Once upon a time a trial court’s decision on a question of dominant jurisdiction was not subject to mandamus relief unless one court was actively interfering with another court’s exercise of jurisdiction. The Texas Supreme Court has abrogated that standard in favor of the more flexible standard the court adopted in In re Prudential Insurance Company of America.
The opinion in In re J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc. involves a vehicle accident in Waller County, Texas between a tractor-trailer owned by J.B. Hunt and the occupants of an Isuzu Rodeo. Following the accident, J.B. Hunt filed suit for property damages against the owners and occupants of the Isuzu seeking damages for the property damage to the tractor-trailer. Before service was effected, the occupants of the Isuzu sued J.B. Hunt and its driver in Dallas County, Texas. Defendants in both suits filed pleas in abatement. The Dallas County district court agreed that the Waller County suit was the first filed, but the court denied the plea in abatement after concluding that an unspecified exception to the rule of dominant jurisdiction applied.
The Waller County district court abated the suit because by that time, J.B. Hunt had filed a petition for writ of mandamus to compel the Dallas County district court to abate the suit. The Dallas Court of Appeals denied mandamus relief. J.B. Hunt then sought mandamus relief from the Texas Supreme Court.
The Texas Supreme Court holds that the Dallas district court abused its discretion by denying the plea in abatement. The court first clarified language from its 1988 opinion in Wyatt v. Shaw Plumbing Co. to specify what it meant by the requirement of an inherent interrelation of subject-matter between the two pending suits. The court then turned its attention to two exceptions to the rule of dominant jurisdiction.
The court held that the inequitable conduct exception was not applicable. The court held that evidence showing (1) that J.B. Hunt sent claims managers to the hospital to express condolences; (2) that J.B. Hunt offered to pay hotel room expenses; (3) that J.B. Hunt never mentioned its property damage claim; (4) that J.B. Hunt frequently inquired about the injured parties’ health; and (5) that J.B. Hunt sent an e-mail entitled “Williams v. JB Hunt” implying that J.B. Hunt was the defendant–was not evidence that would support the inequitable conduct exception. This exception requires proof that the second-filer delayed filing as a result of the conduct and was prejudiced. There was no evidence of delay or prejudice.
The court also rejected the second exception. If the first filer files suit merely to obtain priority and without a bona fide intent to prosecute the suit, then there is an exception. The court held that J.B. Hunt’s acts in asking if the opposing counsel would accept service and in contacting counsel about matters involving the investigation of the cause of the accident are evidence of prosecuting the suit. The court further pointed out that it is not impermissible to intend to secure a favorable venue. What is impermissible is when that filing of suit is not followed by a bona fide intent to prosecute the suit.
Thus, the court found that the Dallas County district court abused its discretion by denying J.B. Hunt’s plea in abatement. The court then proceeded to hold that In re Prudential’s more flexible mandamus standard applied and supported the granting of mandamus relief in this case. The court’s opinion may be found here.