Matter of Troy S. Poe Trust, 646 S.W.3d 771 (Tex. 2022).



The settlor expressly required the trustees to agree on all decisions. Unfortunately, the trustees were combatants in other litigation and were unable to agree on several trust matters. One trustee obtained an order from the probate court to make various modifications to the trust. The other trustee appealed.

The appellate court reversed in Matter of Troy S. Poe Trust, 591 S.W.3d 168 (Tex. App.—El Paso 2019). The El Paso court explained that the trial court improperly rejected the other trustee’s request for a jury trial because the question of whether the trust needed to be modified was a fact question. Trust Code § 115.012 provides that normal civil procedure rules and statutes apply to trust actions. These rules and statutes, along with the Texas Constitution, guarantee the right to a jury trial. The trustee made a timely request for a jury trial (the court held the failure to pay the jury fee did not forfeit the right to claim error). The court rejected the claim that Trust Code § 112.054 precludes a jury trial on modification issues because it provides that the “court shall exercise its discretion” in determining the modifications. The court examined the statute and found no reasonable argument that jury trials were precluded on fact issues.

The Supreme Court of Texas reversed holding that § 112.054 “does not confer a right to a jury trial in a judicial trust modification proceeding.” The court explained that the section discusses the court making the decision to modify in its discretion – no mention of a jury.

However, the court remanded the case for the appellate court to consider whether there may be a right under the Texas Constitution to a jury trial. The appellate court explained that a determination needs to be made whether “a Section 112.054 judicial trust-modification proceeding is not a ‘cause’ within the meaning of Article V, Section 10 of the Texas Constitution but, rather, a ‘special proceeding’ falling outside its purview.” Id. at 772-73. The Texas Supreme Court refused to address the issue because it was not raised until the motion for rehearing in the court of appeals.

Moral:  Jury trials appear to be unavailable to ascertain disputed facts in a trust modification action. However, because the Texas Supreme Court did not address the constitutional argument, it may be several years before the issue is conclusively resolved.