Rule 202, anonymous Internet postings, and anti-SLAPP

firstamendment_0 (1)In Glassdoor Inc. v. Andra Group LP, the Fifth Court affirmed an order granting a Rule 202 petition about online reviews of a business as an employer, offering several pointers for the handling of such petitions:

  • The trial judge limited the scope of the examination to two posts, and specific items within them;
  • The movant established its potential business disparagement damages with three affidavits about the effect of the posts on its recruiting;
  • The statements at issue went beyond “hyperbole or mere personal opinion” to make specific “accusations of illegal conduct that are capable of being proved true or false”; and
  • The First Amendment rights of the anonymous reviewers to speak anonymously “must be balanced against the right of others to hold accountable those who engage in speech not protected by the First Amendment.”

A “mirror image” anti-SLAPP motion was properly rejected for the same reasons that the Rule 202 petition was granted. No. 05-16-00189-CV (March 24, 2017) (mem. op.)

Legal effect of “He’s dead, Jim.”

dr mccoyIf Dr. McCoy made his famous pronouncement, not as to an Enterprise crew member in a red shirt, but during litigation about another defendant by filing a “suggestion of death,” would he make a general appearance in that litigation? The Fifth Court answered “no” in Hegwer v. Edwards, primarily citing a line of cases holding that making and filing a Rule 11 agreement does not amount to a general appearance. No. 05-15-01464-CV (March 22, 2017).

A Wiki Too Far

In D Magazine Partners LP v. Rosenthal, reviewing the work of the Dallas Court of Appeals in a high-profile anti-SLAPP case, the Texas Supreme Court observed about Wikipedia:

“Given the arguments both for and against reliance on Wikipedia, as well as the variety of ways in which the source may be utilized, a bright-line rule is untenable. Of the many concerns expressed about Wikipedia use, lack of reliability is paramount and may often preclude its use as a source of authority in opinions. At the least, we find it unlikely Wikipedia could suffice as the sole source of authority on an issue of any significance to a case. That said, Wikipedia  can often be useful as a starting point for research purposes. In this case, for example, the cited Wikipedia page itself cited past newspaper and magazine articles that had used the term ‘welfare queen’ in various contexts and could help shed light on how a reasonable person could construe the term.”

But, as a matter of the relevant substantive law, and the nature of Wikipedia, twikipedia-logo_1he Texas Supreme Court found overreliance on a Wikipedia entry when “the court of appeals utilized Wikipedia as its primary source to ascribe a specific, narrow definition to a single term that the court found significantly influenced the article’s gist. Essentially, the court used the Wikipedia definition as the lynchpin of its analysis on a critical issue. . . . ”

Accordingly, Dallas-area practitioners should pay special attention to these statements, if online resources such as Wikipedia play more than a general background role in a legal argument. 

Attorneys Immune in Collection Case

immune defense

Echoing a line of cases from the Fifth Circuit about attorney immunity, and applying the Texas Supreme Court’s opinion in Cantey Hanger LLP v. Byrd, 467 S.W.3d 477 (Tex. 2015), the Fifth Court affirmed a summary judgment for a law firm involved in a foreclosure, noting: “The evidence shows Mackie Wolf provided appellants with a copy of the original note that appellants executed and all actions taken by Mackie Wolf were made in connection with its representation of its clients, BONY and Ocwen. The actions taken by Mackie Wolf that are the subject of this litigation—obtaining the note and presenting it to appellants—are the kinds of actions that are part of the discharge of an attorney’s duties in representing a party.” Santiago v. Mackie Wolf, No. 05-16-00394-CV (March 10, 2017) (mem. op.)

For whom the bell tolls, it tolls for the appellee

bellsA useful reminder about timeliness appears in Duchouquette v. McWhorter, in which the appellant filed a late notice of appeal within the 15-day grace period, but neglected to move for leave to extend the deadline. In addition to dismissing the appellant’s appeal, the Fifth Court dismissed the cross-appeal noticed 8 days after the appellant’s: “[T]he Court does not have jurisdiction over a cross-appeal where the original notice of appeal is untimely.” No. 05-17-00041-CV (March 13, 2017) (mem. op.)

A good year for scire facias

scire faciasThe writ of “scire facias” made one of its rare appearances in City of Dallas v. Ellis, after ten years passed from rendition of judgment, and the two-year grace period for a writ of scire facias expired as well. Unfortunately for the judgment debtor, under another provision of the Civil Practice & Remedies Code, the grace period does not expire for a judgment held by an incorporated city. The debtor did not persuade the Fifth Court that the city’s case should be viewed as one for subrogation that could potentially avoid that provision. No. 05-16-00348-CV (Feb. 17, 2017) (mem. op.)

Court administrator’s email stating findings are not findings

D&D

In Baxter & Associates, LLC v. D&D Elevators, Inc., No. 05-16-003300-CV (Feb. 15, 2017), the plaintiff appealed from the denial of a temporary injunction against former employees and the company they formed. The plaintiff alleged that the former employees took trade secrets, namely a list of builders with projects potentially including elevators, in violation of their fiduciary duties and the Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“TUTSA”).

After a two-day hearing, the parties received a signed order denying the request for temporary injunction, which was attached to an email from the court administrator stating, “The Court makes the following rulings: … I do find that trade secret as to existing jobs or bids was obtained… [but] there is an adequate remedy at law….” The plaintiff requested findings of fact and conclusions of law, and filed a motion for reconsideration based on its argument that it did not need to show no adequate remedy at law under TUTSA to obtain injunctive relief. The trial court did not sign any findings of fact or conclusions of law, and the plaintiff appealed without filing a notice of past due findings and conclusions of law.

The first issue addressed by the court was procedural—whether the statement contained in the court administrator’s email stating the existence of trade secrets was a finding of fact. The Court of Appeals held it was not, in part because at a subsequent hearing the trial court stated that it had not made such a finding. Although the plaintiff formally requested findings of fact and conclusions of law, it failed to file a notice of past due findings and conclusions of law pursuant to Rule 297. Thus, the Court of Appeals held there were no findings of fact or conclusions of law, that any error for the failure to make such findings was not preserved, and implied a finding that the plaintiff had not shown the existence of a trade secret.

The Court went on to hold that there was evidence that would have allowed the trial court to conclude that the list of projects was not a trade secret because the information could be publicly identified, and therefore would not “derive[] independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known….”

Baxter & Associates, LLC v. D&D Elevators, Inc., No. 05-16-003300-CV (Feb. 15, 2017)

V’s got a ticket to ride.

84ecb956c1ff1bc291cf8a9901ad7bdfvRide, a vanpool service, sought statutory indemnity from Ford after an accident, contending that the plaintiffs alleged – in substance – a products liability claim. The Fifth Court disagreed: The Cernoseks’ petition did not allege that the Ford van was unreasonably dangerous, was defective by manufacture or design, was rendered defective because it lacked certain safety features, or was otherwise defective. Instead, the petition alleged that vRide represented its vehicles had certain safety features when in actuality the vehicles did not have those safety features and that vRide failed to furnish vehicles with those safety features. In short, the Cernoseks’ petition did not contain allegations that the damages arose out of personal injury, death, or property damage allegedly caused by a defective product.” vRide v. Ford, No. 05-15-01377-CV (Feb. 2, 2017) (mem. op.)