Scott Plaza Associates Ltd v. HCAD (pdf)(Tex.App.- Houston [1st Dist.] March 4, 2010)(per
curiam) (
HCAD appeal, plaintiff was not owner and did not have standing to bring judicial review suit of
property tax appraisal, substitution under rule 28 not available, order granting plea to the jurisdiction affirmed)
Steward did not own the property as of January 1, 2007.  Steward did not claim rights
to protest under the Property Tax Code as either a lessee or an agent.  Therefore,
Steward lacked standing to pursue judicial review as a “party who appeals” under
section 42.21(a).  The record does not reflect that Scott Plaza pursued its right of
protest as the actual property owner.  According to the record, Scott Plaza was not
named as a party until May 22, 2009 when Steward filed a first amended original
petition.  Therefore, the Review Board had not determined a protest by the actual
property owner, Scott Plaza, upon which Scott Plaza could premise a right to appeal
as the property owner.
AFFIRMED: Per Curiam     
Before Justices Brock Yates, Anderson and Seymore    
14-09-00707-CV  Scott Plaza Associates LTD, commonly known as J & Friedman S. Steward v.
Harris County Appraisal District     
Appeal from 55th District Court of Harris County (trial judge not identified on appellate docket)

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Scott Plaza Associates and J & Friedman S. Steward appeal from the trial court’s order granting Harris
County Appraisal District’s (“HCAD”)[1] plea to the jurisdiction.  We affirm.

I.  Factual and Procedural Background

The property at issue is located at 4050 Banbury Place in Houston.  Despite the fact that Steward sold the
property on April 24, 2006 to Scott Plaza, Steward filed a notice of protest with HCAD’s Appraisal Review
Board protesting the 2007 tax assessment for the property.  On July 27, 2007, the chairman of the Appraisal
Review Board signed an order determining protest ordering a reduction in the appraised value of the
property.

On September 13, 2007, Steward filed an original petition in the trial court challenging the Review Board’s
determination.  On May 15, 2009, HCAD filed a plea to the jurisdiction arguing that the trial court lacked
subject matter jurisdiction because Steward was not the owner of the property as of January 1, 2007, and
only the property owner had standing to appeal from the Review Board’s order.  HCAD attached to its plea a
copy of the warranty deed in which Steward sold the land to Scott Plaza.  On May 22, 2009, Steward
amended its petition naming Scott Plaza as a plaintiff in the suit for judicial review of the Board’s order.  
Steward and Scott Plaza responded to HCAD’s plea to the jurisdiction, arguing that the procedural defects
had been corrected by applying section 42.21(e)(1) of the Texas Tax Code to correct or change the name of
the plaintiffs.  Appellants further argued that Scott Plaza was a common name for both appellants and that
Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 28 permits it to amend a petition to include Scott Plaza as the true name of the
property owner.

On June 30, 2009, the trial court granted HCAD’s plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed the suit.  In two
issues, appellants contend that the trial court erred in granting the plea to the jurisdiction because appellants
had standing to file the suit pursuant to section 42.21 of the Tax Code and because Rule 28 permits
substitution of the true name of the plaintiff.

II. Standard of Review

Standing is a component of subject-matter jurisdiction that cannot be waived.  Tex. Ass’n of Bus. v. Tex. Air
Control Bd., 852 S.W.2d 440, 445–46 (Tex. 1993).  
If a party does not have standing, a trial court has no
subject-matter jurisdiction to hear the case.  Id. at 444–45.  A trial court’s jurisdiction to hear the subject
matter of a dispute may be challenged by filing a plea to the jurisdiction.  See Bland Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Blue,
34 S.W.3d 547, 554 (Tex. 2000).

A defendant may prevail on a
plea to the jurisdiction by demonstrating that, even if all the plaintiff’s pleaded
allegations are true, an
incurable jurisdictional defect remains on the face of the pleadings that deprives the
trial court of subject-matter jurisdiction.  Harris County Appraisal Dist. v. O’Connor & Assocs., 267 S.W.3d
413, 416 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2008, no pet.).  
In determining a plea to the jurisdiction, a trial
court may consider the pleadings and any evidence pertinent to the jurisdictional inquiry.  Bland, 34 S.W.3d
at 554–55.

We review a trial court’s ruling on a plea to the jurisdiction de novo.  See Tex. Dep’t of Parks & Wildlife v.
Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 226 (Tex. 2004).  In our review, we construe the pleadings liberally in favor of the
pleader and look to the pleader’s intent to determine whether the facts alleged affirmatively demonstrate the
trial court’s jurisdiction to hear the cause.  See id.

III. Analysis

In two issues, appellants assert that the trial court erred in granting the plea to the jurisdiction.  Specifically,
appellants contend that Steward timely amended its petition to include Scott Plaza as a party pursuant to
section 42.21(e)(1) of the Texas Tax Code and Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 28.

A.        Standing

This court recently addressed both of these arguments in BACM 2002 PB2 Westpark Dr LP v. Harris County
Appraisal District, No. 14-08-00493-CV, 2009 WL 2145922 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] June 21, 2009,
no pet.) (mem. op.), and we reach the same outcome here.

As a general rule,
only a property owner may protest tax liability before an appraisal-review board and seek
judicial review in court.  Tourneau Houston, Inc. v. Harris County Appraisal Dist., 24 S.W.3d 907, 909 (Tex.
App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2000, no pet.)  Section 42.21(a) of the Property Tax Code requires a party who
appeals as provided by Chapter 42 of the Property Tax Code to timely file a petition for review with the
district court.  Failure to timely file a petition bars any appeal under the chapter.  Tex. Tax Code Ann. § 42.21
(a) (Vernon Supp. 2009).  Section 42.01 of the Tax Code specifies that a property owner is entitled to appeal
an order of the appraisal review board determining a protest by the property owner as provided by sections
41.41 et seq. of the Property Tax Code.  Id. § 42.01(1)(A).  Alternatively, a property owner may designate a
lessee or an agent to act on the property owner’s behalf for any purpose under the Property Tax Code,
including filing a tax protest.  Id. §§ 1.111 (Vernon 2008) (authorizing a designated lessee or agent to act for
a property owner), 41.413(b) (Vernon 2008) (authorizing a lessee to protest for the property owner in certain
circumstances).

Therefore, to qualify as a “party who appeals” by seeking judicial review of an appraisal-review board’s tax
determination under section 42.21(a), appellants had to be an owner of the property, a designated agent of
the owner, or the authorized lessee of the property under the circumstances stated in section 41.413.  A
party who does not meet one of the above criteria would lack standing under the Property Tax Code.  BACM,
2009 WL 2145922, at *3.  If the litigant lacks standing, the trial court is deprived of subject-matter jurisdiction
to consider a suit for judicial review based on an ad valorem tax protest.  Id.

Here, Steward did not own the property as of January 1, 2007.  Steward did not claim rights to protest under
the Property Tax Code as either a lessee or an agent.  Therefore, Steward lacked standing to pursue judicial
review as a “party who appeals” under section 42.21(a).  The record does not reflect that Scott Plaza
pursued its right of protest as the actual property owner.  According to the record, Scott Plaza was not
named as a party until May 22, 2009 when Steward filed a first amended original petition.  Therefore, the
Review Board had not determined a protest by the actual property owner, Scott Plaza, upon which Scott
Plaza could premise a right to appeal as the property owner.  See Tex. Tax Code Ann. §§ 42.01(1)(A), 42.21
(a); BACM, 2009 WL 2145922, at *4.

B.        Application of Section 42.21(e)(1)

Appellants also contend the trial court had jurisdiction because section 42.21(e)(1) allows amendment of a
timely filed petition “to correct or change the name of a party.”  See Tex. Tax Code Ann. § 42.21(e)(1);
BACM, 2009 WL 2145922, at *5.  We disagree, for the same reasons announced in BACM.

Section 42.21(e) specifies that only petitions that are “timely filed under Subsection (a) or amended under
Subsection (c)” may later be amended to correct or change a party’s name.[2]  See Tex. Tax Code Ann.  
42.21(e)(1).  

To seek judicial review under Subsection (a), the plaintiff must be a “party who appeals as provided by
[Chapter 42],” meaning the plaintiff must be the property owner, a properly designated agent, or a lessee.  
Id. § 42.21(a).

Steward timely filed a petition for review; however, Steward did not own the property on January 1, 2007, and
thus lacked standing to seek judicial review.  See BACM, 2009 WL 2145922, at *5.  Appellants’ argument that
subsection 42.21(e)(1) operates to allow Steward to correct or change the party’s name presupposes that
Scott Plaza was a proper party entitled to seek judicial review.  Id.  However, Scott Plaza did not pursue its
right to protest as the property owner.  When no proper party timely appealed to the district court, the trial
court did not acquire subject-matter jurisdiction, and the Review Board’s determination became final.  See id.  
We overrule appellants’ first issue.

C.        Application of Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 28    

Lastly, appellants argue the trial court had jurisdiction to hear the case because Texas Rule of Civil
Procedure 28, which governs suits by or against entities doing business under an assumed name, permits
substitution of Scott Plaza as Steward’s “true name.”  Rule 28 states:

Any partnership, unincorporated association, private corporation, or individual doing business under an
assumed name may sue or be sued in its partnership, assumed or common name for the purpose of
enforcing for or against it a substantive right, but on a motion by any party or on the court’s own motion the
true name may be substituted.

Tex. R. Civ. P. 28.

In this case, Steward attempted to substitute its “true name” Scott Plaza by filing an amended original petition
and arguing Rule 28 permitted the substitution.  
For a party to take advantage of Rule 28 and sue in its
common name, there must be a showing that the named entity is in fact doing business under that common
name.  Seidler v. Morgan, 277 S.W.3d 549, 553 (Tex. App.—Texarkana 2009, pet. denied).  Whether an
entity does business under an assumed or common name is a question of fact for the trial court.  Sixth RMA
Partners, L.P. a/k/a RMA Partners, L.P. v. Sibley, 111 S.W.3d 46, 52 (Tex. 2003).  

Appellants did not make a showing that Scott Plaza was in fact
doing business under the common name
Steward, nor was there evidence that appellants used Steward as a common name to warrant application of
Rule 28.  Compare Sixth RMA Partners, 111 S.W.3d at 52 (concluding evidence supported assumed-name
finding when Sixth RMA presented evidence that RMA Partners, L.P. was used as trade name for various
RMA partnerships, RMA letterhead was used, and payments on notes were made to RMA) and Chilkewitz v.
Hyson, 22 S.W.3d 825, 829 (Tex. 1999) (stating some evidence supported application of Rule 28 when
stationery and phone-number listing used by one-person professional association contained name of
individual).[3]  

Accordingly, we overrule appellants’ second issue on appeal.

The trial court’s judgment is affirmed.
                                                                              PER CURIAM

Panel consists of Justices Yates, Anderson, and Seymore


[1] Appellants’ pleadings and notice of appeal identify both HCAD and the Harris County Appraisal Review Board as
defendants.  Because the record does not indicate that the Appraisal Review Board was served or appeared in the suit and it
was not a necessary party, we consider HCAD the only appellee properly before this court.  See BACM 2002 PB2 Westpark Dr.
LP v. Harris County Appraisal Dist., 14-08-00493-CV, 2009 WL 2145922 at 1, n. 1 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] June 21,
2009, no pet.) (mem. op.).

[2] Appellants do not argue that Subsection (c) applies to this case.

[3] Although appellants cite HCAD’s records that reflect Steward as the property owner even after the property sale, HCAD’s
records alone are not sufficient to establish Scott Plaza operated its business under the common name of Steward.  See KM-
Timbercreek, LLC v. Harris County Appraisal Dist., — S.W.3d —, No. 01-08-00689-CV, 2009 WL 3321332, at *7 (Tex. App.—
Houston [1st Dist.] Oct. 15, 2009, no pet.) (stating only Timbercreek could establish whether it operated its business under an
assumed or common name).  There is no evidence that Scott Plaza held itself out as Steward or requested HCAD refer to it as
Steward in its records.  Id.