issues on appeal, all of which
deal with the 333 acres.[2]  Because she has no rights to that property, however, she is without
standing to challenge a judgment that does not prejudice her interests.[3]  See id.; Aguirre v. Phillips
Props., 111 S.W.3d 328, 335 (Tex. App.- Corpus Christi 2003, pet. denied) (finding party lacked
standing to appeal summary-judgment order that did not prejudice its interests).

We consider a party’s standing using the same standard under which we review subject matter
jurisdiction generally.  See Tex. Ass’n of Bus., 852 S.W.2d at 446.  That is, we will construe Trojacek’s
petition in her favor and, to the extent necessary, will review the entire record to determine if any
evidence supports standing.  See id.  The general test for standing asks whether a case presents a real
controversy between the parties that will be actually determined by the judicial declaration sought.  See
id.  In the context of this case, then, we must determine whether the pleadings and evidence indicate
that Trojacek has a justiciable interest in the real estate that is the subject of her issues on appeal.  See
Bell v. Ott, 606 S.W.2d 942, 953 (Tex. Civ. App.- Waco 1980, writ ref’d n.r.e.).  We conclude that she
does not.

The trial court’s judgment specifically rescinds six deeds concerning 333 acres of land located in Austin
County and Colorado County.  However, under the terms of the previous divorce decree, all of this
acreage was found to be Ludwig’s separate property and not the parties’ community property.  
Therefore, Trojacek, who did not appeal the divorce decree, did not have an interest in the property
following the divorce.  See Marburger v. Seminole Pipeline Co., 957 S.W.2d 82, 89-90 (Tex. App.-
Houston [14th Dist.] 1997, pet. denied) (concluding husbands had no legal interest in wives’ separate-
property real estate), disapproved of on other grounds by Hubenak v. San Jacinto Gas Transmission
Co., 141 S.W.3d 172 (Tex. 2004).

In fact, in an affidavit, Trojacek expressly disavows any interest in the acreage:

The 333 acres in Austin and Colorado Counties was confirmed as the separate property of Ronald
David Ludwig at page thirty-one (31) in the Final Decree of Divorce.
. . . .
On the 5th day of August 1993 (13 years ago), Katherine Marie Trojacek . . . took title to the 333 acres
by a Sheriff’s Deed in Austin County and a Sheriff’s Deed in Colorado County.

I have no interest in the above noted acreage.[4]  However I will protect the interest of Katherine Marie
Trojacek and her daughters.

It appears from the text of her affidavit, then, that by opposing the Estate’s request for a return of the
acreage at trial and on appeal, Trojacek intended only to represent her relatives’ interests, if any, in the
acreage.  However, an appealing party may not complain about errors that merely affect the rights of
others.  See Torrington Co., 46 S.W.3d at 843; Gorman, 966 S.W.2d at 864.  

Trojacek does not have standing to challenge the judgment on behalf of her sister and nieces.  See
Aguirre, 111 S.W.3d at 335.  Accordingly, we dismiss Trojacek’s appeal for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction.  See Harper v. Welchem, Inc., 799 S.W.2d 492, 496 (Tex. App.- Houston [14th Dist.] 1990,
no writ) (stating that dismissal is the correct disposition upon concluding that a party lacks standing);
Ryder v. State, 917 S.W.2d 503, 505 (Tex. App.- Waco 1996, no writ) (AWe do not have subject matter
jurisdiction over [appellant’s] appeal of the order . . . because she does not have standing to appeal
from it; thus we also dismiss her attempted appeal of that order for want of jurisdiction.”).

THE COUNTY COURT’S SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION

In his only issue on appeal,[5] Ludwig contends that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over
the lawsuit and therefore should have dismissed the suit, sua sponte.  He argues that the trial court, a
statutory county court, lacks jurisdiction over civil cases in which the amount in controversy, as alleged
in the petition, exceeds $100,000.  See Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. § 25.0003(c)(1) (Vernon 2004 & Supp.
2008).  Because the Estate’s pleadings allege an amount in controversy in excess of $100,000, Ludwig
concludes that the trial court’s judgment is void.  We disagree.

A court must have subject matter jurisdiction before it may decide a case.  See Bland Indep. Sch. Dist.
v. Blue, 34 S.W.3d 547, 553-54 (Tex. 2000).  If a trial court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, its judgment
is void rather than merely voidable.  Mapco, Inc. v. Forrest, 795 S.W.2d 700, 703 (Tex. 1990) (orig.
proceeding).  Whether the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law that we review
de novo.  Singleton v. Casteel, 267 S.W.3d 547, 550 (Tex. App.- Houston [14th Dist.] 2008, pet.
denied).  We conclude that, because the trial court was acting under its probate jurisdiction, and not its
civil jurisdiction, the county court had subject matter jurisdiction to consider the Estate’s lawsuit.

The County Court at Law of Austin County was created as a statutory county court with jurisdiction as
described in chapter 25 of the Texas Government Code.  See Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. § 25.0101
(creating Austin County’s County Court at Law), 25.0003 (describing statutory county court’s general
jurisdiction), 25.0102 (conferring additional jurisdiction on  Austin County statutory county courts).  
Generally, a statutory county court exercises civil jurisdiction in civil cases in which the matter in
controversy does not exceed $100,000.  See id. § 25.0003(c)(1).  

In addition to its civil jurisdiction, however, a statutory county court-except in counties with statutory
probate courts- also has “the probate jurisdiction provided by general law for county courts.”  Id. '
25.0003(d).  Austin County has no statutory probate court; therefore, its statutory county court
exercises original probate jurisdiction and may “hear all matters incident to an estate.”  See id. §25.
0101; Tex. Prob. Code Ann. § 5(c), (f) (Vernon Supp. 2008).  

In a statutory county court, proceedings that are “incident to an estate” include All claims by or against
an estate, all actions for trial of title to land incident to an estate, . . . all actions for trial of the right of
property incident to an estate, . . . and generally all matters relating to the settlement, partition, and
distribution of estates of deceased persons.”  Tex. Prob. Code Ann. § 5A(a) (Vernon 2003); Palmer v.
Coble Wall Trust Co., 851 S.W.2d 178, 182 (Tex. 1992).  Here, the intervention was a claim by the
Estate to recover title to real property.  Therefore, the intervention is a matter “incident to an estate.”  
See Tex. Prob. Code Ann. § 5A(a); Henry v. LaGrone, 842 S.W.2d 324, 327 (Tex. App.- Amarillo 1992,
orig. proceeding) (concluding, under similar statutory definition for guardianship proceedings, that
dispute as to title and ownership of real property was matter “incident to an estate”).  Accordingly, the
monetary limitations on the Austin County statutory county court at law’s civil jurisdiction does not limit
its probate jurisdiction.  See English v. Cobb, 593 S.W.2d 674, 675 (Tex. 1979) (“The [$100,000]
limitation does not apply to those cases being tried in the county court under its probate jurisdiction.”);
Lee v. Hersey, 223 S.W.3d 439, 444-46 (Tex. App.- Amarillo 2006, pet. denied); Hailey v. Siglar, 194 S.
W.3d 74, 76 (Tex. App.- Texarkana 2006, pet. denied).

Therefore, we overrule Ludwig’s only issue on appeal.
                                                         
CONCLUSION

Accordingly, we dismiss appellant Theresa Elizabeth Trojacek’s appeal for want of subject matter
jurisdiction.  As to appellant Ronald David Ludwig, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

/s/        Kent C. Sullivan

Justice

Panel consists of Justices Yates, Guzman, and Sullivan.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[1]           Trojacek attempts to explain this fifteen-year gap in her first appellate issue, in which she
contends that, in October 1992, the district court dismissed the intervention for want of prosecution
because the Estate’s lawyer failed to appear for trial.  However, because we hold that Trojacek lacks
standing on appeal, we do not address the merits of this complaint.

[2]           In her first two issues, Trojacek asserts that the Estate’s intervention - which sought a return
of the acreage - was, or should have been, dismissed for want of prosecution.  Her third and fourth
issues raise a factual-sufficiency challenge, including an attempt to limit the scope of our review under
the parol-evidence rule, to the trial court’s finding of a confidential relationship between Ludwig and
Kveton.  Finally, in her fifth issue, Trojacek contends that she deserves a new trial because she has
discovered new evidence indicating that Ludwig gave consideration for the land tracts.

[3]           Arguably, Trojacek might have had standing to appeal the judgment to the limited extent that it
disposed of her affirmative counterclaims seeking attorney’s fees against Ludwig and the Estate for
allegedly filing frivolous pleadings under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 13.  However, even under a
liberal construction of her claims, see Tex. R. App. P. 38.9, we cannot interpret any of her five appellate
issues as challenging the denial of her counterclaims.

[4]           Emphasis added.

[5]           Ludwig, who is incarcerated and who appears pro se in this appeal, inserted his two-
paragraph appellate “brief” in the text of his notice of appeal, which may be found in the clerk’s record.  
For several reasons, that document fails to comply with the requirements for an appellate brief.  See
Tex. R. App. 38.1(a)B(g), (j); see also Tex. R. App. P. 38.9(a) (permitting courts to order rebriefing in
certain cases).  Because we may fairly decipher the nature of Ludwig’s complaint, which we find to be
without merit, we do not order rebriefing in this case.  See Tex. Mexican Ry. Co. v. Bouchet, 963 S.W.2d
52, 54-55 (Tex. 1998)