Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Texas
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that Tex. R. Civ. P. 91a permits dismissal based on an affirmative defense and that the alleged destruction of evidence is an action "taken in connection with representing a client in litigation," thus entitling the defendant attorneys to attorney immunity. Plaintiff hired Defendants to represent her in a lawsuit. Plaintiff later sued Defendants for, inter alia, fraud, trespass to chattel, and conversion, alleging that Defendants intentionally destroyed key evidence in the case. Defendants moved to dismiss the case under Rule 91a, claiming that it was entitled to attorney immunity on all of Plaintiff's claims. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the case. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that affirmative defenses such as attorney immunity cannot be the basis of a Rule 91a dismissal and that Defendants were not entitled to attorney immunity. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Rule 91a permits motions to dismiss based on affirmative defenses "if the allegations, taken as true, together with inferences reasonably drawn from them, do not entitle the claimant to the relief sought"; and (2) because Defendants' allegedly wrongful conduct involved the provision of legal services that conduct was protected by attorney immunity. View "Bethel v. Quilling, Selander, Lownds, Winslett & Moser, P.C." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the trial court dismissing Plaintiff's legal malpractice claim as baseless under Peeler v. Hughes & Luce, 909 S.W.2d 494 (Tex. 1995), holding that Peeler did not bar Plaintiff's malpractice claim. Plaintiff, a former client, sued her criminal defense attorney for malpractice after her conviction was vacated based on ineffective assistance of counsel. The trial court dismissed the claim as baseless under Peeler. In Peeler, a plurality of the Supreme Court held that "plaintiffs who have been convicted of a criminal offense may negate the sole proximate cause bar to their claim for legal malpractice in connection with that conviction only if they have been exonerated on direct appeal, through post-conviction relief, or otherwise." The trial court concluded that, because Plaintiff had failed to prove her exoneration, the Peeler doctrine barred her malpractice claim. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) exoneration under Peeler requires both that the underlying criminal conviction be vacated and also proof of innocence; and (2) therefore, the Peeler doctrine did not bar Plaintiff's malpractice claim, and Plaintiff must now obtain a finding of her innocence in the malpractice action to maintain her claim. View "Gray v. Skelton" on Justia Law

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In this health care liability action, the Supreme Court conditionally granted Claimant's petition for writ of mandamus and ordered the court of appeals to vacate its order ruling that Claimant was not permitted to depose a health care provider before serving him with an expert report, holding that the court of appeals erred in holding that the Medical Liability Act categorically prohibited Claimant from deposing or obtaining documents from that provider. Claimant sued one health care provider, served an expert report meeting the requirements of the Act on that provider, and then sought to depose Dr. Jeffrey Sandate, another provider involved in the underlying incident and a nonparty in the action. The court of appeals ruled that Claimant may not depose Dr. Sandate before serving him with an expert report under the Act. The Supreme Court ordered the court of appeals to vacate its order, holding that the Act did not insulate Dr. Sandate from being deposed or producing documents in this case. View "In re Comanche Turner" on Justia Law

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In this attorney malpractice case, the Supreme Court examined the reach of the Hughes tolling rule and rendered judgment dismissing the malpractice claim as untimely, holding that the malpractice claim was not tolled under Hughes, which applies when legal malpractice is committed in the prosecution or defense of a claim that results in litigation, because the legal advise at issue lacked the nexus required to come within the Hughes tolling rule. Plaintiff's malpractice suit arose from legal advice Defendant reportedly provided in the summer of 2003. Defendant moved for summary judgment, asserting that Plaintiff's claims were barred by the two-year statute of limitations. The trial court granted summary judgment for Plaintiff. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that Hughes tolling does not apply to legal malpractice occurring in "mere transactional work." The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) legal work only incidentally related to activities undertaken to prosecute or defend a claim is not encompassed within the Hughes paradigm; (2) the legal advice Defendant provided was, at best, incidental and tangentially related to ongoinglLitigation; and (3) therefore, Hughes tolling did not apply, and plaintiff's malpractice lawsuit was untimely. View "Erickson v. Renda" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that Defendants' engagement of the judicial process implied that they intended to waive the requirements of Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 150.002, which requires that a sworn certificate of merit accompany any lawsuit complaining about a licensed professional engineer's services, and remanded this case for further proceedings. Defendants were professional engineers who were sued by Plaintiffs alleging contract and tort claims. Plaintiff never filed a certificate of merit in this lawsuit. Defendants, however, did not seek dismissal until the eve of trial - 1,219 days after suit was filed. The trial court granted Defendants' motion and dismissed Plaintiffs' lawsuit with prejudice. The court of appeals reversed, holding that Defendants impliedly waived section 150.002's requirements. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendants waived the statutory right to dismissal by waiving the certificate of merit requirement through their invocation of the judicial process. View "LaLonde v. Gosnell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court remanded this case to the trial court for a redetermination of attorney's fees consistent with the Court's decision in Rohrmoos Venture v. UTSW DVA Healthcare, LLP, __ S.W.3d __ (Tex. 2019), also decided today, holding that, having clarified the law governing the award of attorney's fees, remand was necessary. Plaintiff brought a suit against Defendant for unpaid legal fees. The jury awarded the amount sought to Plaintiff. Plaintiff also sought attorney's fees pursuant to Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 38.001. After hearing expert testimony about the reasonableness and necessity of the attorney's fees, the jury awarded attorney's fees. Defendant filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, arguing that the evidence was legally insufficient to support the fee award. The trial court denied the motion, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the trial court for a redetermination of attorney's fees consistent with its decision in Rohrmoos Venture. View "Barnett v. Schiro" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court conditionally granted relief to Houston Specialty Insurance Co. (HSIC) in this mandamus proceeding, holding that the trial court erred by denying HSIC’s Tex. R. Civ. P. 91a motion to dismiss a declaratory judgment action because the requested declarations were of nonliability for legal malpractice and, under Amor v. Black, 695 S.W.2d 564 (Tex. 1985), were legally invalid. Two of the requested declarations here expressly sought a declaration of nonliability, and each of the others was relevant only to a potential claim of legal malpractice by HSIC. The Supreme Court held (1) the declarations were legally invalid, had no basis in law, and should have been dismissed; and (2) a traditional appeal after final judgment does not provide HSIC an adequate remedy. View "In re Houston Specialty Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals holding that a health care claimant’s expert report was insufficient as to causation with respect to one of her providers and dismissing her claims against that provider, holding that the expert report adequately addressed both causation and the standard of care. The health care claimant in this case sued a health care provider and two of its physicians for negligence. Only the claimant’s claim against the provider for vicarious liability based on the alleged negligence of its employee nurses was at issue in this appeal. The provider filed a motion to dismiss the claimant’s claims challenging the claimant’s expert report. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss. The court of appeals reversed and dismissed the claims against the provider. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings, holding that the report sufficiently identified the applicable standard of care and linked the provider’s nurses’ alleged breaches with the claimant’s injuries. View "Abshire v. Christus Health Southeast Texas" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgments of the court of appeals and trial court concluding that an expert witness affidavit in this legal malpractice case was conclusory regarding causation. Plaintiff sued Defendant attorneys for legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty in connection with the loss of its aircraft. Defendants filed traditional and no-evidence motions for summary judgment, challenging the causation element of the legal malpractice claim and arguing that the breach of fiduciary duty claim was precluded by the anti-fracturing rule. In response to the motions for summary judgment, Plaintiff presented affidavits of two attorneys opining that Defendants’ negligence caused the forfeiture of the aircraft. The trial court ruled that the affidavits would not be considered for summary judgment purposes and granted summary judgment for Defendants. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that the two affidavits were conclusory. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case, holding that one of the affidavits was not conclusory. View "Starwood Management, LLC v. Swaim" on Justia Law

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The trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying Defendant’s motion to dismiss based on the sufficiency of a certificate of merit supplied by Plaintiff. Plaintiff, a water supply corporation, contracted with Defendant to provide engineering design and project supervision services for a new water treatment plant. After the project was substantially completed, Plaintiff sued Defendant and others involved in the contract, attributing poor water quality issues to the plant’s design and construction. To comply with the certificate-of-merit statute, Plaintiff filed the affidavit of a licensed professional with its original petition. In this interlocutory appeal, Defendant argued that the trial court erred in not dismissing Plaintiff’s complaint because the certificate of merit’s author was unqualified and the affidavit failed to provide the factual basis required by Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 150.002. The Supreme Court affirmed. View "Melden & Hunt, Inc. v. East Rio Hondo Water Supply Corp." on Justia Law