Adverse judgment, lots of fallout

2000px-united_states_fallout_shelter_sign-svgHenry 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.)

A picture is worth a thousand words

truckTen Hagen Excavating, Inc. v. Castro-Lopez presents a detailed review of the evidence about a serious truck accident, involving issues of tort law beyond the usual scope of this blog. As a matter of style, the opinion is notable for deftly using accident photos in its description of and analysis of the issues, as well as a diagram of how the accident happened. No. 05-15-00902-CV (Aug. 29, 2016).

A brief on briefs

appellate-argument-briefs-consultantsWe all too easily forget that the requirements of a good appellate brief are defined by law, as recently noted in Lau v. Reeder, No. 05-14-01459-CV (Aug. 16, 2016) (mem. op.)

As to the issues presented, “a brief must state concisely all issues for review and reveal the legal questions we are called upon to decide. See TEX. R. APP. P. 38.1(f); Bolling v. Farmers Branch Indep. Sch. Dis., 315 S.W.3d 893, 896 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2010, no pet.).”

As to the record citations that accompany the argument, the Justices “have no right or obligation to search through the record to find facts or research relevant law that might support an appellant’s position because doing so –4– would ‘improperly transform this Court from neutral adjudicators to advocates.’ Chappell v. Allen, 414 S.W.3d 316, 321 (Tex. App.—El Paso 2013, no pet.)”

And as to good draftsmanship, a brief does not violate the rules but is notably unhlepful when the table of contents “indicates that the argument portion of the brief for all nine issues is located on pages 18 to 94 without any indication or notation as to where specific issues are addressed,” and the 77-page argument section “also does not denote where each of the nine issues is discussed and the only arguable headings in this section do not identify the issues to which they are attached.”

Righteously Request Reporter’s Record.

court reporterThe appeal of an eviction case was resolved largely by the lack of a reporter’s record in Lyons v. Polymathic Properties, Inc. The opinion reminds of several basic principles triggered when a reporter’s record is required, which are worth remembering when considering whether to obtain a record, and in responding to an argument if an opponent has not obtained one:

  • The judgment of the trial court implies all necessary findings of fact to sustain the judgment; “[i]n other words, we must presume the missing reporter’s record supports the decisions of the trial court”;
  • Attaching a partial transcript to a brief is not a substitute for a formal reporter’s record; and
  • Statements in a brief that are unsupported by the record cannot be accepted as facts.

No. 05-15-00408-CV (June 29, 2016) (mem. op.)

Special judge, but not special appeal deadline.

special tagRainier Income Fund I, Ltd. v. Gans presented an appeal from the district court’s confirmation of the rulings of a “special judge” appointed under chapter 151 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code. The appellant moved for a new trial before the district court; the appellee contended that it was not effective to extend the appellate deadline, as the district court’s power to grant a new trial in this posture is significantly limited by chapter 151. After a thorough review of the statute and the general principles surrounding the motion for new trial in Texas, the Fifth Court concluded that the motion was effective and the deadline was extended. In particular, it noted the Texas Supreme Court’s reminder in Old Republic Ins. Co. v. Scott, 846 S.W.2d 832, 833 (Tex. 1993) that: “The filing of a motion for new trial in order to extend the appellate timetable is a matter of right, whether or not there is any sound or reasonable basis for the conclusion that a further motion is necessary.” No. 05-00460-CV (June 7, 2016) (mem. op.)

Sorry, no permissive appeal today.

The appellate bar is still getting used to section 51.014(d) of the Civil Practice & Remedies Code, under which a “permissive” interlocutory appeal may proceed under certain circumstances. In Hartford Accident & Indemnity Co. v. Seagoville Partners, after initially granting leave to appeal under that section, the Fifth Court reconsidered whether the trial court had in fact made “a substantive ruling on a controlling question of law” as required by the statute. After thoroughly reviewing the procedural posture of the case, the Court concluded that the trial court could have also decided on the basis of whether the evidence was sufficient to raise a fact issue under the legal standard advocated by the appellant. Accordingly, it dismissed the appeal. No. 05-15-00760-CV (June 9, 2016) (mem. op.)

No written order, no final judgment, no appeal.

AdvoCare filed a petition to take a Rule 202 deposition from Michael Moussa; Moussa, joined by Shereef Kamel, counterclaimed.  AdvoCare obtained a $3,500 sanctions award against Kamel and his counsel related to that filing.  They appealed, arguing that “AdvoCare never asserted any affirmative claim for relief in the suit, the rule 202 petition has been ‘superseded and rendered moot’ by the institution of arbitration proceedings initiated by AdvoCare against Moussa and Kamel, and their counterclaims are no longer pending because they have nonsuited the counterclaims.”  The Fifth Court disagreed because no written order confirmed the nonsuit; accordingly, it dismissed for lack of appellate jurisdiction over an appealable final order. Kamel v. AdvoCare Int’l, L.P., No. 05-15-01295-CV (March 4, 2016) (mem. op.)

Legal insufficiency can lead to remand.

The wrenching facts of the paternity dispute in In re: H.H. provide a rare example of when a finding of legally insufficient evidence can justify remand rather than rendition.   The underlying rule, Tex. R. App. P. 43.3, requires that “When reversing a trial court’s judgment, the court must render the judgment that the trial court should have rendered, except when: (a) a remand is necessary for further proceedings; or (b) the interests of justice require a remand for another trial.”  Under the rule, in the Fifth Court: “Remand is appropriate when, for any reason, a case has not been fully developed below.”

Here, the child “was barely a year old when the trial court entered the decree of termination and had been in the custody of TDFPS for almost her entire life, never at any time living with Father. . . . Father has been incarcerated since before learning he was potentially the biological father of H.H. and admits in his appellate brief that he remains incarcerated. However, there is no evidence in the record regarding when Father will be released or his ability to care for H.H. in a manner consistent with her interests.  Additionally, neither Father nor his attorney appeared at the hearing[.]” Accordingly, ” a remand of the case against Father is appropriate to further develop the record and is in the interest of justice.”  No. 05-15-01322-CV (Feb. 12, 2016) (mem. op.)

Bum steer

bumsteerTunnell sued Archer for negligence after a truck accident involving Archer’s cattle.  The trial court declined to dismiss Tunnell’s claim for failure to file an expert report under a statute related to claims against health care providers (Archer was a doctor), and Archer  appealed that denial.  After a Texas Supreme Court opinion clarified the underlying statute,Tunnell contended that Archer’s appeal not only no longer had merit, but had become frivolous and sanctionable.

After Archer continued with the appeal on other grounds, the Fifth Court agreed with Tunnell and sanctioned Archer and his counsel for the costs of the motion to dismiss: “After the supreme court’s opinion in Ross, there were no reasonable grounds for an advocate to believe the case could be reversed. However, appellants did not dismiss this frivolous appeal. Instead, appellants’ counsel filed a brief on the merits asserting TexasBarToday_TopTen_Badge_SmallERISA preemption based on non-existent orders that this Court lacked jurisdiction to consider. No reasonable counsel could believe the ERISA-preemption argument was a reasonable ground for reversal in this case when there was no written order on a motion asserting the argument and no statute permits an interlocutory appeal from such an order. In these circumstances, we conclude that appellants and their counsel’s actions are so egregious as to warrant the award to Tunnell of just damages from appellants and their counsel for their pursuit of this frivolous appeal.”  Archer v. Tunnell, No. 05-15-00459-CV (Feb. 9, 2016) (mem. op.)

Fraud claims affirmed for “dream home” gone wrong

hale v bishop house 2The 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.”