Not counsel? Not mandamus.

In re Guess provides a basic reminder about the limits of pro se representation and legal services from non-lawyers: “Before the Court is relator’s October 5, 2017 petition for writ of mandamus. Bruce Bryant filed this petition for writ of mandamus as relator’s “authorized representative.” Mr Bryant is not an attorney, is not a party to the litigation and, therefore, cannot file a petition on behalf of relator.” Nos. 05-17-01163-CV et seq. (Oct. 11, 2017) (mem. op.)

Ecclesiastical abstention bars suit v. private school

The Fifht Court granted mandamus relief against a lawsuit about a student’s discipline by a private school, based on the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine. The Court’s thorough analysis observes: “We acknowledge that the dispute does not expressly concern religious doctrine in all respects. But we also note that [In re: St. Thomas High School, 495 S.W.3d 500, 506 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2016, orig. proceeding). and [In re: Vida, No. 04-14-00636-CV, 2015 WL 82717, at *2 (Tex. App.—San Antonio Jan. 7, 2015, orig.
proceeding) (mem. op.)] did not do so either. St. Thomas involved the expulsion of a student based on the school handbook. Vida concerned age requirements in the school’s policy manual. And as the St. Thomas court observed, ‘exclusive focus on the presence or absence of an express dispute concerning religious doctrine demonstrates an unduly narrow conception of [the doctrine’s] applicable protections.'” In re Episcopal School of Dallas, No. 05-17-00493-CV (Oct. 11, 2017). The opinion also reviews and rejects a challenge to the mandamus petition based on the doctrine of laches.

It’s a note, but that doesn’t mean it’s negotiable.

Chase Bank sued a borrower; the threshold question was whether the longer limitations period for a negotiable instrument applied. While Chase sued on a note, the instrument did not qualify as a negotiable instrument because ” the sum-certain requirement is not met unless one can determine from the face of the note the extent of the maker’s liability.” Here, the Note (1) referred to a promise to pay “the total principal amount of $169,573.72 or so much as may be outstanding,” (2) “permit to pay ‘all or any part of the loan evidenced by this Note at any time,'” (3) said that “if prepayments are made, the Bank may apply them “in such order and manner as [the Bank] may from time to time determine in its sole discretion,'” and (4) referred to the “books and records of the Bank” to specify the precise amount owerd. Accordingly: “[b]ecause the Note fails to identify a sum certain on its face, we conclude it is not a negotiable instrument.” JP Morgan Chase v. Robinson & Hoskins, No. 05-17-00087-CV (Oct. 9, 2017) (mem. op.)

A wall in repose

Brooks sued CalAtlantic about the construction of a retaining wall; CalAtlantic argued that the suit was barred by the 10-year statute of repose in Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 16.069. The Fifth Court affirmed summary judgment for the defense. Procedurally, the Court concluded that the plaintiff had the burden to establish an exception to the statute once the defendant showed its applicability, citing Ryland Group v. Hood, 924 S.W.2d 120 (Tex, 1996). Substantively, the Court distinguished plaintiff’s authority, observingL “[T]here is no evidence of [defendant’s] awareness that deviating from the Civil Plans could create property defects and dangerous conditions. And neither [cited case] supports Brooks’s contention that proof of deviation from construction plans, alone, is evidence of willful misconduct.” Brooks v. CalAtlantic Homes of Texas, No. 05-16-01203-CV (Oct. 9, 2017) (mem. op.)

Dallas’s $4 billion back pay dispute heads to trial –

Today’s Dallas Observer has an excellent story about the City of Dallas’s $4 billion back pay dispute with police and firefighters, part of which is set for trial in December 2017 in Collin County. The case involves issues addressed by the Fifth Court in 2002 (yes, 2002) in Arredondo v. City of Dallas, 79 S.W.3d 65 (Tex. App.–Dallas 2002, pet. denied). Specifically, the Court found the word “maintained” to be patently ambiguous as used in this part of a 1978 ordinance: “The current percentage pay differential between grades in the sworn ranks of the Dallas Police Force and the Fire Fighter and Rescue Force shall be maintained.”

Stand in the place where you are, unless you should amend.

Defendant challenged plaintiff’s standing in a dispute about nursing home care, arguing: “The plaintiff must be personally injured—he must plead facts demonstrating that he, himself (rather than a third party or the public at large), suffered the injury.” The Fifth Court agreed, focusing on the pleading at the time of the summary judgment hearing: “Patricia and Delois’s original petition was their pleading on file at the time of the hearing. The original petition does not allege the individual injuries Patricia claims on appeal. Although the prayer in the petition requests that a judgment include $5,000 for “Patricia A. Shaw—Agent Fee’s” [sic] and $39,000 for “Home Health Care[,]” the claims in the original petition concern the economic and physical injuries that Delois suffered. Because Patricia did not plead her individual claims in  the original petition, she may not now urge these claims and supporting arguments on appeal.” Shaw v. Daybreak, Inc., No. 05-16-01251-CV (Sept. 20, 2017).

Rule, please.

Arising from what the Fifth Court described as a “motion [that] has been pending for nearly five years without ruling,” it found that “[t]he trial court has had more than a reasonable time to rule, and relator has done what is require to obtain a ruling on the motion.” Accordingly, it granted mandamus relief, observing that “[a]mong the criteria included are the trial court’s actual knowledge of the motion, its overt refusal to act, the state of the court’s docket, and the existence of other judicial and administrative matters which must be addressed first.” Also, while the petitioner asked the the trial court not only consider his motion to reconsider but also direct that it be granted, the Court observed: “We deny that request because, while we have jurisdiction to direct the trial court to exercise its discretion, we are not permitted to tell the trial court how to rule on the motion.” In re Owens, No. 05-17-00919-CV (Sept. 25, 2017) (mem. op.)

But it said “final” —

At issue in Galaxy Builers, Ltd. v. Globus Management Group was a trial court order denying enforcemement of an arbitrator’s subpoena. While the order said that it was final, section 171.098 of the Texas Arbitration Act does not list it as an appealable category of arbitration-related ruling; thus, the appeal was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. No. 05-17-00831-CV (Oct. 2, 2017) (mem. op.)

No waiver of arbitration right

Among other holdings related to the arbitrability of a dispute between a business and a former employee, the Fifth Court rejected an argument that the defendant business had waived its right to invoke arbitration: “In short, many factors weigh against a waiver finding: (i) Tantrum is the defendant, not the plaintiff, (ii) Tantrum’s delay in seeking arbitration was not extreme, and Carson has not shown an improper reason for the delay, (iii) Tantrum did not seek a merits disposition of Carson’s claims, and it did not conduct an inordinate amount of discovery, (iv) Tantrum’s counterclaims are arguably compulsory counterclaims, (v) Carson did not show that the parties have spent an inordinate amount of time or money litigating this case, and (vi) Carson did not show that the discovery Tantrum conducted would have been unavailable in arbitration or would not be useful in the arbitration.” Tantrum Street LLC v. Carson, No. 05-16-01096-CV (July 24, 2017).