What happens when a trial court ignores the court of appeals’ mandate?

Answer: The trial judge gets a little visit to the principal’s office.  Last year, in Elite Door & Trim, Inc. v. Tapia,  the Dallas Court of Appeals held that the trial court had erred in requiring Elite Door and Trim to file an amended petition and re-serve the defendant and by refusing to hear Elite Door and Trim’s motion for default judgment.  Following the remand of the case to the trial court, the trial judge dismissed the case for want of prosecution.  Elite Door and Trim then filed a petition for writ of mandamus, complaining that the trial judge had abused her discretion by failing to follow the appellate court’s mandate.  In an unusal move, the court of appeals asked the trial judge to explain the basis for the dismissal.  The trial judge explained that she had re-reviewed the file, determined that the citation and return were defective, and concluded that she had no jurisdiction.

The court of appeals did not take kindly to the trial judge’s dismissal.  The court of appeals held that the trial judge had "no discretion to review, interpret, or enforce the mandate."  The trial judge’s actions on remand are "limited to the issues specified in the mandate" and the scope of the mandate is determined by referring to the opinion as well as the mandate.  The court of appeals stated that in the first appeal, it had reviewed the petition, the citation, and the return of citation and determined that they were proper.  Accordingly, the trial judge had no discretion to decide differently.  The court therefore directed the trial judge to hold a hearing on the motion for default judgment by a date certain, AND to have the entire proceeding recorded by the court reporter.  The court of appeals’ opinion in In re Elite Door & Trim, Inc. may be found here.