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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Phuong Truong Tu and Kim Loan Nguyen were sisters-in-law. Tu, Nguyen and Nguyen’s sister entered into a partnership to run a bakery and sandwich shop called Alpha Bakery. Tu and Nguyen leased space for their business in Hong Kong Development Inc.’s (HKDI) shopping mall. The lease contained provisions forbidding Tu and Nguyen from assigning the lease without first obtaining written permission from HKDI. Hai Du Duong, HKDI’s president and owner, signed the lease agreement on behalf of HKDI. Tu’s and Nguyen’s relationship soured a few years later about the time that Nguyen and her husband, Tu’s brother, began divorce proceedings. The partners’ dispute resulted in litigation, and the partnership eventually went into receivership. The jury in the partnership suit awarded Nguyen and her sister, also a partner, 70 percent of the partnership; awarded Tu 30 percent of the partnership; and awarded actual damages to Nguyen and attorneys’ fees to Nguyen and her sister. In a separate receivership sale of Alpha Bakery, Nguyen purchased the business. The parties to the sale drew up final paperwork, including a contract assigning Tu’s lease interest to Nguyen, as well as a contract assigning Tu’s partnership interest to Nguyen. No one obtained HKDI’s consent to the lease assignment, despite the lease agreement’s requirement that HKDI’s written consent be obtained as a precondition to any assignment of the leasehold interest. Nonetheless, Nguyen and Tu signed the documents, including the lease assignment. In a nutshell, Nguyen’s position in this appeal was that she and Tu had signed the lease assignment without HKDI’s written consent under duress, because the trial court in the partnership suit had ordered them to sign it under threat of contempt. She also alleged that Tu’s counsel in the partnership suit, who had represented HKDI in other matters, had implied in the partnership suit that he was representing both Tu and HKDI and that HKDI would not object to the assignment. Nguyen also took the position in the current suit that Tu, HKDI and Duong had conspired, for various reasons, to have the parties execute the lease assignment without first obtaining HKDI’s written consent so that Nguyen could be declared in default, HKDI could evict her and Tu could open a competing restaurant in the same mall. In May 2003, HKDI notified Nguyen that she was in default under the lease, because she had not obtained HKDI’s consent to the assignment. HKDI instructed her to vacate the premises. Later that month, Nguyen sued HKDI, Duong and Tu in Harris County Civil Court-at-Law No. 3. Nguyen, inter alia, sought a declaration that the lease assignment from Tu to Nguyen was not a breach of the lease agreement. Two months later, Nguyen filed an amended petition seeking a declaration that the lease assignment was void for having been executed under the “extreme duress” of the threat of contempt in the partnership suit. In July 2003, HKDI filed suit against both Tu and Nguyen, for forcible detainer in a Harris County justice of the peace court, seeking possession of the leasehold property. Both Tu and Nguyen answered in the county court in the forcible-detainer suit. Nguyen asserted counter-claims, cross claims and third-party claims in this suit. On Oct. 16, 2003, Nguyen moved in the forcible-detainer suit to consolidate the tort suit and the forcible-detainer suit, which motion HKDI opposed in writing, while also reurging its earlier-filed motion to strike or to sever. On Oct. 23, 2003, the trial court in the forcible-detainer suit signed an order consolidating the two lawsuits and ordering the tort suit transferred to County Civil Court-at-Law No. One, the court in which the forcible-detainer suit had been filed. The trial court rendered judgment on Nguyen’s motion, which HKDI and Duong opposed in writing. The judgment declared that the lease assignment between Tu and Nguyen did not breach the lease agreement with HKDI; declared that Tu had to indemnify Nguyen for Nguyen’s attorney’s fees; awarded Nguyen possession of the leased premises; and awarded Nguyen actual damages, attorneys’ fees and exemplary damages. Tu, HDKI and Duong moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Their motions were overruled by operation of law. HOLDING:Reversed and remanded. The court concluded that consolidating the tort and forcible-detainer claims was contrary to law. Forcible-detainer suits are intended to provide a speedy, summary and inexpensive determination of the right to immediate possession, the court stated. The county court thwarted this rationale by allowing consolidation of tort claims with a forcible-detainer claim. Moreover, the court stated, the county court’s error in denying the motion to strike or to sever resulted in fundamental error, because it allowed the court to exercise subject-matter jurisdiction over claims that it lacked jurisdiction to consider in the forcible-detainer suit. The harm arising from having to participate in a jury trial before one can obtain what is supposed to be an inexpensive, speedy and summary ruling on the right to immediate possession was evident in this case, the court stated. HKDI filed the forcible-detainer suit in July 2003, but the trial court did not render judgment adjudicating the right to possession until April 30, 2004, the court noted. In addition, the court found that a contractual-indemnity provision in the original leaser required Tu to indemnify Nguyen for Nguyen’s attorneys’ fees. OPINION:Taft, J.; Radack, C.J., and Taft and Nuchia, J.J.

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