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.”

On Indigence

While the slow season for opinions continues at the Dallas Court of Appeals, a short memorandum opinion provides a procedural lesson that could prove useful for any appellate attorney dealing with a pro se opponent. In this case, the appellant filed an affidavit of indigence with the trial court, seeking to avoid prepayment of costs under TRAP 20.1. The clerk challenged the appellant’s indigent status on September 15, and the court reporter contested the affidavit on September 17. But when multiple challenges to an affidavit of indigence are filed, the trial court still has to rule within 10 days of the first challenge. The trial court signed an order sustaining the court reporter’s challenge on October 6, well outside the 10-day period that should have run from September 15. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court had abused its discretion, reversed the order sustaining the contest to the pro se appellant’s indigence, and held that he could proceed with the appeal without advance payment of costs.

Bell v. Harris, No. 05-15-01117-CV

For Mandamus, Two Months Is Not an Unreasonable Wait

On July 10, the district court orally denied the special appearance of Ann Stokley. The court did not sign a written order, however, which left Stokley unable to pursue an interlocutory appeal. On September 15, Stokley filed a petition for writ of mandamus with the Dallas Court of Appeals. Two days later, that Court has issued a brief memorandum petition denying relief. Although a trial court abuses its discretion when it fails to rule within a reasonable time, the Court could not conclude that the trial court had done so here in light of “the trial court’s actual knowledge of the motion, whether its refusal to act is overt, the state of the court’s docket, and the existence of other judicial and administrative matters which must be addressed first.” Ms. Stokley will presumably pursue an interlocutory appeal sometime after the trial court issues a written order.

In re Stokley, No. 05-15-01110-CV