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.)

Rounding error?

wheelThe dispute that rolled into court in Wheel Technologies v. Gonzalez was whether a shipment of wheels had been delivered. The companies’ records were important but not dispositive, as the Fifth Court rounded up the facts: “This case essentially came down to a ‘he said, he said’ between two parties’ explanations of accounting. Blaser testified WTI always created a purchase order when it received a delivery and because WTI had no record of any outstanding purchase orders owed to Gonzalez, then it never received the tires. Gonzalez testified to the contrary. . . . Further, Blaser admitted he could not say for sure Owens always created a purchase order upon receipt of tires because Blaser was never personally involved in any of the transactions. Rather, Gonzalez testified there were many times in which the deliveries occurred after hours so checks and other documentation were not always ready when he made a delivery.” No. 05-16-00068-CV (Feb. 8, 2017) (mem. op.)

Mandatory venue for injunctions: what’s your primary purpose?

Alphabet Soup

In In re FPWP GP LLC, et al. (January 25, 2017), the Dallas Court of Appeals conditionally granted a writ of mandamus for the district court’s failure to transfer venue under the mandatory venue provision of Section 65.023 of the Civil Practice & Remedies Code, which provides that “a writ of injunction against a party who is a resident of this state shall be tried in … the county in which the party is domiciled.” Courts have struggled at times to apply Section 65.023 because it does not apply to all suits seeking an injunction, but instead only to suits in which the relief requested is “purely or primarily injunctive.” So, if the primary form of relief is something else, e.g. damages, then the mandatory venue provision does not apply. The opinion gave examples of the exception, such as when injunctive relief is simply to maintain the status quo pending litigation or when there is no request for a permanent injunction. But in the case at hand, the plaintiff sought only a declaratory judgment that was effectively a mirror image of the permanent injunctive relief requested. Holding the injunction “was a means to the same end” as the declaratory judgment, the Court held that the primary purpose of the lawsuit was injunctive and that transfer to the county of domicile of the defendants was mandatory under Section 65.023.

In re FPWP GP LLC, et al. (January 25, 2017)

When is a fraud claim subject to a 2-year limitations period? When it’s not a fraud claim.

Negligence is not fraud

In Parsons v. Queenan, et al., No. 05-15-01375-CV (January 23, 2017), the Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants on limitations grounds. The suit was Parsons’ third in a series of malpractice suits against different attorneys that represented him since the death of his wife in a plane crash more than two decades earlier.

The first issue was whether the breach of fiduciary duty and fraud claims were subject to a 2-year statute of limitations for negligence or a 4-year statute of limitations for fraud or breach of fiduciary duty. The Dallas Court held that the 2-year limitations period applied under the anti-fracturing rule, which prevents legal malpractice plaintiffs from “opportunistically transforming a claim that sounds only in negligence into other claims” to avail themselves of longer limitations periods, less onerous proof requirements, or other tactical advantages. For the anti-fracturing rule to apply, the gravamen of the complaint must focus on the quality or adequacy of the attorney’s representation. The Dallas Court concluded that the fraud and breach of fiduciary duty claims asserted by Parsons were claims for professional negligence as a matter of law.

In the second issue, the Dallas Court held that the 2-year limitations period began to run on the date of the denial of the motion for reconsideration by the Texas Supreme Court in the underlying litigation, not the date mandate was issued. Under Hughes v. Mahaney & Higgins, 821 S.W.2d 154 (Tex. 1991), “the statute of limitations on the malpractice claim against the attorney is tolled until all appeals on the underlying claim are exhausted.” Id. at 157. The Dallas Court held that appeals are exhausted when a motion for rehearing with the Texas Supreme Court is denied because that is the last action of right that can be taken in the underlying case.

Parsons v. Queenan, et al., No. 05-15-01375-CV (January 23, 2017)

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FED Refresher

jp logo2Appeals from forcible entry and detainer actions are common and we do not ordinarily report on them, but it has been some time since we last noted a summary of key principles. A good one appears in the recent case of McCall v. Fannie Mae, in which the appellant alleged improprieties about the relevant foreclosure sale. “But,” noted the Fifth Court, “the deed of trust expressly created a landlord and tenant-at-sufferance relationship when the property was sold by foreclosure. This provided an independent basis to determine the issue of immediate possession without resolving the issue of title. As we have explained, any defects in the foreclosure process . . .  may be pursued in a suit for wrongful foreclosure or to set aside the substitute trustee’s deed, but they are not relevant in this forcible detainer action.” No. 05-16-00010-CV (Jan. 20, 2017) (mem. op.)

Claims to stop payment to Paxton prosecutors moot and still not ripe—no jurisdiction.

Paxton Mug Shot

The Dallas Court of Appeals was pulled into one of the wide-ranging disputes concerning the prosecution of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, this one concerning the payment of private attorneys appointed to prosecute Paxton. The Dallas Court determined that it lacked jurisdiction because the claims were moot and were not yet ripe.

Attorneys were appointed to prosecute Paxton after the Collin County Criminal District Attorney recused his office. The appointed attorneys were to be paid $300 per hour, which was more than fixed $1000 for most court appointed attorneys for indigent defendants under the Collin County local rules, which also apply to appointed prosecutors. However, the local rules also provided “Payment can vary from the fee schedule in unusual circumstances or where the fee would be manifestly inappropriate because of circumstances beyond the control of the appointed counsel.”

On December 11, 2015, the appointed prosecutors sought an interim payment of $254,908.85 from Collin County. Three weeks later, Collin County taxpayer Jeffory Blackard sued seeking a temporary restraining order and injunction preventing payment, asserting that as a taxpayer he had standing to seek to enforce the local rules fixing most fees at a flat $1000. The Collin County judge recused himself, and the taxpayer suit was assigned to County Court at Law No. 5 in Dallas County.

A week after Blackard filed his taxpayer suit, the presiding judge over the criminal prosecution, a Tarrant County judge, approved the payment of the request for interim fees and ordered that the fees be presented to the Collin County Commissioner’s Court for payment. The next day, Blackard filed a supplemental application for temporary restraining order in the Dallas County taxpayer suit, which was denied one day later. Three days after that, only one month after the initial request for interim fees was made, the Collin County Commissioners Court voted to pay. Blackard then filed an amended petition seeking injunctive relief preventing any future requests for attorney’s fees by the appointed prosecutors. The County Court at Law determined that it lacked jurisdiction and granted the defendants’ pleas to the jurisdiction. Blackard appealed.

The Dallas Court began its analysis by noting that mootness and ripeness are threshold issues that implicate subject matter jurisdiction. Rendering opinions under either circumstance violates the prohibition against rendering advisory opinions because such cases present no justiciable controversy.

The Dallas Court held that Blackard’s claims relating to the interim fees were moot because the fees had already been paid and, under Texas law, taxpayers have standing only to seek to enjoin future payments, not to recover funds that have already been paid. Blackard asserted on appeal that his claims fell within the exception to mootness for claims “capable of repetition, yet evading review” because the appointed attorneys stipulated that they anticipated submitting future invoices. But the Dallas Court rejected that exception, which “applies only in rare circumstances.” It noted that the exception had previously only been used to challenge unconstitutional acts performed by the government, and held that the process by which fees would be requested in the future provided sufficient time for Blackard to seek judicial review prior to payment, pointing to the month between the initial request for interim fees and payment.

In addition, the Dallas Court held that claims relating to future invoices were not yet ripe. While it was stipulated that additional fees would be requested, it was not stipulated that the additional requests would be for $300 an hour or otherwise would be inconsistent with the Collin County fee schedule. So the Dallas Court concluded there was no live controversy concerning future requests for fees.

Blackard v. Attorney Pro Tem Kent A. Schafer, et al.

No temporary injunction against former employee

In the common fact situation of an employee leaving for a new, competing employer, the Fifth Court found no abuse of discretion in denying a temporary injunction when:

  • After his termination, Turner did not have access to any confidential information except for the contents of a laptop
  • Turner testified that he did not access the laptop following his termination except to examine his girlfriend’s resume and his employment agreement and when he took it to the Apple Store to have his personal photographs removed from the computer.
  • Plaintiff had a forensic examination of the computer performed, and it presented no evidence that Turner’s testimony was false.
  • When Turner also testified that when he went to work for Gulfstream, he did not contact any of BM Medical’s clients with whom he had worked while employed by BM Medical (although some contacted him to find out what had happened to him); and
  • Only one client of BM Medical became a client of Gulfstream, who was a good friend of Turner’s whom Turner had known before he went to work for BM Medical, and who still did business with BM Medical.

BM Medical Management Service LLC v. Turner, No. 05-16-00670-CV (Jan. 10, 2017) (mem. op.)