In BB&T v. SWIG Partners LP, the Fifth Court reversed a limitations ruling based on allegedly inadequate efforts to serve all of the defendants, observing: “Twelve of the thirty named defendants were served within three weeks after citations were issued. All the defendants then made an appearance obviating the need for further service of process. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 120. The longest period of time without service on a defendant before all the defendants answered was four business days. The time between the date suit was filed and the date all defendants filed their original answer was twenty-eight days. When three of the defendants were omitted from the defendants’ amended answer, BB&T moved for substitute service. In granting BB&T’s motions for substitute service, the trial court repeatedly found BB&T had diligently attempted service on each of the subject defendants.” No. 05-15-00878-CV (Dec. 13, 2017) (mem. op.)
In Teel v. Sumrow, the Fifth Court reversed and rendered judgment for the defense in a suit for breach of fiduciary duty, finding that limitations had run on the claim as a matter of law. “[W]e note that the letter Sumrow wrote to Dr. Bray in July 2008 indicates that by that time, Sumrow knew or suspected Teel had engaged in some wrongful conduct to wrongfully deprive Sumrow of money Sumrow believed Teel owed him (‘screw me out of my money’).” As for reasonable diligence, the Court observed: “[I]n financial affairs, many citizens take a good deal on faith – not everyone zealously checks his mail every day or his bank statement every month – but it would not require ‘daily’ or even monthly diligence to discover the injury alleged in this case.” No. 05-16-00840-CV (Nov. 13, 2017) (mem. op.)
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.)
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.)
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.
If ever a case illustrated a trap for the unwary, it is IDA Engineering v. PBK Architects, in which the plaintiff sued exactly four years after the termination of its contractual relationship. Unfortunately, the invoices upon which its damage claim relied were issued before the contract termination, and the contracts contained this language about payment: “Invoices will be issued monthly, per percentage of completion or per phase and will be due upon issuance date.” (emphasis added). Accordingly, the claim was barred by limitations. No. 05-15-01418-CV (Oct. 4, 2016) (mem. op.)
In J.A. Green Development Corp. v. Grant Thornton, LLP, et al., the Dallas Court of Appeals held that limitations begin to run for claims arising from professional negligence in an IRS administrative proceeding as soon as the client learns the IRS disagrees with the advice.
The allegations were that Green hired Grant Thornton and Akin Gump in an IRS audit concerning Green’s participation in a “distressed debt strategy” that was sold to Green by prior advisors. Green alleged that Grant Thornton and Akin Gump told Green that the strategy was likely to be upheld as legal, causing Green to reject a settlement offer by the IRS. In December 2008, the IRS disagreed and issued a report disallowing the loss and imposing substantial penalties. Green alleged that Grant Thornton and Akin Gump then backed away from their prior advice. Six months later, Green sued the original advisors who sold it the tax strategy, but Green continued to retain Grant Thornton and Akin Gump to handle the appeal of the IRS decision. When it later became clear the appeal of the IRS decision would go poorly, Green settled with the IRS for more than the offer it rejected. It then sued Grant Thornton and Akin Gump.
The Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The question was whether limitations started running in December 2008, when the IRS issued its first report indicating that the loss would be disallowed, or in November 2009, when it became clear the appeal of the IRS decision would fail. “[A] cause of action accrues when a wrongful act causes some legal injury, even if the fact of injury is not discovered until later, and even if all resulting damages have not yet occurred.” Green had to concede that it was first injured when it was sold the tax strategy because it had sued the promoters of the strategy before the administrative appeal failed. Green claimed the injury caused by Grant Thornton and Akin Gump was distinct from that caused by the original advisors, but the Court of Appeals held that Green suffered a single continuous injury that Green knew of when it received the IRS report disallowing the claimed loss. The Court of Appeals also held that the Hughes Tolling Rule, which tolls limitations in legal malpractice cases arising from litigation until the litigation is resolved, does not apply to administrative proceedings.
In Durham v. Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, the Dallas Court of Appeals decided an issue of first impression: If a 12-year-old receives medical treatment and dies more than two years after that treatment because of the negligence of the health care providers, does the Texas Constitution’s Open Courts Clause prevent the running of limitations for survival and wrongful death claims? The Dallas Court of Appeals concluded that the answer is no because the Open Courts Clause does not apply to statutorily created claims.
The facts are plainly tragic. A 12-year-old girl was injured in a car accident in Hawaii. During treatment, the doctors also diagnosed a dilation of the ascending aorta, which apparently was not related to the accident itself. The doctors recommended a follow-up with a cardiologist. The girl was transferred to Children’s Medical Center of Dallas for a short time before then being transferred to Scottish Rite, where she was treated for her injuries resulting from the accident. Unfortunately, there was not a follow-up on the information about her enlarged aorta. A little more than two years later, the girl died because her aorta ruptured. She was only 15 years old. The girl’s mother and the administrator of her estate brought wrongful death and survival claims. Summary judgment was granted based on the 2-year statute of limitations.
The Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed. It held that Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 74.251 applied, which requires claims to be filed within 2 years of the treatment that is the subject of the claim unless the child is younger than 12. Because the girl was 12 at the time of treatment, the exception did not apply and limitations began to run on the date of treatment for statutory causes of action, including wrongful death and survival claims. The Court then distinguished the Texas Supreme Court’s decision in Weiner v. Wasson, which held that limitations are unconstitutional as applied to minors under the Open Courts Clause of the Texas Constitution because they would cut off the minor’s cause of action before he reaches majority. The Dallas Court of Appeals held that the Open Courts Clause and Weiner v. Wasson could not save the survival and wrongful death claims because the Open Courts Clause does not apply to statutory claims, which include survival and wrongful death claims. As a result, the survival and wrongful death claims arising from the girl’s death were already barred by limitations months before her death.
Plaintiffs sought damages for losing a telecommunication contract with DISD. The defendants argued that, in the absence of any evidence of acts of fraudulent concealment, limitations should run from 2006 when Plaintiffs received their last payment. The Fifth Court agreed, rejecting Plaintiffs’ counterargument that limitations did not begin to run until the federal agency overseeing the contract had completed its investigation of the situation. Lazo Technologies v. Hewlett-Packard, No. 05-14-01060-CV (Jan. 7, 2016) (mem. op.)
The Hales sued their homebuilder for fraud and violation of the DTPA, alleging serious problems with the foundation of their Rockwall home (right). They substantially succeeded at trial, and the Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed in large part in Bishop Abbey Homes, Ltd. v. Hale, No. 05-14-00137-CV (Dec. 16, 2015) (mem. op.) In particular, the Court affirmed as to limitations – a significant issue in this long-simmering dispute – noting that “each time the Hales raised a concern about the foundation, they were assured by one of appellants’ experts that the foundation was not the cause of the problems the Hales observed.” The court also affirmed as to sufficiency challenges to liability, several claims of improper closing argument, and a challenge to the the basis of the exemplary damages award based on constitutional and Kraus factors. The court requested a remittitur as to (a) mental anguish damages (for sufficiency reasons) above $208,856 per plaintiff; and (b) a portion of the additional/exemplary damages award, based on the applicable cap and the conclusion that the total award “exceeds the guidelines set forth in [Bennett v. Reynolds, 315 S.W.3d 867 (Tex. 2010)] and [Tony Gullo Motors I, LP v. Chapa, 212 S.W.3d 299 (Tex. 2006)] for the type of harm suffered by the Hales as a result of appellants’ conduct.”