February 20, 2015

This week, the Texas Supreme Court did not release any new opinions, however, it granted several Petitions for Review setting oral arguments for the last week of March. In this issue of the Texas Supreme Court Update, we will highlight the issues of importance in oral arguments before the Court this upcoming week.

State of the Judiciary Address

This week, Chief Justice Hecht delivered his State of the Judiciary address to the Legislature. A copy of the address can be found here: http://www.txcourts.gov/media/857636/state-of-the-judiciary-2015.pdf

Special Orders Staying State Trial Court Rulings that Texas' Same-Sex Marriage Ban Violates Constitutional Protections

Also, of importance, on Thursday, February 19, 2015, the Texas Supreme Court granted special orders staying trial court rulings issued by 2 different Travis County judges that Texas' constitutional amendment banning same sex marriages violates constitutional equal protection and due process rights.

Upcoming Oral Arguments Next Week

JLG Trucking, LLC v. Garza, Case 13-0978:

Oral argument set for Feb. 26, 2015 with David Gunn arguing for JLG Trucking and Lisa Bowlin arguing for Ms. Garza. This auto collision case involves a plaintiff who was in another allegedly more serious accident after the accident made the basis of the lawsuit. The trial court excluded evidence about the second accident and refused to let Plaintiff's expert be cross-examined on it, refusing to allow JLG to present alternative arguments to the jury regarding causation that: 1) Plaintiff wasn't injured; or 2) if injured, Plaintiff's injuries were caused by the second accident. JLG Trucking argues the expert's failure to explain or adequately disprove alternative theories of causation, i.e. the causal impact of the second accident on Plaintiff's injuries, made Plaintiff's theory speculative and conclusory.

Issues:

1. Did the plaintiff present sufficient evidence of causation?

2. If so, does the exclusion of the evidence about the second accident require at least a new trial?

TV Azteca, S.A.B. de C.V. et al v. Ruiz, Case 14-0186

Oral argument set for Feb. 25, 2015 with Paul Watler arguing for Petitioners and David Jones arguing for Respondent. This defamation case against foreign media companies relates to an over-air broadcast from a Monterrey, Mexico TV station that "strayed" across the border into Texas allegedly defaming Ms. Ruiz, who lives in Texas but is known in Mexico as the artist "Gloria Trevi".

Issue:

May Texas courts exercise specific personal jurisdiction in a defamation/libel action over foreign defendants based on the theory that television signals that stray across the border from Mexico establish a substantial presence in the state?

In re Memorial Hermann Hospital System et al, Case 14-0171

Oral argument in this mandamus proceeding set for Feb. 25, 2015 with Warren Huang arguing for Relators and Peter Kelly arguing for Real Parties in Interest. In this business tort case involving claims of business disparagement, defamation, tortious interference with prospective relations, and improper restraint of trade under the Texas Free Enterprise and Antitrust Act of 1983, Plaintiff Dr. Gomez sought documents that Memorial Hermann Hospital withheld as privileged under the statutory medical peer review committee and medical committee privileges. The trial court found the documents not privileged based upon the anticompetitive exception to the medical peer review committee privilege.

Issues:

1. Did the trial court abuse his discretion in entering his July 29, 2013 order compelling Memorial Hermann to produce the privileged documents listed in that order?

2. Does Memorial Hermann lack an adequate remedy at law for such order?

In re Longview Energy Co., Case 14-0175

Oral argument in this mandamus proceeding set for Feb. 25, 2015 with Craig Florence arguing for Relators and Daryl Moore arguing for Real Parties in Interest. In this oil and gas case, the district court rendered a judgment with two components: (1) a monetary award against all of the Defendants tied to past oil and gas production and (2) a constructive trust over the property itself. The monetary award itself exceeded $95.5 million. Defendants "jointly" filed a single $25 million supersedeas bond. The trial court ordered each Defendant post separate security in the amount of $25 million or 50% of that Defendant's net worth, whichever is less.

Issues:

1. Is Chapter 52 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code a statute intended to protect judgments, or rather judgment debtors?

2. Does Chapter 52 impose a supersedeas limit of $25 million with respect to the entire judgment, or simply with respect to the liability of each judgment debtor?

Dacus, et. al v. City of Houston, Case 13-0047

Oral argument set for February 24, 2015 with Andy Taylor and Hon. Thomas R. Phillips arguing for Petitioners and Robert Health for Respondent. This case arose after Houston voters passed Proposition 1, a city charter amendment purporting to allow for the establishment of a fund to pay for both drainage and street improvements. Petitioners alleged that Proposition 1's ballot language did not adequately describe what the electorate was actually voting on, resulting in the voters being intentionally misled. The trial court granted the City's motion for summary judgment and the appellate court affirmed.

Issues:

1. Should the trial court decide that a traditional motion for summary judgment can be granted based solely on a presumption?

2. Should the trial court limit the scope of review in an election contest to an eight-corners comparison between the proposition language and the published measure?

3. Should the trial court find that what constitutes a measure's "chief features" as a matter of law or should the court as fact finder under Section 231.005 of the Texas Election Code determine whether the features mentioned in the measure are actually the "chief features" of the measure, which then must be fairly portrayed on the ballot?

4. Did the trial court abuse its discretion in failing to grant a new trial when one of the parties admitted, after the summary judgment order was signed, that voters were misled?

Plains Exploration & Production Company v. Torch Energy Advisors Inc., Case 13-0597

Oral argument set for February 24, 2015 with Hon. Scott A. Brister and David M. Gunn arguing for Petitioner and Hon. Harriet O'Neill arguing for Respondent. In 1994, Torch Energy Advisors sold a 50% interest in offshore leases to Nuevo Energy, and in 1996 Torch conveyed the remaining 50% to Nuevo. Plains Exploration & Production Company acquired Nuevo and won an $83 million judgment against the federal government. Torch Energy asserts that it is entitled to half an $83 million judgment paid by the federal government to Plains Exploration & Production Company because of a clause in a 1996 contract in which Nuevo reserved claims and income "arising before transfer" - even though the government's breach that resulted in the judgment did not occur until many years after the 1996 contract. The trial court granted summary judgment for Plains Exploration, which was reversed.

Issues:

1. Is Torch entitled to half the judgment because it "arose from or was attributable to" events before the 1996 contract, when the government's breach occurred in 2001 and the judgment occurred in 2008?

2. Is Torch entitled to half the judgment under a money-had-and-received theory regardless of the contract?

3. Whether a refund of bonuses paid between 1968-1982 to secure offshore leases arises from acts or events occurring before 1995 and is an "excluded asset" under the contract?

Valdez et al v. Hollenbeck et al., Case 13-0709

Oral argument set for February 24, 2015 with Nancy H. Hamren arguing for Petitioners and Beth Watkins arguing for Respondent. This case arose after an estate's heirs discovered fraudulent action and the probate court granted the heirs' Equitable Bill of Review over ten years after the final orders closed the estate.

Issues:

1. Did the trial court improperly grant Equitable Bill of Review over ten years after the final orders were signed, closing the instant estate?

2. Was there sufficient evidence of a "meritorious claim or defense" to support an Equitable Bill of Review if it were timely filed?

3. Should the 1993 IRS tax return have been ruled inadmissible if Equitable Bill of Review was timely filed?

4. Did the court of appeals err by holding that the discovery rule applied to the Equitable Bill of Review to set aside the 1996 orders?

5. Did the court of appeals err by holding that Fidelity was liable for pre-judgment interest in excess of the amount of its bond?

Conclusion:

Next week we will continue to update you on new opinions released by the Texas Supreme Court as well as any interesting developments in the oral arguments before the Court in the coming week. We hope highlighting the issues in the upcoming oral arguments will help you anticipate future opinions from the Court and aid you in your practice.

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