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2013 Winter Newsletter - Recent Developments in Texas Law from the Supreme Court of Texas

Recent Developments in Texas Law from the Supreme Court of Texas

by Douglas Pritchett

Attorneys’ Fees/Landlord Tenant:

Coinmach Corp. v. Aspenwood Apartment Corp., No. 11-0213 (Tex. Nov. 22, 2013) – The Court held that a landlord who sues his tenant for wrongfully holding over cannot plead the Declaratory Judgment Act (the “DJA”) as a vehicle for collecting attorneys’ fees. The lease at issue terminated due to a foreclosure on the property. Under the circumstances, the Court held that the landlord could sue the tenant for trespass and trespass to try title and for tortious interference with contract. The DJA is often pleaded by plaintiffs as an alternative claim in order to allow the recovery of attorneys’ fees. The Court confirmed that, at least in the context of a trespass to try title suit (which is the exclusive means of determining title to real property and which does not allow attorneys’ fees), a plaintiff may not circumvent the Legislature’s rejection of fee shifting in such a suit by pleading the DJA.

Appeal and Error:

In re Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., No. 10-0933 (Tex. Aug. 30, 2013) – The Supreme Court recently held that a trial court that grants a new trial in the interest of justice must specify why it is overturning the jury verdict. In this decision, the Court extends that holding. Not only must the trial court explain its action with reasonably specificity, the court of appeals is authorized to grant an original proceeding in which it may determine whether the reasons given are actually true. If the record does not support the trial court’s rationale, mandamus relief is appropriate.

Phillips v. Bramlett, No. 12-0257 (Tex. Jun. 7, 2013) – The Court held that the courts of appeals have jurisdiction to review a judgment rendered upon remand from the Supreme Court. Also, postjudgment interest in such cases is calculated from the date of the first (vacated) judgment.

Brighton v. Koss, No. 12-0501 (Tex. Aug. 23, 2013) – When a trial court grants some of the relief requested in a post-judgment motion and signs a new judgment, but does not grant all of the relief requested, the post-judgment motion assails the new judgment and extends the appellate deadlines.

In re Nalle Plastics Family Limited Partnership, No. 11-0903 (Tex. May 17, 2013) – The Court held that attorneys’ fees are not compensatory damages under most circumstances Therefore, unless attorneys’ fees are an element of damages, such as in a suit to collect unpaid fees, a supersedeas bond need not include the amount of attorneys’ fees awarded in the judgment

Affirmative Defenses:

Nathan v. Whittington, No. 12-0628 (Tex. Aug. 30, 2013) – The Court confirmed its 2009 decision in Galbraith Eng’g v. Pochucha that a statute suspending or tolling a statute of limitations does not suspend the statutes of repose. The Court also holds that section 24.010 of the Texas Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act is a statute of repose.

Construction:

Lennar Corp. v. Markel Am. Ins. Co., No. 11-0394 (Tex. Aug. 23, 2013) – The Court held that a home builder who elected to contact all of its buyers who purchased home with a defective siding system and offer to repair and replace the siding was entitled to insurance coverage for the costs of removing the defective siding and replacing it on the affected homes. The policy covered the amount of the loss incurred “because of” property damage that occurred during the policy period. The Supreme Court held that the loss included both the costs to remove siding from the home to identify the damage caused by water intrusion and the cost to replace the siding. 

Medical Liability:

Psychiatric Solutions, Inc. v. Palit, No. 12-0388 (Tex. Aug. 23, 2013) – Continuing its trend of broadly interpreting the scope of the Texas Medical Liability Act, the Court holds that an employee’s suit against her employer for an injury suffered on the job while attempting to restrain a patient sounds under the TMLA.

PM Management-Trinity NC, LLC v. Kumets, No. 12-0451 (Tex. Jun. 29, 2013) – The Court held that a claim that a nursing home unlawfully discharged a troublesome patient is a health care liability claim under the TMLA when it is based on the same facts as a claim that the nursing home caused the patient to suffer a second stroke due to its violation of the standard of care.

Oil and Gas Law:

Merriman v. XTO Energy, Inc., No. 11-0474 (Tex. Jun. 21, 2013) – A mineral lessee must accommodate the surface use. To show that the lessee has not accommodated the surface owner, the owner must prove that (1) its use has been substantially impaired and (2) there is no reasonable alternative method by which the existing use can be continued. The surface owner is not required to relocate or change the essential character of his use to prove the lack of a reasonable alternative. However, showing that he must change the details of how the surface has been used is not substantial impairment. Therefore, requiring the surface owner to move or reconfigure his cattle pens is not impairment. Mere inconvenience and unquantified additional expense does not rise to the necessary level of showing no reasonable alternative method.

Reputational Torts:

Neely v. Nanci Wilson, No. 11-0228 (Tex. Jun. 28, 2013) – The Court rejected the commonly-held interpretation of its 1990 decision in McIlvain that a media defendant is not liable for republishing a falsehood as long as it accurately reports that the falsehood was stated by a third party. The Court confirmed that the gist of the report must be true to satisfy the substantial truth defense. Therefore, a media defendant is liable even if it accurately reports the words of a third person if those words constitute defamation, i.e., they are false.

Hancock v. Variyam, No. 11-0772 (Tex. May 17, 2013) – The Court clarified the distinction between negligence and negligence per se. Negligence per se must injure a person in her office, profession, or occupation. However, the Court holds that the injury must be specific to the skills that are particular to the profession. Therefore, a defamatory statement concerning a physician’s honesty is not per se defamation. Therefore, actual damages must be proved.

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