In the department of “rare 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.)
Dahlheimer sought a writ of injunction in the court of appeals to stay proceedings involving a receivership about the sale of a home. The Fifth Court found that it lacked jurisdiction, noting that its injunctive power is limited to “jurisdiction over the subject matter of a pending appeal,” and that “[t]he power to grant a temporary writ of injunction to prevent damages which would otherwise flow to alitigant who has an apppeal pending rests exclusively with the trial court.” In re Dahlheimer, No. 05-17-00556-CV (June 8, 2017) (mem. op.)
The new “permissive appeal” procedure has not led to a lot of permissive, interlocutory appeals; another example of that trend appears in Oklahoma Specialty Ins. Co. v. St. Martin de Porres, Inc. The parties stipulated to damages, the trial court found the policy ambiguous and thus interpreted in a certain way, and said it would follow whatever the Fifth Court decided about that interpretation. The Court declined to hear the case, finding: “Given the posture of this case following the trial court’s rulings and the parties’ stipulations, we conclude a permissive appeal will not materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation by considerably shortening the time, effort, and expense involved in obtaining a final judgment. (applying Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 51.014(d).
Smith intervened in a case after a judgment had been entered; the trial court granted a motion to strike his intervention. Resolving a tangled web of procedural issues, the Fifth Court held that (1) the striking of his intervention was not appealable before final judgment; (2) Smith’s appeal was limited to the merits of his intervention, not the claims of others; and (3) Smith’s filing of a motion for new trial extended the appellate deadlines. Smith v. City of Garland, No. 05-16-00454-CV (Apr. 20, 2017).
The Fifth Court affirmed summary judgment for D Magazine in a defamation suit by a former volunteer, finding that most of the statements at issue were unactionable opinions or accurate statements of fact. Summarizing the underlying principles of free speech, the opinion reminds that a “rhetorical flourish” that is “merely unflattering, abusive, annoying, irksome, or embarrassing, or that only hurts the plaintiff’s feelings, is not actionable.” The court lacked appellate jurisdiction over part of a related appeal by the Dallas Symphony, since it involved the denial of a summary judgment about a tortious interference claim rather then free speech issues, although the Court was able to address the civil conspiracy claim against the Symphony. D Magazine Partners LP v. Reyes, No. 05-16-00294-CV (April 18, 2017) (mem. op.)
In Viveri Youth Service v. Orme, the Fifth Court dismissed an appeal for lack of a final judgment. While the docket sheet indicated the case had been closed, the Court observed: “The last order, however, contains no language of finality or other indication the case was closed. While the trial court’s docket sheet reflects the case was closed, a docket sheet entry does not constitute a judgment or other appealable order of the trial court.” No. 05-17-00002-CV (April 11, 2017) (mem. op.)
An attorney paid a sanction and then challenged the sanctions order as part of the appeal from the final judgment in the action. In reviewing an objection based on mootness, the Fifth Court observed that while an appeal becomes moot “when a judgment debtor voluntarily pays and satisfied a judgment rendered against him,” the purpose of that rule is “to prevent appellants from misleading their opponents into believing a controversy is over when it is not.” Thus, “payment on a judgment will not moot an appeal of that judgment if the judgment debtor clearly expresses an intent that he intends to exercise his right of appeal and appellate relief is not futile.” Here, before the attorney paid the sanction, the other side had notice of his intent to appeal when payment was made, so the appeal was justiciable. Kamel v. AdvoCare Int’l, L.P., No. 05-16-00433-CV (March 28, 2017) (mem. op.)
A useful reminder about timeliness appears in Duchouquette v. McWhorter, in which the appellant filed a late notice of appeal within the 15-day grace period, but neglected to move for leave to extend the deadline. In addition to dismissing the appellant’s appeal, the Fifth Court dismissed the cross-appeal noticed 8 days after the appellant’s: “[T]he Court does not have jurisdiction over a cross-appeal where the original notice of appeal is untimely.” No. 05-17-00041-CV (March 13, 2017) (mem. op.)
In In re: Douglas D. Halofitis, No. 05-16-01047-CV (Sept. 27, 2016) (mem. op.), the Fifth Court gives a helpful roadmap for parties who seek to challenge a judgment of which they were given late notice. We know that trial courts usually lose plenary jurisdiction over a judgment within 30 days after the court signs the judgment, which is also the deadline for filing an appeal. But what if you don’t receive notice of the judgment?
Under Rule 306a, when a party does not receive notice or acquire actual knowledge of judgment within twenty days, the deadlines begin to run not from the signing of the judgment, but instead from the sooner of the date the party received notice or acquired actual knowledge of the judgment or 90 days after the judgment was signed. A few pointers to keep in mind:
- the 306a motion must be sworn and must establish the date of first notice or knowledge of the judgment and that this date was more than 20 days after the judgment was signed;
- the 306a motion, including any evidentiary supplements necessary to satisfy the procedural requirements of 306a(5), must be filed within the court’s plenary period as calculated from the date of first notice or knowledge of the judgment;
- the movant should seek an immediate evidentiary hearing on the 306a motion and obtain a finding of fact of the date of first notice or actual knowledge of the judgment;
- in no event will the periods begin to run more than 90 days after the judgment is signed, meaning that if you receive notice more than 90 days after the judgment is signed, your only avenue may be a restricted appeal or bill of review; and
- the 306a motion should be coupled with a post-judgment motion, e.g. motion for new trial, motion to reinstate, or motion to modify judgment. If you wait for a decision on your 306a motion, your post-judgment motion may end up being untimely even if your Rule 306a motion is successful because post-judgment motions must still be filed within 30 days of the date found to be the date of first notice or actual knowledge of the judgment.
Henry S. Miller Commercial Co. lost a trial on a fraud claim but succeeded in a later malpractice claim against its trial counsel. The Fifth Court resolved two issues – (1) postjudgment assignment of malpractice claims as part of a reorganization was acceptable where “Here, HSM asserted its own malpractice claim against the Lawyers in its own name. It pursued its own claim through trial and judgment. Under these circumstances, HSM’s right ‘to bring [its] own cause of action for malpractice is not vitiated’ by the assignment to its judgment creditors” (applying Tate v. Goins, Underkofler, Crawford & Langdon, 24 S.W.3d 627, 629 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2000, pet. denied)); and (2) the trial court erred in dismissing HSM’s claim for gross negligence based on the failure to designate a key responsible third party. Accordingly, because a new trial was required on punitive damages, it was also required on compensatory damages, and thus liability as well. Henry S. Miller Comm’l Co. v. Newsom, Terry & Newsom LLP, No. 05-14-01188-CV (Sept. 14, 2016) (mem. op.)