With the May 3 orders list, the Texas Supreme Court issued one opinion and chose one new case for oral argument on June 3, 2013. The case set for argument is IN THE INTEREST OF K.M.L., A CHILD, No. 12-0728 , the second parental-rights case that the Court has granted this spring for expedited argument.

The Court also announced its first two argument sittings for the fall, which will begin on Tuesday September 9, 2013 and Tuesday October 8, 2013. The October sitting still has some argument slots open, for the next round of petition grants.

The May 10 orders list did not include any opinions or grants.

Arbitration against a trust beneficiary

A written trust contained a broad arbitration clause. One of the trust’s beneficiaries, who had not personally signed the trust itself, sued the trustee for misconduct. The trustee sought to invoke the arbitration clause against the (non-signatory) beneficiary.

The court of appeals concluded that this clause could not be enforced because it was not part of “an agreement” between the trustee and the beneficiary.

The Texas Supreme Court disagreed. The Court rejected the argument that trusts do not qualify as “agreements” under the Texas Arbitration Act. Unlike traditional contracts negotiated between two parties, they are created by one party (the settlor) for the benefit of others (beneficiaries). But the Court noted other cases where Texas law enforced an arbitration clause against a non-signatory through the doctrine of “direct benefits estoppel,” which holds that a person who seeks to enforce a contract has assented to its arbitration clause as well. The Court was unpersuaded that the unilateral nature of a trust made it less of an “agreement” for purposes of the Texas Arbitration Act.

Looking at the particular claims here, the Court concluded that the beneficiary had framed his claims in terms of enforcing the terms of the trust. For that reason, bringing this lawsuit “constituted the assent required to form an enforceable agreement to arbitrate under the [Texas Arbitration Act].”

Parental termination: affidavits of voluntary relinquishment and what right a non-custodial father has to notice or to counsel

IN THE INTEREST OF K.M.L., A CHILD, No. 12-0728

Set to be argued on June 24, 2013

This set of petitions (filed by the mother, father, and grandmother) raise a number of issues related to parental termination, including:

  • The mother argues that she did not have the mental capacity to understand the affidavit of voluntary relinquishment. Among other reasons, the petition notes that the form of affidavit used by the Department deviated from the format promoted by the State Bar.

  • The father argues that he was denied personal notice of earlier hearings in the case (given only by publication) and that the trial court judge should have inquired whether he was indigent and needed appointed counsel.

An expedited oral argument date has been set for Monday June 3, 2013. This is the only case on the argument calendar between now and September.