The Houston First District Court of Appeals has held that a trial court abused its discretion by denying the plaintiffs discovery of jurisdictional facts pertaining to the defendants’ personal appearance.  In Lamar v. Poncon, John and Nanci Lamar sued Eric Poncon, Morgan’s Rock Hacienda, and Ecolodge for negligence in causing injuries arising out of a car accident that occurred when the Lamars travelled to Nicaragua.  Morgan’s Rock and Poncon filed special appearances to challenge the exercise of jurisdiction.

On three separate occasions, the Lamars moved for jurisdictional discovery, each time providing additional information as to what information they were seeking and why the jurisdictional discovery sought was needed.  Each time the trial court denied the request.   The trial court eventually sustained the special appearances, after which the Lamars appealed and complained of the rulings on their motions for discovery.

The court of appeals observes that Civil Procedure Rule 120a(3) governs jurisdictional discovery and under the rule, a party opposing a special appearance may have discovery into jurisdictional facts if it presents an affidavit that it cannot provide facts essential to justify its opposition to the special appearance.  The court held that a denial under this rule is governed by an abuse of discretion standard.  The court then recites all of the efforts the Lamars made to obtain the necessary information and concludes that the trial court abused its discretion by denying the jurisdictional discovery.  From a practitioner’s standpoint, the court does not explain how the trial court’s denial was a failure to follow guiding rules and principles or otherwise arbitrary.   Nor does the court indicate at what point (after the first motion, second motion or third motion, or all three), the denial of discovery constituted an abuse of discretion.

The court reverses an order granting the special appearance and remands the case to the trial court for further proceedings.  The court’s opinion may be found here.