Supreme Court of Texas Blog: Legal Issues Before the Texas Supreme Court
-----------

Category: 'Order Lists'

Four grants: disqualifying counsel; suing compounding pharmacies; government immunity × 2 [Oct. 24, 2014]

October 27th, 2014 · No Comments

The Court had a two-day private conference before this weekly orders list, leading to orders in more than four dozen petitions. Four cases were ultimately chosen for oral argument in January. The remaining petitioners and relators were not so lucky. The Court has posted the list at a new location.

New Grants

These are the cases chosen for oral argument with this orders list:

Compounding pharmacies under the health-care-liability act

This is a claim against a compounding pharmacy based on an antioxidant supplement. The supplement was provided to a doctor's office, which then provided it to patients. The pharmacy argued that this was a health-care-liability claim and, accordingly, should be dismissed because no expert report was timely filed. The plaintiff argues that filling what the response calls a "bulk" order for these supplements is not filling a prescription and does not fit the statute.

Proof needed to raise a fact question on immunity

This is a suit against a government unit by the family of two girls who were killed by riptides near the Texas City Dike. There were signs posted elsewhere, but not where the accident took place. The City won a plea to the jurisdiction. The petition argues that there was a fact question on immunity, in part because the presence of warning signs at other nearby locations signaled awareness of the problem — or at least would permit a fact-finder to draw such an inference.

Disqualification of counsel

IN RE RSR CORPORATION AND QUEMETCO METALS LIMITED, INC., No. 13-0499

Set to be argued on January 14, 2015

The Court granted rehearing of its previous denial of this mandamus petition. The petition concerns disqualification of counsel for having hired a former employee of the other side's litigation team. The issues include how harm to the litigants should be weighed in this analysis and whether lesser alternatives to disqualification should have been explored.

Local government immunity from contract claims

LOWER COLORADO RIVER AUTHORITY v. CITY OF BOERNE, TEXAS, No. 14-0079

Set to be argued on January 15, 2015

The question is whether suit can be brought against the City for a contract alleged to have been entered in its proprietary (rather than governmental) capacity. The LCRA argues that this category of contract is not covered by immunity and that, if there were any doubt, it has also been waived by statute. The City argues that this proprietary-governmental distinction is inapplicable to contract claims and has also become unworkable in practice.

Tags: News and Links · Order Lists

A quiet orders list [Oct. 17, 2014]

October 17th, 2014 · Comments Off

It was a quiet orders list today, with no opinions or grants. The Court heard oral arguments this week, and there was no internal conference at which more fully developed petitions might have been considered.

The Court’s calendar shows a two-day private conference next Tuesday and Wednesday.

Tags: Order Lists

A quiet orders list [Oct. 10, 2014]

October 12th, 2014 · No Comments

With its orders list this week, the Texas Supreme Court did not grant review in any new cases or issue any opinions.

The Court traveled to Texas Tech University on Thursday to hear oral arguments in two cases:

UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT ARLINGTON v. SANDRA WILLIAMS AND STEVE WILLIAMS, No. 13-0338

Heard at oral argument on October 9, 2014

*   *   *

The courtroom facility at Texas Tech is very modern and wired for video cameras, and the arguments are now available on the State Bar’s oral argument page. The camera perspective is a little different — more of a jury’s-eye view of the room, which makes sense for a teaching courtroom.

See also: “Texas Supreme Court justices hear seatbelt evidence, sports injury cases at Tech law”

Tags: Order Lists

One new opinion, one revised opinion, and six grants [Oct. 3, 2014]

October 5th, 2014 · Comments Off

With this week’s orders list, the Texas Supreme Court issued one new opinion, revised one of its opinions from June, and chose six new cases for argument this fall.

The court of appeals can look beyond a recital in the judgment when evaluating a restricted appeal

A party who does not participate in the trial court hearing that leads to the judgment being challenged can file a notice of restricted appeal for up to six months after judgment, as compared to the normal 30-day notice of appeal deadline. The wrinkle here is that the judgment recited that the party had appeared at the key hearing — while other aspects of the trial court record indicated that she had not.

The underlying dispute involves child custody. About two years after a divorce, the father moved to modify the court's custody order to appoint him sole managing conservator. A hearing was set for September 2011, and while the father appeared by telephone, the mother did not. The trial court did not enter an order until November 2011. That order, in turn, began with recitals stating that the hearing occurred in November 2011 and that the mother appeared.

The Supreme Court held that the court of appeals was not bound by the recital on the face of the judgment and, instead, should have considered the other indications in the record that — here, at least — conclusively established that the relevant hearing was the one that took place in September 2011.

The Court emphasized that this record was truly overwhelming:

Importantly, nothing in the record indicates the hearing took place in November 2011. And at least eight references in the record, including portions of the trial court’s docket sheet and the reporter’s record, conclusively confirm the hearing occurred in September 2011 and the petitioner did not participate.

When the record is less conclusive, a party may have a much more difficult time trying to challenge an incorrect recital in a judgment that threatens to deprive the appellate courts of jurisdiction.

Slight revision to the Ford v. Castillo opinion

The Court revised its opinion in FORD MOTOR COMPANY v. EZEQUIEL CASTILLO, INDIVIDUALLY, MARIA DE LOS ANGELES CASTILLO..., No. 13-0158 , the fraud case growing out of a note sent by a juror asking about the amount of damages, inducing a quick settlement. (See previous post.)

The new opinion addresses at least two issues noted in the rehearing motion. First, it rejected the argument that Ford’s reliance on the note was unreasonable because juries can send notes about damages without having yet resolved the merits. The original opinion had not addressed this argument. On rehearing, the Court explained that, given the context here and the text of the note itself, the evidence was legally sufficient on this element.

Second, the Court remanded on the issue of factual sufficiency. The court of appeals had not reached that issue, and the court’s original opinion did not address it. On rehearing, the petition urged that the Court remand to the court of appeals so that it could consider the factual sufficiency challenge.

To accomplish that, the Court granted rehearing, issued this new opinion replacing its previous one, and remanded to the court of appeals.

Grants

This orders list includes six grants and twenty denials of review for petitions that had been fully briefed on the merits.

These are the six grants:

Expert testimony about causation

This petition challenges a jury verdict that certain chemicals caused a fire within a facility storing many other chemicals, on the basis that (1) the expert's opinions were not supported by a sufficient foundation and (2) the evidence was legally insufficient.

Among the issues identified in the petition:

  • that it "credits expert testimony that damages are 'consistent with' a particular
    causation theory rather than requiring probative evidence of causation"

  • that it includes "proof of causation by process of elimination"

  • that they expert testimony was admitted without "requiring each part of the causation theory to be supported by testing or other scientifically reliable evidence"

  • that it "[d]isregards undisputed test results conducted by a defendant’s experts that
    disprove a plaintiff’s theory"

JAW THE POINTE, LLC v. LEXINGTON INSURANCE COMPANY, No. 13-0711

Set to be argued on January 13, 2015
Whether a misrepresentation in a babysitting flyer is a "substantial cause" of an eventual sexual abuse

The family of a child who was abused by a babysitter brought this claim against the babysitter's mother, who had made a misleading flyer about his trustworthiness as a babysitter, and the church that distributed that flyer. The allegation is that he was "troubled" with known psychiatric issues and that on the second babysitting session, he sexually abused two young boys. The jury found the defendants liable.

The court of appeals reversed and rendered, concluding that the evidence of causation presented here was legally insufficient based on Doe v. Boys Club of Dallas, also a sexual abuse case. In Boys Club, the Court held that the chain of causation had been essentially broken by other links between the abuser and the victim's family, such that the original lies were no longer a "substantial factor" causing the injury.

The petition asks the Court to hold that Boys Club was not meant to be a blanket protection for those whose misrepresentations might be linked to sexual abuse. The respondents argue that the sexual abuse was not the "natural and probable" result of the misrepresentation because the conduct was so extraordinary that it broke the chain of causation.

When does post-judgment interest start to accrue?

WAYNE VENTLING v. PATRICIA M. JOHNSON, No. 14-0095

Set to be argued on January 13, 2015

In a quite long-running case, the dispute here is how to determine the start date for post-judgment interest when the original judgment goes up on appeal and is partially changed on remand.

The petition contends that the interest should be computed beginning in 2012. It argues that the original 1998 judgment was not itself final — that it was an interlocutory order not itself appealed to the court of appeals. It also argues that the substantive nature of the remand (involving the introduction of new evidence, some by the plaintiff) warranted treating the 2012 award as the starting point for computing interest.

Tags: Order Lists

No opinions or grants [Sep. 19]

September 19th, 2014 · Comments Off

The Texas Supreme Court issued a quiet orders list today, with no opinions or new cases chosen for oral argument.

The Court’s next internal conference is scheduled to begin September 30, and its next oral arguments will be on October 9 (to be held at Texas Tech University).

Tags: Order Lists

Catching up on recent (quiet) summer orders lists

August 18th, 2014 · Comments Off

The Texas Supreme Court is returning from a summer break, and as it happens, so am I.

This most recent August 15th orders list was a quiet one, with no opinions issued and no grants.

The same was true the week before, the week before that, the week before that, and the week before that.

Looking forward, the Court’s public calendar shows two, two-day private conferences over the next two weeks, so it’s fair to expect some end-of-term orders to reduce the number of argued and pending cases that will be carried forward into the Court’s new accounting year on September 1.

Tags: Order Lists

Eight sets of opinions, one grant [Jun. 20, 2014]

June 20th, 2014 · Comments Off

With today’s orders list, the Texas Supreme Court issued opinions in eight cases and chose one new case to be argued this October.

The orders included two dissenting opinions — which are the first since September’s IN RE STEPHANIE LEE, No. 11-0732 . It’s been a very agreeable year so far at the Court, which poses a challenge to those of us who track court statistics.

The rule of thumb at the U.S. Supreme Court is that the more divided cases tend to linger until the end of the Term. We’ll see if the same pattern holds this year in Austin.

Read much more

Tags: Order Lists

Three opinions, one grant – and argument dates are assigned for the Fall calendar [Jun. 13, 2014]

June 16th, 2014 · Comments Off

With its June 13, 2014 orders list, the Texas Supreme Court issued opinions in three cases. It also granted review in one new case and assigned its first argument dates for the fall.

I’ve also posted summaries from the June 6 orders and a long-overdue summary of a case about vacating an arbitration award for evident partiality.

Opinions

“Check[ing] the causation box” is harder than it may seem

The Court held that a slander-of-title claim against a tenant (who is alleged to have undermined a property sale) failed for lack of evidence of causation.

The Court emphasized that causation in this context has two aspects. It is not enough that the defendant’s conduct was a factor in causing the result. What the Court requires is evidence that, but-for the action, the harm would not have occurred.

Here, the “witnesses … never testified there was a possibility of a different outcome had [the tenant] not sent its letter.” The Court was also dismissive of the idea that some magic words in testimony could substitute for richer evidence suggesting causation. It said:

even if counsel were able to get a witness to agree to language reflecting the causation standard at issue in this case, the bare assertions … in response to carefully worded questions from counsel do not constitute evidence of causation.

In other words, a transcript that tracks the language of court opinions is not good enough to let you sleep well at night. “There is no ‘magic language’ that checks the causation box in a sufficiency-of-the-evidence review.”

Unconscionability of arbitration clauses applied to DTPA and attorney’s fee claims

A contract for the sale of cotton included an arbitration clause, selecting arbitration rules that did not at the time permit attorney’s fees.

When the cotton grower brought suit, the purchaser (Venture) invoked the arbitration clause. The district court refused to enforce the clause, and the court of appeals affirmed on the ground of unconscionability. The court of appeals focused, in particular, on the plaintiff’s allegations of a DTPA claim and request for contract attorney’s fees — remedies that were effectively barred by the arbitration procedures chosen here. The court of appeals rejected the argument that the offending portions of the arbitration should have been severed to save the rest.

The Texas Supreme Court reversed. As to the DTPA claim, it agreed with the court of appeals that requiring arbitration would be improper under the precedent of IN RE POLY-AMERICA, L.P., IND. AND D/B/A POL-TEX INTERNATIONAL, AND POLY-AMERICA GP, L.L.C., No. 04-1049 , in which the Court held that requiring arbitration of a workers compensation remedies was unconscionable. The DTPA claims at issue here are different in one way: it is at least possible for them to be waived. But this contract did not include the specific language and form elements that the law requires for an effective waiver. Thus, the Court held, the DTPA claim here cannot be arbitrated under this clause.

But the Court, unlike the court of appeals, held that this aspect of the arbitration clause could be severed, leaving the rest in place.

The opinion also has an interesting discussion of how waiver might work differently in interlocutory appeals. Here, the argument was that Venture should have expressly asked the trial court for this kind of severance before perfecting its interlocutory appeal. The Texas Supreme Court rejected the idea that this “waiver” would prevent it from reaching the question:

But this is an interlocutory appeal, and the case remains pending in the trial court. We are therefore unsure what Venture has waived. If the court merely means to suggest that Venture waived the right to complain about severance in this interlocutory appeal, the waiver argument serves only to delay a decision in the case. Conservation of time and resources recommend that we consider the issue now because nothing prevents Venture from urging severance in the trial court and, if denied, from renewing its complaint in yet another interlocutory appeal.

A guaranty agreement waives a party’s right to offset for a foreclosure sale

In a foreclosure auction, the lender has an advantaged position because they can bid using a fraction of the debt they are owed, rather than putting up cash. The Property Code recognizes that this can result in a distorted auction, one in which the seller has no incentive to bid high and other buyers do not wish to compete — leading to a sale price well below market value.

Section 51.003(c) gives the person whose property has been foreclosed some protection in this situation. If the lender buys the property in foreclosure, the borrower can prove up the true market value and receive an offset of their debt for the difference.

The wrinkle here is that the commercial loan was personally guaranteed by a principal of the business, Moayedi.

That guaranty agreement, in turn, waived “any defense … each and every such defense being hereby waived by the undersigned Guarantor.”

The Court first construed Section 51.003. It rejected Moayedi’s argument that this statue was not a defense at all, but rather an alternate way of calculating a deficiency judgment (with the same practical effect). The Court quoted the full statute and said that “the language of the statute presupposes the traditional definition of deficiency [and] provides an offset … In other words, it provides a defense.”

It then held that Moayedi’s general waiver extended to that defense and was effective.

Petition Grant

More questions about Section 51.003

Having just issued an opinion in MEHRDAD MOAYEDI v. INTERSTATE 35/CHISAM ROAD, L.P. AND MALACHI DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, No. 12-0937 , the Court has decided to go back for more.

The petition in PLAINSCAPITAL BANK v. WILLIAM MARTIN, No. 13-0337 asks more questions about Section 51.003, including: (1) whether it creates a right to an offset when a lender resells the property on the open market rather than a foreclosure sale and (2) how to compute fair market value to compute the offset.

Argument Schedule

The Court assigned argument dates for its pending cases. This probably fills the September calendar and (almost) fills October. The October calendar includes, along with the usual sitting in Austin, a trip to Lubbock to hear arguments at Texas Tech University’s law school on October 9.

Tuesday September 16

Wednesday September 17

Thursday September 18

Thursday October 9 [at Texas Tech Law School]

Tuesday October 14

Wednesday October 15

Tags: Order Lists