Justia Texas Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics
LaLonde v. Gosnell
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that Defendants' engagement of the judicial process implied that they intended to waive the requirements of Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 150.002, which requires that a sworn certificate of merit accompany any lawsuit complaining about a licensed professional engineer's services, and remanded this case for further proceedings. Defendants were professional engineers who were sued by Plaintiffs alleging contract and tort claims. Plaintiff never filed a certificate of merit in this lawsuit. Defendants, however, did not seek dismissal until the eve of trial - 1,219 days after suit was filed. The trial court granted Defendants' motion and dismissed Plaintiffs' lawsuit with prejudice. The court of appeals reversed, holding that Defendants impliedly waived section 150.002's requirements. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendants waived the statutory right to dismissal by waiving the certificate of merit requirement through their invocation of the judicial process. View "LaLonde v. Gosnell" on Justia Law
Barnett v. Schiro
The Supreme Court remanded this case to the trial court for a redetermination of attorney's fees consistent with the Court's decision in Rohrmoos Venture v. UTSW DVA Healthcare, LLP, __ S.W.3d __ (Tex. 2019), also decided today, holding that, having clarified the law governing the award of attorney's fees, remand was necessary. Plaintiff brought a suit against Defendant for unpaid legal fees. The jury awarded the amount sought to Plaintiff. Plaintiff also sought attorney's fees pursuant to Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 38.001. After hearing expert testimony about the reasonableness and necessity of the attorney's fees, the jury awarded attorney's fees. Defendant filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, arguing that the evidence was legally insufficient to support the fee award. The trial court denied the motion, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the trial court for a redetermination of attorney's fees consistent with its decision in Rohrmoos Venture. View "Barnett v. Schiro" on Justia Law
In re Houston Specialty Insurance Co.
The Supreme Court conditionally granted relief to Houston Specialty Insurance Co. (HSIC) in this mandamus proceeding, holding that the trial court erred by denying HSIC’s Tex. R. Civ. P. 91a motion to dismiss a declaratory judgment action because the requested declarations were of nonliability for legal malpractice and, under Amor v. Black, 695 S.W.2d 564 (Tex. 1985), were legally invalid. Two of the requested declarations here expressly sought a declaration of nonliability, and each of the others was relevant only to a potential claim of legal malpractice by HSIC. The Supreme Court held (1) the declarations were legally invalid, had no basis in law, and should have been dismissed; and (2) a traditional appeal after final judgment does not provide HSIC an adequate remedy. View "In re Houston Specialty Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Abshire v. Christus Health Southeast Texas
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals holding that a health care claimant’s expert report was insufficient as to causation with respect to one of her providers and dismissing her claims against that provider, holding that the expert report adequately addressed both causation and the standard of care. The health care claimant in this case sued a health care provider and two of its physicians for negligence. Only the claimant’s claim against the provider for vicarious liability based on the alleged negligence of its employee nurses was at issue in this appeal. The provider filed a motion to dismiss the claimant’s claims challenging the claimant’s expert report. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss. The court of appeals reversed and dismissed the claims against the provider. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings, holding that the report sufficiently identified the applicable standard of care and linked the provider’s nurses’ alleged breaches with the claimant’s injuries. View "Abshire v. Christus Health Southeast Texas" on Justia Law
Starwood Management, LLC v. Swaim
The Supreme Court reversed the judgments of the court of appeals and trial court concluding that an expert witness affidavit in this legal malpractice case was conclusory regarding causation. Plaintiff sued Defendant attorneys for legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty in connection with the loss of its aircraft. Defendants filed traditional and no-evidence motions for summary judgment, challenging the causation element of the legal malpractice claim and arguing that the breach of fiduciary duty claim was precluded by the anti-fracturing rule. In response to the motions for summary judgment, Plaintiff presented affidavits of two attorneys opining that Defendants’ negligence caused the forfeiture of the aircraft. The trial court ruled that the affidavits would not be considered for summary judgment purposes and granted summary judgment for Defendants. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that the two affidavits were conclusory. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case, holding that one of the affidavits was not conclusory. View "Starwood Management, LLC v. Swaim" on Justia Law
Melden & Hunt, Inc. v. East Rio Hondo Water Supply Corp.
The trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying Defendant’s motion to dismiss based on the sufficiency of a certificate of merit supplied by Plaintiff. Plaintiff, a water supply corporation, contracted with Defendant to provide engineering design and project supervision services for a new water treatment plant. After the project was substantially completed, Plaintiff sued Defendant and others involved in the contract, attributing poor water quality issues to the plant’s design and construction. To comply with the certificate-of-merit statute, Plaintiff filed the affidavit of a licensed professional with its original petition. In this interlocutory appeal, Defendant argued that the trial court erred in not dismissing Plaintiff’s complaint because the certificate of merit’s author was unqualified and the affidavit failed to provide the factual basis required by Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 150.002. The Supreme Court affirmed. View "Melden & Hunt, Inc. v. East Rio Hondo Water Supply Corp." on Justia Law
Rogers v. Zanetti
Plaintiffs sued their former attorneys and the law firm at which they practiced alleging legal malpractice arising from prior litigation. The trial court granted summary judgment in Defendants’ favor without specifying the grounds. The court of appeals affirmed the summary judgment, concluding that no summary judgment evidence existed to raise a material fact issue as to causation, an essential element of a legal malpractice claim. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the court of appeals did not err in applying the but-for causation test to Plaintiffs’ malpractice claims; and (2) summary judgment was properly granted because the evidence failed to raise a material fact issue as to the causation element of Plaintiffs’ negligence claims. View "Rogers v. Zanetti" on Justia Law
Pedernal Energy, LLC v. Bruington
Tex. Civ. Prac. Rem. Code 150.002 provides that if an expert affidavit in a lawsuit or arbitration for damages arising out of the provision of professional services by licensed or registered professionals is not filed in accordance with the statute, the trial court shall dismiss the claim, and the dismissal may be with prejudice. The Supreme Court held that the statute affords trial courts discretion to dismiss either with or without prejudice. In this case, the statute required dismissal of the amended petition against Defendant. The trial court dismissed the claims without prejudice, but the court of appeals dismissed them with prejudice because, while the amended petition was accompanied by an expert affidavit, an expert affidavit was not filed with the original petition. The Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by dismissing the claims with prejudice, as the record did not conclusively demonstrate that Plaintiff’s claims lacked merit or that the trial court’s decision violated any guiding rules and principles and therefore was an abuse of discretion. View "Pedernal Energy, LLC v. Bruington" on Justia Law
Levinson Alcoser Associates, L.P. v. El Pistolon II, Ltd.
Landowner hired Architects to design a commercial retail project and oversee construction. Landowner subsequently sued, alleging breach of contract and negligence in the project’s design and negligence. With its original petition, Landowner filed a third-party licensed architect’s affidavit stating his professional opinion about Architects’ work. Architects filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the affidavit did not meet the requirements for a certificate of merit under Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 150.002(a)-(b). The trial court denied the motion to dismiss. The court of appeals affirmed the order denying dismissal of the negligence claim but reversed the order as to the contract claim, concluding that the affidavit at issue was deficient as to that claim. Architects appealed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that neither the affidavit nor the record confirmed that the affiant possessed the requisite knowledge to issue the certificate of merit, and therefore, the certificate was not sufficient for Landowner’s negligence claim to proceed. View "Levinson Alcoser Associates, L.P. v. El Pistolon II, Ltd." on Justia Law
Ransom v. Eaton
Jeanne Ransom sued dentist Jeanine Eaton, alleging that Eaton extracted two teeth in addition to the nine agreed on in a treatment plan. Ransom served Eaton with the required pre-suit notice and included an export report, but Ransom never re-served the expert report after filing suit. After the passage of 120 days, Eaton moved to dismiss Ransom’s suit on the grounds that Ransom failed to serve her with an expert report within the 120-day deadline set forth in the Texas Medical Liability Act (TMLA). The trial court granted the motion to dismiss. The court of appeals affirmed. While Ransom’s petition for review was pending, the Supreme Court decided Hebner v. Reddy. The Supreme Court reversed in the instant case, holding (1) the holding in Hebner compelled the conclusion that Ransom satisfied the TMLA’s expert-report service requirement when she served Eaton with a report concurrent with pre-suit notice; and (2) Eaton waived any objection to the sufficiency of Ransom’s expert report by failing to raise any objection within twenty-one days after filing her original answer. View "Ransom v. Eaton" on Justia Law