Special disappearance –

Appellant filed a notice of appeal about a special appearance that was timely, measured from the ruling on a motion to amend and reconsider, but was not timely, when measured from the original ruling. The Fifth Court found that it was untimely: “The record here reflects the issue in the special appearance was whether the trial court could exercise specific jurisdiction over appellant. Appellant’s motion to amend and reconsider did not present any new arguments. Instead, it cited to decisions issued after the original order was signed, none of which changed the state of the law regarding specific jurisdiction. Because the motion to amend and reconsider presented no new argument, we conclude the amended order denying appellant’s special appearance was not independently appealable and agree with appellees that appellant should have filed its notice of appeal within twenty days of the signing of the original order.” Michelin North America v. Gallegos, No. 05-17-00617-CV (Nov. 21, 2017) (mem. op.)

Preserve the record. Literally.

A trial was held, but after the verdict, a bankruptcy caused several years of inactivity before entry of final judgment in 2015. Unfortunately, in the meantime, a significant part of the reporter’s notes had been lost or destroyed. While Tex. R. App. 34.6 can require a new trial in such a situation if the loss occurs through no fault of the appealing party, the Fifth Court found it did not apply here. In Piotrowski v. Minns, the Texas Supreme Court noted that the applicable Government Code provision “authorizes reporters to cull stale notes from their records after three years when no party has requested otherwise,” whcih means that without a specific request from a litigant, “the litigant is not free from fault if the notes are destroyed as the statute authorizes. 873 S.W.2d 368, 371 (Tex. 1993). The Court found that Piotrowski was good law and controlled here, where no such request had been made in the relevant time period. Geeting v. Dyer, No. 05-16-00128-CV (Nov. 7, 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).

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 discretion means . . . no discretion.

The trial court dismissed Williams’s lawsuit for want of prosecution. Williams moved to reinstate, triggering Tex. R. Civ. P. 165a(3), which requires the court to “set a hearing on the motion as soon as practicable.” The trial court did not do so, and reversal resulted because under the language of this rule, “the trial court has no discretion to fail to hold a hearing.” Williams v. Moreno, No. 05-16-01114-CV (Sept. 7, 2017) (mem. op.) While arising from direct appeal rather than a petition for mandamus, this outcome is a useful reminder as to other such mandatory rules.

How to characterize what your opponent says.

If your opponent makes unclear arguments on appeal, after a bench trial with detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law, the opinion of Pelley v. Wynne, No. 05-15-01560-CV (Aug. 28, 2017) (mem. op.), reminds of two principles to bring clarity:

  1. “When a party’s issue globally attacks the trial court’s findings of fact and there is no method to ascertain the appellant’s true objection to the sufficiency of the evidence, the findings of fact issued by the trial court are binding on the trial court.” (“However, the binding nature of the trial court’s findings of fact does not prevent an appellate court from reviewing the conclusions drawn from those factual findings.”)
  2. An attack on a conclusion of law, as required by Tex. R. App. P. 38.1(i), must “contain a clear and concise argument for the contentions made, wiith appropriate citations to authorities and to the record.”

Does the “memorandum of decision” start the appeal clock?

In the recent family law case of In re: B.W.S., this memorandum was held to not start the running of appellate deadlines; the Court notedd (among other things) how the parties reacted:

When a document such as the Memorandum here instructs the parties to prepare an appropriate final order, this is evidence that the trial court did not intend the document to be a final judgment. This is supported further by the fact the trial court signed the Final Order in this case three months later. Additionally, the parties did not treat the Memorandum as a final judgment below. Mother did not file post-judgment motions after the court sent the Memorandum; she filed them after the trial court signed the Final Order. And even though Father argues on appeal that the Memorandum was the final judgment, he did not argue that below, and he also filed a motion asking the court to sign a final order.

No. 05-15-01207-CV (Nov. 28, 2016) (mem. op.) (citation omitted). In contrast, in the recent family law case of In re B.D., a similar memorandum was held to constitute a judgment and start the running of appellate deadlines; discounting (among other things) how the parties reacted to it:

“Despite the trial court’s hearings to consider appellee’s motion to sign an order and its subsequent order, we conclude the memorandum substantially complies with the requisites of a formal judgment to be accorded final judgment status triggering the appellate deadline.”

No. 05-17-00674-CV (Aug. 31, 2017).

The key distinction between these opinions seems to be the inclusion  of express language that the memorandum is not intended as a judgment, and that requests the parties to prepare draft judgments. This practice echoes the general custom endorsed by Lehmann v. Har-Con Corp., 39 S.W.3d 191 (Tex. 2001), of including “language of finality” in a ruling intended to be a final judgment. Of course, even under Lehmann, the substance controls rather than the “magic words,” so this area looks to be one that will continue to pose practical challenges. (SPECIAL THANKS to Hon. Emily Miskel of the 470th District Court in Collin County, who alerted me to these cases on her informative Twitter feed.)

Rare bird sighted – appeal of order to pay for reporter’s record

In the department of “rarare birdre bird sightings,” the case of Hollingsworth v. Walaal Corp. involved an appeal, under the newly-revised Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 145, to a trial court order requiring an appellant to pay for a reporter’s record. The appellant filed an affidavit of inability to pay costs and the trial court had an evidentiary hearing on the appellees’ challenge to it. Recognizing that the appellant did not offer tax returns or the like, the Fifth Court reversed, finding that his “testimony was uncontroverted” and that “[a]lthough the trial court was required to evaluate Hollingsworth’s credibility, the trial court was not free to completely disregard the only evidence establishing his inability to pay costs when no evidence was offered in rebuttal.” No. 05-17-00555-CV (June 9, 2017) (mem. op.)