With today’s orders list, the Texas Supreme Court issued two opinions and chose four cases for argument next spring.

Attorney’s fees are not proper in child-support modification orders

Resolving a split among the courts of appeals, the Court holds that Texas statutes do not authorize a trial court “to order a parent to pay attorney’s fees as additional child support in a non-enforcement modification suit.”

The majority opinion contrasted other parts of the family code, which do expressly permit attorney’s fees. “In light of the Family Code’s detailed scheme concerning awards of attorney’s fees in [other contexts], we believe it is significant that the Family Code is silent [about them for modification suits]”.

Justice Guzman wrote a concurring opinion (joined by Justice Lehrmann) that provided more context about why the Family Code provisions on attorney’s fees are so fragmented, which may help inform any attempts at a legislative fix. The concurrence ultimately agreed with the majority that, “in the absence of express statutory authorization,” fees were not available here.

Whistleblower Act: who is a law-enforcement official?

The Court applied its recent decisions in Gentilello and Farran, which had concluded that an employee making a report to an internal compliance officer was not itself a report to a “law-enforcement authority” to trigger the protections of the Whistleblower Act.

Like those cases, the Court concluded that this record “failed to show [that the plaintiff had] an objective, good-faith belief that the [school district] qualifies as an ‘appropriate law-enforcement authority’ under the Act.”

Grants

Permanent injunctions against defamation

ROBERT KINNEY v. ANDREW HARRISON BARNES (A/K/A A. HARRISON BARNES, A.H. BARNES, ANDREW H. BARNES..., No. 13-0043 : The petition asks whether Texas law should permit a post-judgment, permanent injunction against defamatory speech. (Set for argument January 9, 2014)

Slander of title, tortious interference, and exemplary damages

HMC HOTEL PROPERTIES II LIMITED PARTNERSHIP AND HOST HOTELS & RESORTS, L.P., F/K/A HOST MARRIOTT... v. KEYSTONE-TEXAS PROPERTY HOLDING CORPORATION, No. 12-0289 : The Court granted rehearing of this petition, which had been denied review on June 28, 2014. The rehearing motion urged the Court to take the case because of the monetary stakes and because of alleged secret communications between the trial judge and jury regarding exemplary damages. (Set for argument February 4, 2014)

Statute of repose vs. the Open Courts provision

TENET HOSPITALS LIMITED, A TEXAS LIMITED PARTNERSHIP D/B/A PROVIDENCE MEMORIAL HOSPITAL, AND MICHAEL D. COMPTON... v. ELIZABETH RIVERA, AS NEXT FRIEND FOR M.R., No. 13-0096 : The petition asks whether the 10-year statute of repose can constitutionally be applied to: (1) a claimant that was younger than 8 at the time of injury, (2) for a claim that arose years before the “statute of repose” was enacted. (Set for argument February 4, 2014)

Oil and gas

KEY OPERATING & EQUIPMENT, INC. v. WILL HEGAR AND LOREE HEGAR, No. 13-0156 : The appeal concerns when the holder of a mineral lease that is part of a pooled unit has the right to use adjacent surface property for drilling. (Set for argument February 4, 2014)