The case I blog about today reminds us of why it’s so critical to pay attention to appellate judgments. As appellate practitioners, too often the first and only thing we study closely is the opinion, and errors in the appellate judgment go unnoticed. To understand what happened here, I will start with a bit of history of the case.
In August of 2008, the Texas Supreme Court issued an opinion in Columbia Medical Center of Las Colinas, Inc. v. Hogue, in which the Court "affirm[ed] the award of actual damages and gross negligence damages", but "reverse[ed] the portion of the judgment awarding loss of inheritance damages." The court’s majority opinion may be found at this link. Apparently, the judgment issued the same day simply stated that the portion of the court of appeals’ judgment awarding loss of inheritance damages is reversed and the remaining portions of the court of appeals’ judgment were affirmed. In short, the court rendered judgment and did not remand the case. The Court’s online docket shows Columbia filed a motion for rehearing, but there’s no indication what complaints were made.
After the court of appeals mandate issued, a dispute arose between the parties regarding the (now affirmed) award of gross negligence damages. Columbia argued that because the actual damages had been reduced, Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Section 41.008(b) required reduction of the punitive damages as well.
In February of 2009, Columbia filed a motion with the Texas Supreme Court asking that the Court modify the mandate to reflect that punitive damages must be reduced (per statute). The court denied the motion over a dissent authored by Justice Wainright (joined by Justices Hecht and Brister). The dissent may be found at this link.