The art of summary judgment

In The Art of War, Sun-Tzu famously described nine types of ground where battles could occur. In Medina v. Michelin North America, the Fifth Court reminded that summary judgment can only occur on the specified grounds, especially for a no-evidence motion:

“Michelin’s only basis for no-evidence summary judgment motion on these claims was the lack or absence of expert testimony should the trial court grant its motion to exclude [plaintiff’s expert’s] testimony. The no-evidence motion itself specifically requested the trial court not consider the no-evidence summary judgment motion on these claims until it considered and ruled on its motion to exclude. In granting summary judgment on these claims after denying Michelin’s motion to exclude, however, the trial court necessarily concluded [that the expert’s] testimony constituted no evidence. Because Michelin did not move for summary judgment on this ground, the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on the Medinas’ defective design, defective manufacturing, and negligence claims once it denied Michelin’s motion to exclude this testimony.”

No. 05-16-00794-CV (Jan. 29, 2018) (mem. op.) I presented the oral argument in this case for the appellants.

No record? No error.

Appellant sought a new trial based on the lack of a reporter’s record from the key summary judgment hearing, citing Tex. R. App. P. 13.1 and 34.6(f). Neither citation worked. As to Rule 13.1, which lists the duties of a court reporter, “[t]he Texas Supreme Court has held that creating a reporter’s record is neither necessary nor appropriate to the purposes of a summary judgment hearing.” (citation omitted). And Rule 34.6(f), which “provides that an appellant is entitled to a new trial if a significant exhibit or portion of a reporter’s record is lost or destroyed,” was inapplicable because “[b]oth parties acknowledge a reporter’s record was never made.” Lynch v. O’Hare,  No. 05-17-00175-CV (Jan. 18, 2018) (mem. op.)

For your form file – entirety of successful MSJ in note case.

The following summary judgment motion was granted, and the Fifth Court affirmed, rejecting challenges to the level of detail in the motion (as well as the non-respondent’s citation to evidence not expressly incorporated in the response):

_____________________________________________________________________

Summary of the Motion

Plaintiffs seek summary judgment on their claims against Thomas J. Granata, II because he guaranteed the debt of Full Spectrum Diagnostics, LLC. The default judgment was entered against Full Spectrum Diagnostics, LLC on June 1, 2016. Mr. Granata guaranteed the amount of indebtedness of Full Spectrum Diagnostics, LLC. Therefore, Plaintiffs are entitled to summary judgment against Mr. Granata.

Undisputed Facts

Mr. Granata guaranteed the promissory note made by Full Spectrum Diagnostics, LLC. Full Spectrum Diagnostics, LLC. only paid $50,000 of the note via a third party. The note was to be repaid by October 26, 2015. No payment has been forthcoming on said promissory note cents [sic] the $50,000 payment was made by the third-party. On June 1, 2016, the court entered a default judgment against Full Spectrum Diagnostics, LLC based on the promissory note in the amount of the unpaid principal balance of the note along with interest.

Argument and Authorities

The Court should grant the motion for summary judgment against Mr. Granata because Mr. Granata guaranteed the obligation of Full Spectrum Diagnostics, LLC. A default judgment was entered against that company for the promissory note Mr. Granata guaranteed. Therefore, the Court should grant the summary judgment against Mr. Granata for the same amount as the default judgment.

Prayer

WHEREFORE, Plaintiffs request the Court enter a Summary Judgment
corresponding to the default judgment entered against Full Spectrum Diagnostics,
LLC as follows:a. Monetary relief of $220,000.00; b. Interest in the amount of $8,066.67 through February 25, 2016 and 8% interest on the monetary relief expressed above, compounded annually, until paid in full.

(Citations to exhibits omitted.) Granata v. Kroese, No. 05-17-00118-CV (Jan. 10, 2018) (mem. op.)

Wrong flames, no fact issue.

The appellant in an unsuccessful wrongful-termiantion suit pointed to hearing testimony that he said “evinced a negative attitude . . . that [his] allegations were ‘very egregious and very inflammatory.” The Fifth Court affirmed summary judgment against him, noting on this point that the testimony addressed the nature of the allegations and was not a negative statement about the report itself.” Hackbarth v. UT-Dallas, No. 05-16-01250-CV (Jan. 4, 2018).

Rule of the week –

In Walls v. Capella Park Homeowners’ Association, Inc., the Fifth Court recapped the standards for a “trial on stipulated facts” under Tex. R. Civ. P. 263 – a useful and underappreciated rule. “An agreed statement of facts under rule 263 is similar to a special verdict; it is the parties’ request for judgment under the applicable law. In a rule 263 agreed case, the only issue on appeal is whether the district court properly applied the law to the agreed facts. Such a review is less deferential to the trial court, because a trial court has no discretion in deciding what the law is or in properly applying it. Id. If the trial court files findings of fact in an agreed case, they are disregarded by the appellate court.” No. 05-16-00783-CV (Nov. 30, 2017) (applying Addison Urban Development Partners v. Alan Ritchey Materials, 437 S.W.3d 597, 600 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2014, no pet.)).

You’ve Got Mail.

The appellant in Abuzaid v. Anani LLC, a user of the venerable AOL email service, alleged that he did not receive notice of a summary judgment hearing. The Fifth Ciurt first noted:

Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 21a allows for electronic service of documents “if the email address of the party or attorney to be served is on file with the electronic filing manager.” It is undisputed Abuzaid’s email was on file to receive electronic service of documents, and he repeatedly availed himself of the process. . . . The rule does not contemplate that electronic service is somehow incomplete when a party experiences computer or email issues. Rather, notice properly sent pursuant to rule 21a raises a presumption that notice was received.”

(citations omitted). Here, the appellant did not overcome that presumption:

“Under rule 21a, constructive notice may be established if the serving party presented evidence that the intended recipient engaged in instances of selective acceptance or refusal of service of documents. Here, Abuzaid has not denied receiving the January 13, 2016 email attaching the motions for summary judgments and stating, ‘We will notify you via separate correspondence with the hearing date on these motions.’ Further, the record establishes Abuzaid sent and received numerous electronic filings and notices without incident at the email address on file with the trial court up until the day before appellees’ electronically filed their summary judgment motions and notice of hearing. . . . .  Given the conflicting evidence, it was within the trial court’s discretion not to believe Abuzaid’s unsupported, self-serving statements about computer issues causing him not to ‘see’ the delivered documents and determine he engaged in selective acceptance of documents.”

No. 05-16-00667-CV (Nov. 21, 2017) (mem. op.)

Third time was not the charm.

B.C. v. Steak & Shake involved a late-filed summary judgment response. The unsuccessful appellant sought rehearing en banc, which led to another opinion. Among other matters, the Court declined to consider a “supplemental clerk’s record” containing information about the logistics of the filing, when that material was not before the trial court or the Fifth Court at the time of its opinion. The Court quoted Chief Justice Hecht’s statement on the general subject in Worthy v. Collagen Corp., 967 S.W.2d 360, 366 Tex. 1998): “Supplementation of the record after a case is decided is a different matter. It certainly does not serve judicial economy for the appellate court to allow a supplementation of the record that would require it to reconsider its decision on the merits when the party has had ample opportunity to correct the omission prior to decision.”  967 S.W.2d 360, 366 (Tex. 1988). No. 05-14-00649-CV (Oct. 27, 2017) (suppl. op. on rehearing).

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.)

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).

Late summary judgment responses cause problems.

The plaintiff in B.C. v. Steak & Shake filed her summary judgment response a day late. The panel majority rejected her argument that the trial court had accepted the filing by including this language in the order granting summary  judgment: “After considering the pleadings, evidence, and arguments of counsel, the Court finds that the Motion should be granted.” Accordingly, because the record lacked an “affirmative indication” that it considered the late-filed evidence or granted leave to file it, the majority presumed that the trial court had not considered it. The majority and a dissent disagreed on whether the Court “may consider [plaintiff’s] appellate issues that assert the legal insufficiency of [defendant’s] motion for summary judgment.” No. -5-14-00649-CV (Aug. 30, 2017).