Are you thinking about buying a ranch through an informal seller finance deal? If so, beware. Andalusian breeder Rancho Mi Hacienda and owner Gilda Arana learned the hard way the pitfalls of doing this type of deal “on the fly”.
Rancho thought it had an enforceable written agreement whereby Coy Lynn Owens and his wife Linda agreed to sell Rancho 126 acres of land in Hopkins County, Texas. After all, Rancho did have a letter signed by Coy Lynn memorializing the parties’ verbal agreement concerning the ranch sale.
In reliance, Rancho transported its seventy-three Andalusian horses from California to Texas and moved them onto the property. Further, Rancho paid Coy Lynn $25,000 and gave the Owenses’ daughter an Andalusian horse of her choosing. Rancho also expended substantial sums on a log cabin, shelter for the horses, and utilities for the premises. It was Rancho’s understanding that the $25k and the horse constituted the down payment, and that an additional $200,000 was to be paid to the Owenses at the end of a five year term.
Photo: a very majestic Andalusian mare
Around the time Rancho took possession of the property, Coy Lynn Owens went to federal prison for mail fraud. Linda filed for divorce soon after Coy Lynn was incarcerated. In an agreed divorce decree entered by the divorce court, Linda was awarded the realty in question and Coy Lynn was divested of any title to it.
Shortly after the divorce decree was entered, Rancho sued Coy Lynn, Linda, and L&L Investments (a holding company) seeking, among other things, specific performance of the ranch sale agreement, and damages related to the horses such as vet bills, the cost of five horses who died, and lost earnings for one year’s breeding season.
Rancho had Coy Lynn served with the lawsuit at the prison. When Coy Lynn did not file an answer, Rancho took a default judgment against Coy Lynn and nonsuited Linda and L&L Investments. After the jump, you'll see why this was a costly mistake.
Rancho (apparently still in possession of the property) later tried to levy execution on the 126-acre tract to satisfy its judgment against Coy Lynn. In response, Linda obtained a judgment from a JP Court ordering Rancho evicted from the property.
Linda also filed suit in district court against Rancho seeking a declaratory judgment that, among other things, Linda was the sole owner of the property and that it was not subject to execution. The trial court and the Texarkana Court of Appeals agreed with Linda on these points. The Court of Appeals held that because Rancho’s suit was filed after the divorce decree divested Coy Lynn of all interest in the property, it was no longer community property subject to execution on a judgment against Coy Lynn alone.
In hindsight, Rancho probably realized that nonsuiting Linda was a terrible idea. According to the Court:
Although Rancho’s suit originally included [Linda] as a defendant, it made the choice not to pursue an action against [Linda] and filed a nonsuit as it pertained to her, electing to pursue judgment only against [Coy Lynn], who was apparently perceived to be the low-hanging fruit.
Case information: Rancho Mi Hacienda v. Bryant, 2012 WL 952853, No. 06-11-00080-CV (Tex. App.—Texarkana, Mar. 22, 2012). The full text of the opinion can be found here.