A splashy trademark case

splashIn Premier Pools Management Corp. v. Premier Pools Inc., the Fifth Court found that a successful trademark plaintiff had established sufficient evidence of secondary meaning for the phrase “Premier Pools,” noting — in particular — the plaintiff’s proof about its advertising about and long use of the name, as well as the testimony of nine impartial witnesses about the issue of confusion. Similar evidence supported the findings for liability, damages, and disgorgement. The Court reversed the related declaratory judgment (and with it, the attorney’s fees award), finding that the “claim added nothing and provided access to no remedy that was not otherwise available . . . ” No. 05-14-01388-CV (Aug. 12, 2016) (mem. op.)

No implied consent = No declaratory judgment

no consentWhile otherwise affirming the plaintiffs’ victory in an easement dispute, the Dallas Court of Appeals struck a portion of the trial court’s declaratory judgment related to the legal rights associated with that easement.  The Court found no request for judgment on that matter in the plaintiffs’ live pleading or summary judgment motion, and also found that general discussion of the applicable city regulations had been offered for other purposes.  The Court reminded: “[A]n issue is not tried by consent when evidence relevant to the unpleaded issue is also relevant to a pleaded issue because admitting that evidence would not be calculated to elicit an objection and its admission would not prove the parties’ ‘clear intent’ to try the unpleaded issue.”  United Services Pyramid Group v. Hurt, Noi. 05-14-00108-CV (Dec. 7, 2015) (mem. op.)

Court Rejects Defendant’s Attempt to Use Declaratory Judgment Act as a Vehicle to Recover Attorneys’ Fees

Among several issues on appeal in this dispute between a commercial landlord and tenant, the Court of Appeals considered whether the defendant could recover attorneys’ fees pursuant to the declaratory judgments act.  After the plaintiff sued the defendant for breach of contract for failing to construct ramps in compliance with the ADA, the defendant responded by requesting a declaratory judgment that he had no duty to pay for the ramps.  Because the defendant’s counsel admitted at trial that the issues raised in his declaratory judgment action would be resolved by the plaintiff’s breach of contract lawsuit, the court rejected the defendant’s attempt to recover attorneys’ fees, noting the rule that “a party cannot use the declaratory judgments act merely as a vehicle to obtain otherwise impermissible attorney’s fees.”

Cellular Sales of Knoxville, Inc. v. McGonagle

Attorney Fees on Remand

Two and a half years ago, Charlene Taggert obtained the reversal of a declaratory judgment ordering that certain retirement accounts of her late husband belonged to his estate, not to her. The probate court had awarded attorney fees to the executors, so the Court of Appeals remanded to that court for further consideration of the attorney fees now that Charlene had become the prevailing party. On remand, the probate court awarded Charlene $18,000 for fees incurred at trial, and an additional $5,000 for the appeal. Both sides appealed the $5,000 award for the first appeal. The Court of Appeals rejected the executors’ claim that appellate fees could only be awarded on a conditional basis (i.e., “if the appeal is successful”), rather than for an appeal that has already been successful. The Court noted that “[o]n remand, the parties stand in the position they held before judgment was entered.” Likewise, the Court rejected Charlene’s argument that the probate court should have permitted her to offer new evidence of her actual appellate fees, rather than relying on the estimated fees presented during the original trial of the case. Relying on the Texas Supreme Court’s opinion in Varner v. Cardenas, 218 S.W.3d 68 (Tex. 2007), the Court held that retrial of a party’s attorney fees on remand is only necessary when the evidence offered at trial is no longer relevant.

Tigert v. Tigert, No. 05-12-01282-CV

Jurisdiction Unclear in Challenge to City’s Enforcement Actions

According to the operators of Hank’s Texas Grill, the City of McKinney and its police officers have been wrongfully harassing the restaurant, its employees, and its customers for the last ten years. In response, the city alleges that Hank’s violates numerous city ordinances. The city filed a plea to the jurisdiction to invoke its governmental immunity. The trial court denied the plea, and the city appealed. Summarizing the recent (and conflicting) string of cases challenging local ordinances, the Court of Appeals concluded that “the Declaratory Judgments Act waives governmental immunity against claims that a statute or ordinance is invalid,” but “does not waive a governmental entity’s immunity against a claim that government actors have violated the law.” Construing Hank’s pleadings, the Court concluded that they did not demonstrate that Hank’s claim was outside the scope of the city’s governmental immunity. However, the pleading also did not demonstrate that the claim was barred by governmental immunity, meaning that Hank’s had to be given the opportunity to amend. The Court also affirmed the trial court’s ruling that Hank’s claim for damages was not barred by immunity to the extent that it was an offset against the city’s own damage claims. Finally, the Court of Appeals rejected the city’s claim that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to enjoin its enforcement of state laws and local ordinances, ruling that the pleadings and arguments at this stage of the case were still too unclear to affirmatively demonstrate that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to issue an injunction.

City of McKinney v. Hank’s Restaurant Group, L.P., No. 05-123-01359-CV