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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Appellants Dan Hennigan and Ronnie Vee Hebisen are attorneys who shared office space. Clear Creek Independent School District (CCISD) filed suit against appellants and other attorneys who occupied the office suite for delinquent personal property taxes. Harris County and the city of Nassau Bay filed a plea in intervention. The trial court referred the matter to a tax master, Michael Landrum, who heard evidence on Feb. 13, 2004, and issued a master’s report. Landrum recommended that the taxing authorities take nothing from Hebisen, that Hennigan was liable for delinquent taxes accrued for tax years 1998 through 2001 and that the referring court’s judgment provide for foreclosure of the tax lien. Hennigan filed a general notice of appeal in the trial court contending the taxing authorities were not entitled to any tax lien. Because the existence or nonexistence of a tax lien was the ultimate issue to be decided, the 14th Court of Appeals interpreted Hennigan’s notice of appeal as a global challenge to every issue decided by the tax master. CCISD also appealed to the referring court. CCISD, however, restricted its appeal to whether it was entitled to “a judgment for personal liability and foreclosure of the tax liens for the 2002 and 2003 tax years.” Hebisen did not appeal. The trial court held a bench trial and heard evidence on July 15, 2004. No reporter’s record was made of the trial de novo. The trial court found Hennigan and Hebisen jointly and severally liable to the taxing authorities for delinquent taxes that accrued on personal property valued at $24,320 for tax years 1998 through 2003, and for penalties, interest and attorneys’ fees. The judgment also authorized the taxing authorities to obtain all writs and processes necessary to enforce and collect the judgment. Appellants timely filed a joint notice of appeal from the trial court’s judgment. They argued there was no evidence that: they owed any taxes; they owned taxable property within appellees’ taxing jurisdiction on January first of each taxable year; they owned taxable property jointly within appellees’ taxing jurisdiction; or there was any appraisal by the appropriate appraisal districts of any property in the amount found by the trial court. Appellants provided an appellate record consisting only of a clerk’s record and a reporter’s record of the hearing before Landrum. They urged that “[t]he issues raised in this appeal relate to matters not appealed to the referring court and are properly before this court with the statement of facts made before the tax master.” They relied on Texas Tax Code ��33.74(c), (d) and (i) in arguing that the trial court was limited to hearing only those issues specifically challenged on de novo appeal, so that issues left unchallenged before the referring court could be appealed separately to an intermediate appellate court using only the tax master transcript. CCISD, however, contended the evidence and testimony presented before the tax master was not the evidence heard by the referring court and further argued that the record under review was the one made by the trial court, not the tax master. HOLDING:Affirmed. Hennigan submitted a broad, global notice of appeal challenging the master’s recommendation of any tax lien. Hebisen gave no notice of appeal. By filing a general notice of appeal, the court found that Hennigan effectively challenged every finding of the tax master. While the trial court was not required to entertain such a broad appeal, the court stated that once the trial court did so, it was required to conduct a full trial de novo. Accordingly, the court found the only record appropriate for its review of Hennigan’s appeal is the record from the de novo hearing in the trial court. But no such record was presented to the appellate court, which stated it had nothing to review. The court found that even if Hennigan’s notice of appeal to the trial court limited the issues under review, none of the subsections cited by Hennigan permit a party to appeal in part to the trial court while reserving other issues for a higher court’s review. The court held that when hearing an appeal de novo from a tax master’s recommendations, a trial court may in its discretion treat all uncontested issues as conclusive. Moreover, the court held that an appellant may not thereafter challenge the trial court’s judgment on the theory that the tax master’s report was not supported by sufficient evidence. Therefore, the 14th Court stated that it need not look at the transcript made before a tax master when there has been an appeal de novo to a trial court. By filing an appeal to the trial court challenging only part of the master’s report, the 14th Court stated that such an appealing party concedes that the master was correct as to the unchallenged part. The court then addressed Hebisen’s rights. Because Hebisen never appealed from Landrum’s report, the court stated that he contended the referring court could not conduct a de novo review of his tax liability. The court found no merit in that argument. First, the court explained, Hennigan’s general notice of appeal virtually mandated that the referring court conduct a trial de novo on the entire matter and Hebisen was notified of the date of this de novo hearing. Second, the court stated, Hebisen knew that CCISD’s appeal subjected him to potential liability for 2002 and 2003 tax years. As the referring court for the special master, the trial judge never lost jurisdiction over the case. Until a final, appealable order was signed, none of the issues were resolved and all parties not nonsuited from the case had a duty to be present at the de novo hearing, ensure a record was made in order to pursue an appeal and defend their claims or risk default. Finally, the court noted that public policy favors the validity of judgments. Where there is no reporter’s record and no findings of fact, the court assumed that the trial court heard sufficient evidence to make all necessary findings in support of its judgment. As a result, the court found that appellants could not prevail in any evidentiary challenge without first meeting their burden of presenting a sufficient record on appeal. Because there is no record of the de novo hearing before the trial court, the court assumed that the missing record contained sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s judgment. OPINION:Hudson, J.; Hudson and Seymore, J.J. CONCURRENCE:Frost, J. “The court correctly concludes that the trial court had the ability to hear evidence beyond the scope of the appeals and that a referring [trial] court can depart from the master’s recommendations, even recommendations that are not appealed to the referring court . . . Based on these conclusions, it is unnecessary to address several of the issues discussed in the majority opinion. Because the court reaches the right result . . . I respectfully concur in the court’s judgment.”

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