Cases involving questions on the admissibility of evidence rarely rise to the level of importance that the Texas Supreme Court gets involved.  Yet these questions routinely arise in the trial courts and are fundamental to trial practice.  The Texas Supreme Court recently examined an evidence question involving the admissibility of public records.

In Fleming v. Wilson, the defendants moved for summary judgment on the defense of collateral estoppel.  They supported their motion by attaching a jury verdict form and a judgment from a prior case (tried by the same trial judge).  The verdict form and judgment were not certified or authenticated copies, but they bore a watermark stating that they were unofficial copies of the district clerk, they contained the district clerk’s initialed, file-stamp, and they each had the trial judge’s signature on them.

The plaintiffs objected on the grounds that the documents were not certified or authenticated.  The trial court overruled the objections and granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants.  The plaintiffs appealed.

On appeal, the court of appeals reversed the summary judgment after concluding that the judgment and jury verdict were not sufficiently authenticated.

The Texas Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals judgment and reinstated the trial court’s summary judgment.  The court rejected the idea that if a document is not self-authenticating (as some documents are) that the proponent of the document must necessarily introduce some additional, extrinsic evidence to authenticate the document.

Turning to Texas Rule of Evidence 901, the court observed that it contains a non-exclusive list of examples of documents and how those documents might be authenticated.  Some of those examples indicate a need for extrinsic evidence, but others do not.

With respect to the jury verdict and judgment that were the documents in question, the court held that they were properly authenticated based upon two separate examples found in Rule 901.

Paragraph (b)(4) states:

Distinctive Characteristics and the Like. The appearance, contents, substance, internal patterns, or other distinctive characteristics of the item, taken together with all the circumstances.

Paragraph (b)(7) states:

Evidence About Public Records.

Evidence that:

(A) a document was recorded or filed in a public office as authorized by law; or

(B) a purported public record or statement is from the office where items of this kind are kept.

Because the jury verdict and judgment bore a diagonal watermark from the district clerk’s office, a stamp, and signature noting when they were filed in the clerk’s office, and the trial judge’s own signature, the court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by treating the documents as authentic under paragraph (b)(4).

Further the court noted that under paragraph (b)(7) an uncertified public record might be authenticated if it contains sufficient evidence that it was filed or kept in a public office.  Here, the court concluded that the watermark and file-stamp were sufficient such that the trial court could not be said to have abused its discretion by finding the documents authentic.

For the readers’ benefit, links to the documents at issue showing the watermark, file-stamp, and signature may be found at this link.

The breadth of the Fleming  holding remains to be seen.  In particular, suppose the documents had only the judge’s signature on them, or only the the clerk’s file-stamp (now usually electronic).  Would the either of those facts qualify the documents for authentication under Rule 901?

At a recent continuing education seminar, one of the presenters stated as a fact that amounts awarded in a judgment for prejudgment interest do not need to be included in the amount of a supersedeas bond.  The presenter cited the Texas Supreme Court’s opinion in In re Nalle Plastics Family Ltd. Partnership, 406 S.W.3d 168 (Tex. 2013), as support for this statement.  There’s just one problem with relying on Nalle Plastics for this proposition—the issue in that case is whether attorney’s fees must be included in the amount of a supersedeas bond.

Nevertheless, Nalle Plastics has been relied upon by at least two intermediate appellate courts for the proposition that prejudgment interest does not have to be included in the total amounts that must be superseded.  Moreover, two of the justices that served on the panels of the intermediate appellate courts that decided those cases are now Texas Supreme Court justices.

Let’s see how we got to this point.  Of course, the starting point of any analysis is to look at what the supersedeas statute says.  Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Section 52.006(a) provides:

when a judgment is for money, the amount of security must equal the sum of:

(1)  the amount of compensatory damages awarded in the judgment;

(2)  interest for the estimated duration of the appeal;  and

(3)  costs awarded in the judgment.

Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 52.006(a).  The issue in Nalle Plastics was whether attorney’s fees had to be included in the amounts to be superseded.  The opinion focused upon whether attorney’s fees are “compensatory damages” and whether they are “costs.”  In addressing the issue of whether attorney’s fees are compensatory damages, the court observes that not every amount can be considered damages, even if it is compensatory.  As examples of other recoveries that may be compensatory but still not be damages, the court states, “court costs make a claimant whole, as does pre-judgment interest. Yet it is clear that neither costs nor interest qualify as compensatory damages. Otherwise, there would be no need to list those amounts separately in the supersedeas bond statute.”  Thus, the Court concludes that except for attorney’s fees that are awarded as damages (such as when an attorney sues a client for non-payment of fees), fees are not “compensatory damages” damages under Section 52.006(a)(1) that must be included in the amount of security for a supersedeas bond.

The Nalle Plastics dicta that court costs and interest are not “compensatory damages” under Section 52.006(a)(1) gets picked up later by both Houston appellate courts to arrive at the conclusion that prejudgment interest does not have to be included in the amounts superseded.

In Kennedy Con., Inc. v. Forman, 493 S.W.3d 103 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2014, opinion on motion), the court considered a challenge to the amount of a supersedeas bond due to the fact that the amount did not include prejudgment interest.  Quoting Nalle Plastics, the Kennedy Court holds that there was no abuse of discretion in omitting prejudgment interest because prejudgment interest is not compensatory damages.

Two years later, the Houston First District Court of Appeals, when faced with the same question, quotes Nalle Plastics and cites Kennedy in holding that there was no abuse of discretion in omitting prejudgment interest because it is not “compensatory damages.”  Eagle Oil & Gas Co. v. Shale Explor., LLC, 510 S.W.3d 92 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2016, opinion on motion).

Before relying upon any of these three authorities, practitioners should consider two things.  First, the reason the  Nalle Plastics Court said that prejudgment interest would not be compensatory damages is because the legislature had separately itemized interest as something to be included in the amount superseded in Section 52.006(a)(2) of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code.  Thus, merely saying that it is not “compensatory damages” doesn’t end the inquiry.

Second, arguably Section 52.006(a)(2)’s use of the phrasing “interest for the duration of the appeal” might be said to be limited to post-judgment interest, since by definition this phrasing describes post-judgment interest.   Such a construction of Section 52.006(a)(2) might require determining whether the dicta in Nalle Plastics precludes prejudgment interest from being “compensatory damages.”  It may be helpful to look at the dozens of Texas Supreme Court opinions that have uniformly described prejudgment interest as “compensatory” and often described it as form of damages.  See, e.g., Columbia Hosp. Corp. v. Moore, 92 S.W.3d 470, 473 (Tex. 2002) (“Prejudgment interest was, and continues to be, ‘compensation allowed by law as additional damages for lost use of the money due as damages during the lapse of time between the accrual of the claim and the date of judgment.’”).

The Texas Supreme Court may ultimately hold that prejudgment interest is not an amount that must be superseded during an appeal, but for now, practitioners may want to be avoid advising clients that it is a foregone conclusion that prejudgment interest will not have to be superseded.

The Fifth Circuit and the Texas Supreme Court recently reaffirmed the high bar that must be met to find that the plain language of a statute violates the absurdity doctrine.

Under the absurdity doctrine a court will construe a statute by applying the plain meaning of the words used unless it would lead to absurd or nonsensical results that the legislature could not possibly have intended.  See, e.g., El Paso Educ. Initiative, Inc. v. Amex Props., LLC, 63 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 1166, 2020 Tex. LEXIS 436, at *14 (May 22, 2020), citing Cadena Comercial USA Corp. v. Tex. Alcoholic Beverage Comm’n, 518 S.W.3d 318, 325 (Tex. 2017).   While the rule is frequently cited, one is hard pressed to find cases where a court has held the doctrine applicable.

In City of Forth Worth v. Rylie, 63 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 1036, 2020 Tex. LEXIS 395, at *15 (May 8, 2020), the Texas Supreme Court was asked to untangle “a cobweb of issues” to decide whether a state statute regulating coin-operated machines preempts a Fort Worth ordinance regulating eight-liners.  Eight-liners are video slot machines that pay out in coupons that can be exchanged for a prize or right to replay on a different machine.  The machine operators argued that the city’s interpretation of the statute led to an absurd result.  The Texas Supreme Court found their argument did not satisfy the doctrine.  “We will not construe a statute’s language to produce ‘patently nonsensical results,’ but this absurdity bar ‘is high, and should be,’ because mere oddity does not equal absurdity.”  Id. at *15, citing Combs v. Health Care Servs Corp., 401 S.W.3d 623, 630 (Tex. 2013).

The Fifth Circuit recently interpreted 28 U.S.C. Section 1441(b)(2) to decide whether the statute allows a non-forum defendant to execute a “snap removal” of a state case to federal court before other defendants, who are residents of the forum and would preclude removal, are served.  The appellant accepted that the statute’s plain language allows snap removal, but argued that such a result is absurd and defeats Congress’s intent.   The circuit court disagreed, holding that for the absurdity doctrine to apply the “result must be preposterous” and one that “no reasonable person  could intend.”  Texas Brine Co.. v. Am. Arbitration Ass’n, 955 F.3d 482, 486 (5th Cir. 2020), citing Antonin  Scalia  &  Bryan  A.  Garner, Reading Law:  The Interpretation of Legal Texts 237 (2012).

The Fifth Circuit’s holding follows in a long line of federal cases.  See, e.g., Crooks  v.  Harrelson, 282 U.S. 55,  60 (1930) (“[T]o  justify  a departure from the letter of the law upon th[e] ground [of absurdity], the absurdity must be  so gross as to shock the general moral or common sense.”); United States v. Dison, 573 F.3d 204, 210 n.28 (5th Cir. 2009).

The bottom line for a practitioner is to realize that courts do not favor the absurdity doctrine and will rarely hold that it overrides the words chosen by the legislature.

Two years ago, I noted that the data shows that the Texas Supreme Court grants a disproportionate number of petitions for review that come through certain intermediate appellate courts.   One of those intermediate appellate courts is the Third Court of Appeals District, informally known as the Austin Court of Appeals.  That trend continues.

Focusing on granted petitions for review, I was curious about where some of these disputes started out, so I looked at what counties the cases originated in.   All things being equal, I would expect to see more cases coming from counties with higher populations, which also have a higher number of trial courts.  My assumption proved to be generally true.

Petitions for review granted for the 10 most populous counties

Isolating the ten most populous counties in Texas, I looked at the number of petitions actually granted that originated in each county versus the number that one might expect to come from that county if the grant rate was in proportion to the population.  This is what the data looks like in graph form:

The Texas Supreme Court grants a higher-than-expected number of petitions for cases originating in Harris County and Travis County.  Dallas County and Bexar County are about what would be expected.  The other counties fall below what might be expected. I also note that though Jefferson County is not one of the state’s top 10 most populous counties, the number of petitions that were granted where the case originated in Jefferson County far exceeds what would be expected based upon population.

Grant rate for Travis County cases is high

The most interesting thing, in my view, about the graph is the grant rate for cases that originate in Travis County.  At the county level, the discrepancy in expected grant rates for Travis County is more exaggerated than it is at the court of appeals level for the Austin Court of Appeals, where cases appealed from Travis County must go first.

The legislature establishes trial courts in counties according to the demands on the judicial system in a county.  Population within a county is a big factor in placing demands on the judicial system.  Travis County being the fifth most populous county in the state would be expected to have greater judicial needs than less populous counties.  But Travis County is special in another way in that the legislature has required that certain types of cases involving the State of Texas and its political subdivisions must be filed in Travis County.   This fact accounts for a higher number of cases starting out in Travis County than one might expect based upon the size of the county alone.  And it is notable that 2/3 of the granted petitions for cases that originate in Travis County involve the state or one of its political subdivisions.

“Importance to the Jurisprudence of the State” is the gatekeeper

Ultimately, there is an “equalizer” that presumably creates a level playing field across all petitions for review regardless of what county the case started in or who the parties to the lawsuit may be.  That equalizer is the Texas Supreme Court’s jurisdictional standard.  That standard requires that a petition must “present a question of law that is important to the jurisprudence of the state.”  Tex. Gov’t Code § 22.001(a).  All of this leads to the question of why such a disproportionate number of cases from Travis County are deemed to raise a question of law that is important to the jurisprudence of the state.  Do cases in which the state is a party or the state’s operations and business are at issue automatically qualify?  I have my own thoughts about the answer to this question, but I decided to take an unscientific, informal poll of some of my fellow board-certified appellate lawyers to get their perspectives.  I promised each of them anonymity in hopes of encouraging unfiltered responses.

There was near unanimity in the view that a petition does not present a question of law of importance to the jurisprudence of the state merely because the state or one of its subdivisions is a party or the issues involve state business.  To paraphrase one respondent, the focus should be on the legal issues, not the parties.  After all, the question is what is important to the jurisprudence, not what is important to the state.

But there was a healthy number of respondents that expressed the view that if the state or state’s business was involved, then there might be a  greater likelihood that the petition was one that presented legal issues of importance to the state’s jurisprudence.  And there was a mix of explanations as to why that might be the case.

Two respondents made the point that at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what any of us think; all that matters is that the petition for review secured enough votes on the court to be granted.  And perhaps this is the best explanation as to why petitions for review for cases originating in Travis County have such a high grant rate.


The Supreme Court of Texas handed down an opinion in Regent Care of San Antonio, L.P. v. Detrick in early May.  The main holding in the case addresses the application of a settlement credit.   But one short paragraph at the end of the opinion has appellate practitioners talking.

The paragraph in question states:

“Regent Care also challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support the jury’s findings on causation and past medical damages. Having independently reviewed these issues, we conclude they present no error requiring reversal. The court of appeals’ judgment is correct, and further discussion of the issues would not add to the jurisprudence of the State. In reaching this conclusion, we express no opinion on the court of appeals’ reasoning.”

Instead of undertaking a comprehensive review of the issue raised, the opinion summarily concludes that the judgment is correct and that nothing would be added to the state’s jurisprudence by analyzing the issue.  This language sounds a bit like the “no reversible error” label used under Texas’ old application for writ of error system.

The summary holding comes as a surprise to many in the appellate bar because historically the court’s practice has been to address all issues raised and necessary to the disposition of the case.  The opinion in Regent Care hints at a change in the court’s practice, such that the court may henceforth use its jurisdictional standard (important to the state’s jurisprudence) to pick and choose the issues raised in a petition that it deems worthy of its judicial resources.  So Regent Care raises the question whether the Court has discretion to pick and choose issues within a granted petition to address and resolve in its written opinion.

Is the court required to address all issues in a petition?

A number of practitioners suggested that the court is required to address all issues raised and necessary to the disposition of the case.  I did a little digging to see what I could discern, and I share my analysis and research here for the benefit of my colleagues and for those who wish to dig deeper.

First, I note that the Regent Care opinion cites a number of authorities at the end of the above-quoted paragraph, presumably as support for the summary disposition:

See, e.g., In re L.G., ___ S.W.3d___, ___ (Tex. 2020) (per curiam); City of Waco v. Abbott, 209 S.W.3d 104, 105 (Tex. 2006) (per curiam); Engelman Irrigation Dist. v. Shields Bros., Inc., 989 S.W.2d 360, 360 (Tex. 1998) (per curiam); W. Tex. Gulf Pipe Line Co. v. Hardin County, 159 Tex. 374, 321 S.W.2d 576, 577 (Tex. 1959) (per curiam); cf. Tex. R. App. P. 56.1(b)(1).

I won’t bore you with the details, but these authorities do not support  summary disposition.

Without a doubt all issues raised are before the court

From a jurisdictional standpoint, there is little doubt that the granting of a petition for review puts the entire case before the court and all issues raised.  Texas Government Code Section 22.007(e) states, “The granting of a petition for review admits the case into the supreme court, and the supreme court shall proceed with the case as provided by law.”

Over time, the supreme court has operated under different versions of jurisdictional statutes that to small degrees affect this analysis, but one thing that stands clear from the case authority is this:  If the court has jurisdiction to take the case based upon one issue (or point of error), then the court necessarily has jurisdiction over all the issues presented, even if the other issues (or points of error) do not independently present a complaint that falls within the court’s defined jurisdiction.  This view was expressed in 1941 in Commercial Standard Insurance Co. v. Robinson, 151 S.W.2d 795, 797 (Tex. 1941):

[T]he court having exercised its jurisdiction to grant the writ on the assignments upon which same was granted, it is not wanting in power to consider each and every law question presented and to render such judgment as its holdings on such question may require.

There are a number of other similar holdings.  See, e.g, Harry Eldridge Co. v. T. S. Lankford & Sons, Inc., 371 S.W.2d 878, 879 (Tex. 1963); Giant Mfg. Co. v. Davis, 121 S.W.2d 590, 592 (Tex. 1938); Moore v. Davis, 27 S.W.2d 153, 157 (Tex. 1930).  But just because the court has jurisdiction of all issues raised does not mean that the court MUST decide them all, right?  In other words, just because the court has jurisdiction, does it necessarily follow that the court is obliged to address all issues raised–particularly when the court’s jurisdiction is discretionary?

Is the court duty-bound to address all issues raised in a granted petition?

The answer to this question over 100 years ago was “yes”:

[A]ll questions material to the determination of the case, which should be raised upon the appeal and properly presented to this court, should be decided by it, and that it should make such disposition of the appeal as the Court of Civil Appeals ought to have made. . . . [I]t is certainly expedient that the court should decide every question properly raised in every case which reaches it by a writ of error. We therefore conclude, that it is our duty to consider the whole case, to dispose of every question that has been presented to us, and to render a judgment, either reversing or affirming the judgment of the trial court, as the law may demand.

City of Austin v. Nalle, 22 S.W. 668, 672 (Tex. 1893) (emphasis added).  Almost 30 years later, the court repeated this view in Holland v. Nimitz, 239 S.W. 185, 186 (Tex. 1922), concluding that  it “must proceed to dispose of the case by the proper judgment and, in order to do that, must decide the questions of law on which the character of the judgment must depend.”  Other authorities in which the court’s jurisdiction over some points was questioned indicate that the court did indeed endeavor to address all points raised.  See, e.g., Northeast Texas Motor Lines, Inc. v. Hodges, 158 S.W.2d 487, 489 (Tex. 1942) (“So we have considered all points of error assigned, thereby overruling respondent’s motion to dismiss.”).

One conclusion to be drawn from these authorities is that use of the court’s jurisdictional standard (importance to the jurisprudence of the state) to avoid addressing an issue within a granted petition is contrary to settled authority.  That authority provides that the court has jurisdiction of ALL issues in a granted petition and has a duty to dispose of all issues necessary to the judgment.

Maybe not ALL issues…

Those of you who have been paying attention up to this point probably recognize qualifying phrases in the quotes above suggesting that it is only the issues “necessary to the court’s judgment” that must be addressed.  As far back as the Nalle case, the court recognized that the issues it is required to address are those that are “material to the determination of the case.”  Sometimes this phrasing is expressed as addressing issues “necessary to the final disposition.”   Appellate Rule 47.1–applicable to intermediate courts of appeals uses that phrasing.  Tex. R. App. P. 47.1.   Appellate Rule 63 would seem to contain a similar requirement in that opinions are required in any case in which the court issues a judgment.  In the Regent Care case, disposing of the legal sufficiency point of error was necessary to the final disposition of the case, as that phrase is used in the case law, so that the court could render a judgment.

In my mind, the real question here is whether summary disposition of issues has support in the rules of procedure or the case law.  Appellate Rule 63 requires the court to hand down an opinion in all cases in which the court issues a judgment, but the rule doesn’t say how detailed the analysis must be.  It would seem almost pointless to require an opinion to be issued if the opinion doesn’t say anything meaningful.  A judgment could achieve the same result and be more direct about it.

In thinking about this issue, however, I am reminded of a series of cases from the mid- to late 80’s in which the Texas Supreme Court became ever more concerned that intermediate appellate courts were not showing their work in their opinions and were merely substituting their views for the jury’s views when ruling on factual insufficiency challenges.  For that reason, the court held that appellate courts must detail the evidence they considered when reversing on a factual insufficiency complaint.  Pool v. Ford Motor Co., 715 S.W.2d 629, 635 (Tex. 1986); see also Herbert v. Herbert, 754 S.W.2d 141, 144 (Tex. 1988).  The irony here is that the Texas Supreme Court appears to be establishing a precedent for itself that allows for the very thing that caused the court to criticize the intermediate appellate courts in the 1980s.

I am not sure how much my musings may have added to the discussions, but I welcome input from any of my colleagues that may read this blog posting.  I would also note that the Petitioner in the Regent Care case has filed a motion for rehearing.  We will watch to see if the supreme court does anything to change or beef up the discussion in its opinion or whether the opinion will be left as is.

Update [5/28/20]: Ben Taylor, one of my appellate colleagues,  called to my attention the fact that in In re Columbia Medical Center of Las Colinas, 290 S.W.3d 204 (Tex. 2009) (orig. proceeding), the court cited TRAPs 47.1 and 63 with the statement that both intermediate appellate courts and the Texas Supreme Court must “explain by written opinion their analyses and conclusions as to the issues necessary for final disposition of an appeal.”  Summary disposition seems at odds with the requirement of a writing containing analysis and conclusions.  Thank you, Ben, for that contribution to the analysis.





For many years after the Texas Supreme Court adopted rules that divided the opinions issued by the intermediate courts of appeals into “opinions” and “memorandum opinions,” many appellate practitioners privately concluded that if an opinion was designated “memorandum opinion,” the chances of getting Texas Supreme Court review were substantially reduced.  But in 2018, I reported that between the years 2014 and 2017 approximately 1/3 of the Supreme Court’s docket of granted petitions was made up of “memorandum opinions.”    When one considers the standard that is supposed to be applied to these designations, that’s a high proportion since only really significant cases with cutting-edge issues are supposed to be designated “opinions.”

But with the close of the 2019 calendar year, I have even better news for appellate practitioners.  Sixty-one percent of opinions issued on petition for review involved review of a “memorandum opinion.”  That’s a record percentage, and it would seem to indicate that the designation of “memorandum opinion” versus “opinion” does not itself prejudice whether the Texas Supreme Court decides to review the case.

But the statistics reveal an even more interesting phenomenon:  There’s a higher reversal rate for “memorandum opinions” than for “opinions.”  Cases involving “memorandum opinions” were reversed 84.5% of the time, while cases involving “opinions” were reversed only 65.5% of the time.   When I removed unsigned, per curiam opinions from the mix, there was still a higher reversal rate for “memorandum opinions” (79% reversal versus 66% reversal).

I was curious to know whether 2019 might just be an anomaly insofar as the difference in reversal rates, so I ran the numbers for 2018.  In 2018, the reversal rate for “memorandum opinions” was 85% and 73% for “opinions.”  When I took the unsigned per curiam opinions out of the mix, the difference was still there, but not quite as stark (78% reversal for “memorandum opinions” versus 70% for “opinions.”).

The reason for the difference might be explained by the fact that “opinions” are usually a little more fully reasoned and developed, and it might be that the more robust reasoning helps to persuade the supreme court justices that the author of the “opinion” was correct.

Often one of the biggest disputes at trial relates to the value of services that a claimant seeks to recover from the opposing party.  At least for routine cases, the form and manner of proving the value of those services is made easier by statute, but when the value of the services is contested, things can get a little complicated.

Section 18.001 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code allows a claimant to prove up a claim for services rendered by an affidavit rather than by live testimony under certain circumstances.  A party that wishes to controvert those services, must serve a counter-affidavit that spells out the basis for controverting the claim and the affiant must be a person qualified to speak to the subject-matter.

The courts have grafted onto Section 18.001 a variety of additional rules and procedures.  In particular, the courts have recognized that a claimant may move to strike a counter-affidavit, and if that motion to strike is granted, that leaves the claimant with the only admissible evidence (in unchallenged affidavit form) at trial.  Parties defending against such circumstances have sought assistance from the courts of appeals by filing petitions for writ of mandamus to challenge the trial courts’ striking of the counter-affidavits.

The intermediate appellate courts have split on the question of whether mandamus relief is available.  Recently, in a high-profile case, the Dallas Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision held that the complaining party had an adequate remedy by ordinary appeal and denied mandamus relief.  Justice Schenck dissented in a lengthy opinion that calls into question many of the court-developed notions relating to Section 18.001 because those interpretations are not tethered to any actual language in Section 18.001, and the interpretations lead to potential denial of the constitutional right to a fair trial.  Amicus briefs were filed in the case by the Texas Association of Defense Counsel and the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, leading one to believe that this case is destined to be taken up to the Texas Supreme Court to ask for a definitive ruling that will clarify the law and resolve the split of authority between the intermediate appellate courts.

In re Parks, No. 05-19-00375-CV (Tex. App.–Dallas Feb. 18, 2020, original proceeding)

I’ve run the numbers on the reversal rates for the intermediate appellate courts in Texas for the calendar year 2019.  The overall reversal rate for the year was 77%.  To clarify, when the Supreme Court of Texas granted a petition for review, it reversed the court of appeals 77% of the time in 2019.  Some of the courts of appeals performed better than others:

  • First District Court of Appeals — 75% reversal rate
  • Second District Court of Appeals — 78% reversal rate
  • Third District Court of Appeals — 93% reversal rate
  • Fourth District Court of Appeals — 89% reversal rate
  • Fifth District Court of Appeals — 81% reversal rate
  • Thirteenth District Court of Appeals — 62.5% reversal rate
  • Fourteenth District Court of Appeals — 50% reversal rate

The Thirteenth District Court of Appeals and the Fourteenth Court of Appeals beat the average, while the Third District Court of Appeals had a significantly higher-than-average reversal rate.

You will note that I omitted the Sixth through Twelfth District Court of Appeals.  Each of those courts had too few cases taken up by the Texas Supreme Court in 2019 to produce meaningful reversal rates.

Aggregating the 2019 numbers with those I have collected since 2014 reveals the following reversal rates:

The overall reversal rate for these 6 years is 80%.  The First, Third, Eleventh, and Thirteenth District Court of Appeals outperform the average, while the Eighth and Tenth District Court of Appeals have above average reversal rates.

A dispute exists among the bench and bar as to whether attorney immunity from suit by a non-client is limited to conduct that is related to litigation.

In 2015, the Supreme Court of Texas recognized that attorneys do not owe a professional duty of care to third parties who may be damaged by the attorney’s negligent representation of a client.  Cantey Hanger, LLP v. Byrd, 467 S.W.3d 477, 481 (Tex. 2015).  The policy reasons behind this holding is that attorneys owe duties of loyalty to their clients and that loyalty shouldn’t be compromised by imposing conflicting duties to non-clients.  Thus, the Court outlined a general rule that attorneys are immune from civil liability to non-clients.  There are at least two important parameters to this general rule.  First, the lawyer must have been acting within the scope of his or her representation of the client at the time in question.  Second, the activity in question must be of a type that lawyers ordinarily perform.

Whether there are exceptions to this general rule and what those exceptions might be has been the subject of a number of state and federal court opinions.  Most notably is the question of whether attorney conduct that is unrelated to litigation is protected by immunity.  The reason this question even exists is because of a dispute found in the majority and dissenting opinions in Cantey Hanger.  The justices in the Cantey Hanger case disagreed over (1) whether the attorney’s conduct in Cantey Hanger occurred in the context of litigation; and (2) whether attorney conduct that is unrelated to litigation should by immunized.

The attorney conduct at issue in Cantey Hanger involved a bill of sale that was drawn up to facilitate the transfer of title of an airplane from one party to another.  Because the transfer of title had been ordered by a final divorce decree, a majority of the justices held that the conduct occurred “in connection with” litigation and was subject to the general rule of immunity.  The majority therefor concluded that it was not necessary to decide whether immunity applies to conduct outside of the litigation context.  Four justices dissented and asserted their view that the conduct was not conduct occurring in a litigation context.  These justices also would have held that attorney immunity did not apply.  Because of this 5-4 split on the court, litigants in legal malpractice cases have frequently disputed whether the general rule of immunity applies to conduct unrelated to litigation and what conduct qualifies as being unrelated to litigation.

An opinion issued in December by the Houston Fourteenth District Court of Appeals tees up this disputed issue for decision by the Supreme Court of Texas.  In NFTD, LLC v. Haynes & Boone, LLP, No. 14-17-00999-CV, the attorney conduct at issue involved alleged concealment and false representations made by attorneys who handled an asset purchase agreement.  The trial court had dismissed the claim against the attorneys after concluding that attorney immunity was applicable.  The non-client plaintiffs appealed.

The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s judgment after concluding that attorney immunity does not apply.  The court of appeals took the Cantey Hanger majority at its word that the court was not deciding whether attorney immunity applied to conduct occurring outside of litigation.  The court rejected the idea that fidelity to the client was alone enough to impose immunity even outside of the litigation context.  The court observed that a litigation context allows for other remedies for disciplining an attorney that do not exist outside of the litigation context.  The court rejected holdings by federal courts that immunity applies even in the non-litigation context.

The defendant attorneys in the NFTD case are in the process of seeking review of the court of appeals’ decision by the Supreme Court of Texas.  Stay tuned for updates.

I am crunching the numbers for opinion dispositions by the Supreme Court of Texas for the calendar year 2019.  I expect to have a few blog posts showing how the numbers shake out.  Here’s what the initial numbers show:

  • During the 2019 calendar year, the Supreme Court of Texas disposed of 88 causes.  That’s 10 fewer causes than 2018, but more in line with 2017 and 2016, when the court disposed of 84 causes in each of those years
  • 19 opinions issued were per curiam (unsigned) opinions.   This number is down slightly from the last 3 years.
  • 4 of the causes disposed of were original proceedings (3 mandamuses and 1 direct petition).  This number is down from last year.
  • The reversal rates is 77%, which is about the same as it was in the 2018 calendar year.

I will have additional numbers, including break-downs of numbers by courts of appeals in the coming weeks.