Justia Texas Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that Tex. R. Civ. P. 91a permits dismissal based on an affirmative defense and that the alleged destruction of evidence is an action "taken in connection with representing a client in litigation," thus entitling the defendant attorneys to attorney immunity. Plaintiff hired Defendants to represent her in a lawsuit. Plaintiff later sued Defendants for, inter alia, fraud, trespass to chattel, and conversion, alleging that Defendants intentionally destroyed key evidence in the case. Defendants moved to dismiss the case under Rule 91a, claiming that it was entitled to attorney immunity on all of Plaintiff's claims. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the case. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that affirmative defenses such as attorney immunity cannot be the basis of a Rule 91a dismissal and that Defendants were not entitled to attorney immunity. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Rule 91a permits motions to dismiss based on affirmative defenses "if the allegations, taken as true, together with inferences reasonably drawn from them, do not entitle the claimant to the relief sought"; and (2) because Defendants' allegedly wrongful conduct involved the provision of legal services that conduct was protected by attorney immunity. View "Bethel v. Quilling, Selander, Lownds, Winslett & Moser, P.C." on Justia Law

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In this negligence action, the Supreme Court held that an agreed scheduling order setting expert report deadlines, with no reference to Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 128.053(a), did not extend the statutory deadline to serve an expert report and that Plaintiffs' failure timely to serve an expert report entitled the shooting range's employee to seek dismissal. Plaintiffs sued a shooting range and its employee alleging negligence. The parties submitted to an agreed scheduling order, but the order did not specifically reference section 128.053. More than ninety days after Plaintiffs filed suit Defendants filed a motion to dismiss. The trial court denied dismiss, ruling that the agreed scheduling order extended Plaintiffs' section 128.053 deadline. The court of appeals dismissed all claims against the shooting range but allowed the claims against the employee to proceed on the basis that section 128.053(b)(2) does not apply to a shooting range employees. The Supreme Court held (1) the shooting range was correctly dismissed from the suit because the agreed scheduling order did not extend Plaintiffs' deadline to serve the expert report section 128.053 requires; and (2) the employee was entitled to dismissal with prejudice under section 128.053(b)(2) as an implicated defendant whose conduct was required to be addressed in an expert report. View "Shinogle v. Whitlock" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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The Supreme Court held that the corporation alleging a healthcare liability claim against a hospital in this case fell within the Texas Medical Liability Act's definition of "claimant" under Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 74.351(a) and that the allegations stated a health care claim against the hospital, and therefore, the corporation was required to submit an expert report supporting the claim. A bridal shop in Ohio was required to close when health authorities learned that a nurse at the Dallas Presbyterian Hospital who had visited the bridal shop was diagnosed as having the Ebola virus. The shop's owner sued the hospital, alleging that the hospital's negligence in failing to prevent transmission of the Ebola virus to the nurse caused the shop to close permanently due to health concerns and adverse publicity. Invoking the Act, the hospital moved to dismiss the claims because the owner failed to submit an expert report detailing a factual basis for its healthcare liability claim. The trial court denied the motion. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the business's claims that the hospital's departure from accepted safety standards caused its injury stated a healthcare liability claim under the Act and that the business was a claimant under the Act. View "Coming Attractions Bridal v. Texas Health Resources" on Justia Law

Posted in: Health Law
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In this case involving a written assignment of an overriding royalty interest in minerals produced from land in Wheeler County the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the trial court's judgment declaring that the assignment conveyed an overriding royalty interest in all production under the lease, holding that the assignment unambiguously conveyed the assignor's overriding royalty interest in all production under the lease. The assignment in this case identified the single well that was producing at the time of the assignment, the land on which the well was located, and the lease under which the overriding royalty interest existed. At issue was whether the assignment conveyed the assignor's interest in all production under the identified lease or only in production from the identified well or from any well drilled on the identified land. The court of appeals held that the assignment conveyed only the 3.75 percent overriding royalty interest in production from the tract of land on which the well was located. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the assignment unambiguously conveyed all of the interest that the assignor owned at the time of the conveyance. View "Piranha Partners v. Neuhoff" on Justia Law

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In this healthcare liability action, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the trial court denying Defendant's motion for directed verdict and motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), holding that the trial court gave an erroneous charge that instructed the jury on the incorrect law applicable in the case. Plaintiffs filed this action against their obstretician, claiming that Defendant failed to exercise ordinary care when delivering Plaintiffs' baby and that Defendant's negligence proximately caused the baby's brachial plexus injury. At the close of the evidence Defendant moved for a directed verdict, arguing that there was legally insufficient evidence of willful and wanton negligence as required under Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 74.153. The trial court denied the motion. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiffs, finding that Defendant was negligent under an ordinary, and not a willful and wanton, negligence standard. The trial court denied Defendant's motion for JNOV. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court erred in charging the jury because the jury should have considered whether section 74.153's standard of willful and wanton negligence applied in this case where it was contested whether Defendant provided emergency medical care to the mother and the baby. View "Glenn v. Leal" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the trial court dismissing Plaintiff's legal malpractice claim as baseless under Peeler v. Hughes & Luce, 909 S.W.2d 494 (Tex. 1995), holding that Peeler did not bar Plaintiff's malpractice claim. Plaintiff, a former client, sued her criminal defense attorney for malpractice after her conviction was vacated based on ineffective assistance of counsel. The trial court dismissed the claim as baseless under Peeler. In Peeler, a plurality of the Supreme Court held that "plaintiffs who have been convicted of a criminal offense may negate the sole proximate cause bar to their claim for legal malpractice in connection with that conviction only if they have been exonerated on direct appeal, through post-conviction relief, or otherwise." The trial court concluded that, because Plaintiff had failed to prove her exoneration, the Peeler doctrine barred her malpractice claim. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) exoneration under Peeler requires both that the underlying criminal conviction be vacated and also proof of innocence; and (2) therefore, the Peeler doctrine did not bar Plaintiff's malpractice claim, and Plaintiff must now obtain a finding of her innocence in the malpractice action to maintain her claim. View "Gray v. Skelton" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals holding that none of the Texas Tort Claims Act's exceptions to a waiver of immunity applied in this case, holding that the riot exception applied and that the Tort Claims Act did not waive the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's immunity for Plaintiff's claims against it. In this case, a Department prison guard filed a skat shell at a group of prison inmates, injuring Plaintiff. Department officials had authorized and instructed the guard to use the tear-gas gun and shell in response to two groups of inmates who had refused to comply with orders from several prison officials for almost an hour. The Department filed a plea to the jurisdiction, asserting that its sovereign immunity had not been waived for Plaintiff's claims. In response, Plaintiff asserted that a fact question existed as to whether the Act's emergency and riot exceptions applied to bar his claims. The trial court denied the Department's plea to the jurisdiction, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Act's riot exception applied as a matter of law and foreclosed waiver of the Department's immunity. View "Texas Department of Criminal Justice v. Rangel" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the trial court enforcing a liquidated damages provision in a contract, holding that the breaching party in this case did not prove that an unbridgeable discrepancy existed between actual and liquidated damages or otherwise demonstrate that the provision operated as a penalty. After Defendant breached the contract Plaintiff brought this action. The trial court enforced the liquidated damages provision in the contract, concluding that it was not a penalty because it reasonably forecasted the harm that would result from a breach and actual damages were difficult to estimate when the contract was made. The court of appeals affirmed the award of liquidated damages. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) at the time the parties' agreement was made, the harm that would result from a breach was difficult to predict, and the liquidated damages provision reasonably forecast just compensation; and (2) Defendant failed to demonstrate an unbridgeable discrepancy between liquidated and actual damages, measured at the time of the breach, to invalidate the liquidated damages provision. View "Atrium Medical Center, LP v. Houston Red C LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals ruling that, where the trial court granted a motion to dismiss without specifying the ground for its decision, the court of appeals did not have authority to order supplemental briefing but was instead required to affirm because of Appellants' failure to brief all possible grounds for the trial court's decision, holding that the court of appeals had the authority to order supplemental briefing. In this dispute over church assets, Appellees filed a motion to dismiss and a plea to the jurisdiction based on both standing and the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine. The trial court granted the motion but did not specify the grounds for its decision. Appellants appealed, but the appellate brief only addressed the standing issue. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that it lacked the authority to order supplemental briefing on the ecclesiastical abstention issue and was bound to affirm the trial court because Appellants failed to challenge all possible bases for the decision. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because Appellants effectively raised the ecclesiastical abstention issue in their appellate briefing, the court of appeals had the authority to order additional briefing under Tex. R. App. P. 38.9. View "St. John Missionary Baptist Church v. Flakes" on Justia Law

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In this venue dispute, the Supreme Court denied a petition for mandamus relief, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in transferring the case to the parties' agreed venue. This case stemmed from a lawsuit alleging wrongful disposition of a limited partnership's assets. A group of the limited partners (collectively, Fox River) sued William Carlson, who owned and controlled the partnership's general partner, claiming that Carlson fraudulently misappropriated groundwater leases, breached the limited partnership agreement, and violated fiduciary duties. Fox River filed the lawsuit in Washington County where Carlson was domiciled. Carlson moved to transfer venue to Harris County, citing a venue-selection clause in the limited partnership agreement. The trial court granted the motion, enforcing the parties' venue agreement in accordance with Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 15.020. Fox River sought mandamus relief, arguing that Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 65.023(a) mandates venue in a defendant's county of domicile for cases primarily seeking injunctive relief. The Supreme Court denied mandamus relief, holding that section 15.020 requires enforcement of the parties' venue-selection agreement not because it is a "super mandatory" venue provision that supersedes section 65.023(a) but because section 65.023(a) does not apply in suits like this where injunctive relief is not the primary and principal relief requested. View "In re Fox River Real Estate Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law