In the Battle of Animal Control vs. Ayn Rand, the Court of Appeals Washes Its Hands. As Should We All.

One thing every lawyer in Texas learns early on is that if you want to challenge personal jurisdiction, you have to file a special appearance before you answer the petition. Critter Control, Inc. sought to avoid that waiver point by filing a motion to withdraw its original answer in favor of a subsequently filed special appearance, which the trial court denied. Critter Control filed for interlocutory appeal, and Galt Strategies, LLC filed a motion to dismiss for lack of appellate jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal because it did not challenge the denial of the special appearance, but the Court notably did not foreclose the stratagem of moving to withdraw the answer in order to assert the untimely special appearance.

Critter Control, Inc. v. Galt Strategies, LLC, No. 05-15-01011-CV

Bermuda Supreme Court Waives Hedge Fund Investors’ Claims

Starting off our review of Friday night’s wave of opinions is a hedge fund securities case arising out of the 2008 financial crash. Plaintiffs contended that the defendants had falsely misrepresented that other investors’ redemption requests “were not significant,” leaving them in the lurch when the fund imploded. The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendants, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Plaintiffs sought to avoid a “scheme of arrangement” issued by the Bermuda Supreme Court that established how the fund was to be liquidated, but the Court of Appeals held that the plaintiffs were bound by that instrument as a foreign judgment. The Court also held that there was no evidence of reliance by the plaintiffs on the defendants’ alleged misrepresentations, concluding that their testimony was speculative on what they would have done if they had been informed of the true rate of redemption.

LV Highland Credit Feeder Fund LLC v. Highland Credit Strategies Fund, LP, No. 05-13-01118-CV

Appellate Courts Can’t Fix Everything for You

A short opinion helps to illustrate the limited reach of an appellate court’s authority over the cases before it. On interlocutory appeal, both litigants agreed that the trial court should have vacated an order appointing a receiver in Texas to serve ancillary to a primary receivership in Minnesota. But in addition to vacting the order appointing the receiver, the appellant also wanted the Court of Appeals to undo all the receiver’s actions. That was beyond the appellate court’s powers however. Pointing to TRAP 43.2, the Court held that it could affirm, modify, reverse and render, reverse and remand, vacate, or dismiss — none of which permitted the Court to grant the additional relief sought by the appellant.

Burlington Resources Oil & Gas Co. LP v. Verde Minerals, LLC, No. 05-15-00014-CV

Mandamus Granted to Correct Denial of Dismissal on Special Exceptions

The Dallas Court of Appeals has granted mandamus to correct a trial court’s failure to grant special exceptions and dismiss the plaintiff’s claims against the settlor of a royalty trust. The Court held that a beneficiary of the trust had no authority to interfere with the trustee’s exercise of discretionary powers, concluding that the trustee acted within its discretion by refusing to sue the settlor on claims that were precluded by the terms of the trust instruments. Citing the “practical and prudential” mandamus standard of In re Prudential, the Court of Appeals held that mandamus relief was appropriate because allowing the plaintiff to proceed to trial on behalf of the trust would defeat the trustee’s right to control such litigation. But while the settlor of the trust was dismissed from the lawsuit, and the plaintiff could not sue the trustee on behalf of the trust, the Court held that the plaintiff should have the opportunity to amend her petition to sue the trustee solely on her own behalf.

In re XTO Energy, Inc., No. 05-14-01446-CV

Texas Supreme Court Stakes Its Footnote in Impending History

The U.S. Supreme Court may be poised to decide the validity of same-sex marriage bans nationwide, but the Texas Supreme Court has managed to have its voice heard to declare that it doesn’t have anything to say. Because the State of Texas was too late in seeking to intervene in a same-sex divorce, the Supreme Court held (5-3) that it could not appeal that decree. Justice Willett authored the lead dissent, which would have had the Court address the matter on the merits, while Justice Devine dissented on the merits of same-sex marriage under Texas law. So with that out of the way, everyone can turn their eyes back to 1 First St., NE.

State v. Naylor

Boyd concurrence

Willett dissent

Devine dissent

No Interlocutory Appeals for Partial Dismissals Under the TCPA

Three of four defendants filed motions to dismiss under the Texas Citizens Participation Act, all of which were granted by the district court. The plaintiffs sought interlocutory review of those rulings, but the Dallas Court of Appeals concluded that it did not have jurisdiction to review the rulings. Because the claims against the fourth defendant were still pending, there was no final, appealable judgment in the case. Under the 2013 version of CPRC § 51.014(a)(12), only orders denying a TCPA motion to dismiss are subject to interlocutory appeal, and the current version of the TCPA itself only authorizes interlocutory appeals when the motion has been overruled by operation of law due to the trial court’s failure to rule within 30 days. The plaintiffs will therefore have to wait until final judgment before appealing the TCPA dismissals.

Horton v. Martin, No. 05-15-00015-CV

Not Really So Much Late, Per Se, as Unduly Delayed

One of the questions appellate lawyers get from time to time is “What’s our deadline to file for mandamus?” The answer is that there is no formal deadline under the rules, but if you wait too long you may end up waiving your right to mandamus. A short opinion from the Dallas Court of Appeals exemplifies the latter principle. On June 6, 2014, the county court at law granted a motion for new trial. On May 27, 2015, a mandamus petition was filed, seeking to require the trial judge to explain its reasons for setting aside the jury verdict and granting a new trial. With the new trial now scheduled for July 8, the Court of Appeals held that the unexplained delay of almost one year to challenge the new trial ruling was too long to justify mandamus relief.

In re Stembridge, No. 05-15-00672-CV

No End in Sight

One of the messiest cases in recent memory has resulted in a 79-page opinion and judgment that disposes of the case in almost every way imaginable: “Our decision in this case is to vacate, in part, affirm, in part, dismiss, in part, and reverse and remand to the trial court, in part.” The case arose out of a lease executed by Fitness Evolution, its subsequent acquisition by Headhunter Fitness, a series of personal guarantys, assignments, representations, and just about everything else one might find in a bar exam essay question. Since this one pretty much defies summary, we will instead report that while summary judgment was affirmed on some claims, the end result is that most everybody involved will be remanded to the Collin County trial court for additional proceedings.

Fitness Evolution, LP v. Headhunter Fitness, LLC, No. 05-13-00506-CV

Take a Break From the Keyboard Before You Give Yourself a Libel Suit

A trio of worked-up horse breeders managed to Facebook-rant their way into a colorful defamation lawsuit, which the Dallas Court of Appeals has now permitted to proceed as to one of the two counterclaim defendants. Appellants Jane McCurley Backes and Tracy Johns sued Appellee Karen Misko for tortious interference.  Misko counterclaimed against Johns for libel and against Backes for conspiracy to libel. The opinion quotes extensively from the women’s online postings, the pettiness of which will be no surprise to anyone familiar with the Internet. Misko eventually unfriended Backes and Johns, the latter of whom then posted a thinly-disguised query whether anyone had ever known someone with Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. Misko’s daughter had long been a victim of health issues, and other posters saw Johns’ post as an attack on Misko. That post served as the basis for Misko’s libel claim. The trial court denied Johns and Backes’ motions to dismiss under the Texas Citizens Participation Act.

The Court of Appeals held that Johns and Backes both met their initial burden of demonstrating that the claims against them were based on their rights to free speech and association, respectively. That shifted the burden to Misko to come forward with clear and specific evidence establishing a prima facie case of each element of her claims. The Court of Appeals held that Misko had indeed met that burden with respect to her libel claim against Johns, but not as to the conspiracy claim against Backes. Because Misko had not come forward with clear and specific evidence of a meeting of the minds between Backes and Johns, the Court rendered judgment dismissing the civil conspiracy claim and remanded the case to the trial court for consideration of an award of attorney fees and costs.

Backes v. Misko, No 05-14-0566-CV