With this orders list, the Court issued opinions resolving three cases and granted nine cases for oral argument.
This flurry of grants gives the Court a complete argument calendar for late February and begins to fill a (new) argument week scheduled for late March.
The effect on a statute of limitations when public records are tainted by fraud
A mineral owner sued the operator for fraud that occurred more than four years before suit, the effects of which continued in the stream of payments to the current day. The operator responded with, among other arguments, a limitations defense. The mineral owner contended that the discovery rule should have tolled that limitations period because it reasonably relied on the operator's representations. The operator contends that any such reliance was unreasonable because Railroad Commission records contained the needed information.
The opinion discussed whether "reasonable diligence" is one of fact or law, answering that it's ultimately one of fact but that there are categories of evidence — including some public records — that put a party conclusively on notice, thus starting the clock for limitations.
The Court distinguished those public-record cases because, here, the fraud had also "tainted" the integrity of the public records, with allegedly false information being included in the latest filings. Although the defendant contended that comparing these later records with earlier records should have put someone on notice of the fraud, the Court held that would require too much to be "reasonable diligence" as a matter of law.
Among the other issues, the Court interpreted the parties' "most favored nations" clause for royalty payments. The court of appeals had held this clause was not violated when the State in effect received preferential royalty payments because the State was not a market actor and thus the policy concerns were somewhat different. The Supreme Court held that the contract text did not draw such a distinction and, thus, that the contract had been breached.
The special role of the Attorney General in reporting child-support issues to a federal database
Can a trial court reviewing allegations of family violence affecting child custody have, along with that, order OAG to change how it has flagged the case file in a federal database?
Although the Court’s analysis dealt with a federal regulatory system, it approached this question as a matter of state statutory interpretation. The relevant list of statutory remedies included a catch-all provision “any other order.” The Court emphasized that it was evaluating that phrase within the larger context, not taken in isolation.
When construing statutes, or anything else, one cannot divorce text from context. The meaning of words read in isolation is frequently contrary to the meaning of words read contextually in light of what surrounds them. Given the enormous power of context to transform the meaning of language, courts should resist rulings anchored in hyper-technical readings of isolated words or phrases. The import of language, plain or not, must be drawn from the surrounding context, particularly when construing everyday words and phrases that are inordinately context-sensitive.
Against that background, the Court explained that Texas had designed the Office of Attorney General as its “Title IV-D agency, [which] must collect, store, and maintain” certain information required by federal law — information that included this flag.
The Court concluded that the phrase “any other order” was not meant to upset this balance, nor did it create a distinct right to judicial review under state law of the agency’s decision whether to flag the file in the federal database.
An unresolved request for UDJA fees can undermine the finality of a summary judgment
The Court dealt with what it called “the familiar issue of whether a trial court’s order ... is final for purposes of appeal.” This order came after a motion for summary judgment by an insurer (Farm Bureau), in which the trial court denied relief and ruled that the insurer did have a duty to cover the claims. Although both sides had requested attorney’s fees, the order made no mention of those requests — but it did contain a “Mother Hubbard” clause and made an award of court costs. Farm Bureau appealed the merits.
The court of appeals dismissed for want of jurisdiction, reasoning that the order could not be a final judgment because there was not a formal cross-motion for summary judgment filed by the insured. The Supreme Court disagreed that the lack of an underlying motion would deprive the judgment of force. Quoting its own decision in Lehmann v. Har-Con Corp., 39 S.W.3d 191 (Tex. 2001), the Court explained that “[i]f the trial court’s intent to enter a final judgment is ‘clear from the order, then the order is final and appealable, even though the record does not provide an adequate basis for rendition of judgment.’ In that case, ‘the judgment is final—erroneous, but final.’” So that basis would not defeat jurisdiction here.
But the Supreme Court saw a second problem with jurisdiction, namely, that the trial court had not ruled on attorney’s fees. In contrast to the merits issue — where the order spoke directly to the claims — there was no mention of attorney’s fees in the order and no other indication in the record that the trial court’s order was meant to resolve the question of fees. “In the absence of evidence of the trial court’s intent with respect to the parties’ claims for attorney’s fees, we find that the trial court’s order did not dispose of all parties and claims.”
For late February
ROBERT VALDEZ, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF PIERRE V. BERNARD, DECEASED, AND FIDELITY AND CASUALTY COMPANY OF NEW YORK v. DAVID HOLLENBECK, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS SUCCESSOR ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF PIERRE V. BERNARD, DECEASED, WILL FRANCES BARON, JOHN BERNARD BARON, BERNARD RAE BERNARD BOX, DARYL BERNARD, MARCUS BERNARD, BARBARA STREFF GRACHEK, PAM STREFF MYERS, STEVE STR, No. 13-0709
Set to be argued on February 24, 2015
Does Texas have personal jurisdiction over a Mexican TV station whose broadcasts reach the state?
This is a defamation case involving a broadcast that originated in Mexico and, it is alleged, caused harm in Texas. TV Azteka broadcasts from a location in Mexico that reaches both a local audience and several cities on the Texas side of the border.
The TV station filed a special appearance arguing that Texas courts lack jurisdiction to hear this defamation claim. The trial court denied that request, and the court of appeals agreed that Texas courts can proceed.
The parties dispute the degree to which the TV station has chosen to avail itself of the business opportunities, and legal responsibilities that may come, from having its signal extend into Texas.The plaintiff points to some materials suggesting that TV Azteka was selling advertisers on the benefits of having the signal extend into Texas. Emphasizing a different aspect of its revenue, the TV station says that it had no legal control over how its signals were used in Texas and was unable to charge local cable stations to rebroadcast them.
The national and state associations of broadcasters have filed amicus briefs, urging the Texas Supreme Court to take the case and rule that signals crossing international borders — like postings on the internet — do not automatically create personal jurisdiction wherever they are read.
For late March
CHESAPEAKE EXPLORATION, L.L.C. AND CHESAPEAKE OPERATING, INC. v. MARTHA ROWAN HYDER, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS INDEPENDENT EXECUTRIX AND TRUSTEE UNDER THE WILL OF ELTON M. HYDER, JR., DECEASED, AND AS TRUSTEE UNDER THE ELTON M. HYDER JR. RESIDUARY TRUST, AND AS TRUSTEE OF THE ELTON M. HYDER JR. MARITAL TRUST; BRENT ROWAN HY, No. 14-0302
Set to be argued on March 24, 2015