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University of Texas v. Estate of Blackmon

Supreme Court of Texas
Jun 9, 2006
195 S.W.3d 98 (Tex. 2006)

Summary

holding that plaintiff's nonsuit of claims against defendant asserting sovereign immunity was effective upon filing and mooted the case or controversy between the parties, even though nonsuit was taken after defendant had filed an interlocutory appeal

Summary of this case from State v. Tex. Democratic Party

Opinion

No. 05-0594.

June 9, 2006.

Appeal from the 52nd Judicial District Court, Coryell County, Phillip H. Zeigler, J.

Greg Abbott, Attorney General of Texas, Barry Ross McBee, Edward D. Burbach, Rafael Edward Cruz, Ryan D. Clinton, Office of the Attorney General, Nichelle A. Cobb, Tort Litigation Division, Austin, for The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

Stephen A. Khoury, Kelsoe Anderson Khoury Clark, Dallas, for The Estate of Darla Blackmom and Sheila Shultz.


While the petitioner's interlocutory appeal from its plea to the jurisdiction was pending in the court of appeals, the respondent filed a nonsuit. We conclude that the nonsuit deprived the court of appeals of jurisdiction, and we vacate its order and dismiss this interlocutory appeal for want of jurisdiction.

Darla Blackmon died of pneumonia while incarcerated at a Texas Department of Criminal Justice substance abuse facility operated by the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB). Blackmon's daughter, Sheila Shultz, brought suit for wrongful death and survival damages, claiming that UTMB negligently failed to diagnose and treat her mother's illness. Shultz alleged a waiver of sovereign immunity under the Tort Claims Act's exception for personal injury or death caused by a condition or use of tangible personal property. See TEX. CIV. PRAC. REM. CODE § 101.021(2). UTMB filed a plea to the jurisdiction, which the trial court denied, and then brought an interlocutory appeal. See id. § 51.014(a)(8).

The court of appeals initially reversed the trial court's order and rendered judgment for UTMB, but then withdrew its judgment upon granting Shultz's motion for rehearing. Three weeks later, Shultz filed a nonsuit and moved to dismiss the appeal for want of jurisdiction. The court of appeals denied Shultz's motion, and eventually issued a new opinion denying UTMB's plea to the jurisdiction. 169 S.W.3d 712. Responding to UTMB's appeal in this Court, Shultz contends that there is no longer a case or controversy, and that her nonsuit deprived the court of appeals of jurisdiction over UTMB's appeal. We agree.

Under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, "[a]t any time before the plaintiff has introduced all of his evidence other than rebuttal evidence, the plaintiff may dismiss a case, or take a non-suit, which shall be entered in the minutes." TEX. R. CIV. P. 162. Rule 162 applies in this case because Shultz filed the nonsuit while this matter was pending on interlocutory appeal from UTMB's pretrial plea to the jurisdiction. Under these circumstances, the nonsuit extinguishes a case or controversy from "the moment the motion is filed" or an oral motion is made in open court; the only requirement is "the mere filing of the motion with the clerk of the court." Shadowbrook Apts. v. Abu-Ahmad, 783 S.W.2d 210, 211 (Tex. 1990); see also Greenberg v. Brookshire, 640 S.W.2d 870, 872 (Tex. 1982). While the date on which the trial court signs an order dismissing the suit is the "starting point for determining when a trial court's plenary power expires," a nonsuit is effective when it is filed. In re Bennett, 960 S.W.2d 35, 38 (Tex. 1997); TEX. R. CIV. P. 329b. The trial court generally has no discretion to refuse to dismiss the suit, and its order doing so is ministerial. In re Bennett, 960 S.W.2d at 38; Shadowbrook, 783 S.W.2d at 211.

Of course, the trial court need not immediately dismiss the suit when notice of nonsuit is filed. Rule 162 states that the plaintiff's right to nonsuit "shall not prejudice the right of an adverse party to be heard on a pending claim for affirmative relief or excuse the payment of all costs taxed by the clerk," and a dismissal "shall have no effect on any motion for sanctions, attorney's fees or other costs, pending at the time of dismissal." TEX. R. CIV. P. 162. A claim for affirmative relief must allege a cause of action, independent of the plaintiff's claim, on which the claimant could recover compensation or relief, even if the plaintiff abandons or is unable to establish his cause of action. BHP Petroleum Co., Inc. v. Millard, 800 S.W.2d 838, 841 (Tex. 1990). UTMB has not raised a claim for affirmative relief, but it did request costs in its plea to the jurisdiction. Rule 162 permits the trial court to hold hearings and enter orders affecting costs, attorney's fees, and sanctions, even after notice of nonsuit is filed, while the court retains plenary power. In re Bennett, 960 S.W.2d at 38. Thus, the trial court has discretion to defer signing an order of dismissal so that it can "allow a reasonable amount of time" for holding hearings on these matters which are "collateral to the merits of the underlying case." Id. at 38-39. Although the Rule permits motions for costs, attorney's fees, and sanctions to remain viable in the trial court, it does not forestall the nonsuit's effect of rendering the merits of the case moot.

Finally, UTMB argues that a plaintiff cannot nonsuit a claim once a court has rendered a judgment on the merits. See Hyundai Motor Co. v. Alvarado, 892 S.W.2d 853, 854 (Tex. 1995) (holding that a nonsuit results in a dismissal with prejudice as to claims already adjudicated on partial summary judgment). In this case, however, the court of appeals withdrew its judgment for UTMB before the nonsuit was filed. As a result, the nonsuit vitiated only the trial court's interlocutory order denying UTMB's plea to the jurisdiction. That ruling favored Shultz and, consequently, its nullification did not prejudice UTMB.

The court of appeals lacked jurisdiction to issue an order and opinion on rehearing. Accordingly, without hearing oral argument, we grant the petition for review, vacate the court of appeals' order, and dismiss the appeal for want of jurisdiction. TEX. R. APP. P. 59.1, 60.2(e).


Summaries of

University of Texas v. Estate of Blackmon

Supreme Court of Texas
Jun 9, 2006
195 S.W.3d 98 (Tex. 2006)

holding that plaintiff's nonsuit of claims against defendant asserting sovereign immunity was effective upon filing and mooted the case or controversy between the parties, even though nonsuit was taken after defendant had filed an interlocutory appeal

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holding that plaintiff's nonsuit of claims against defendant asserting sovereign immunity was effective upon filing and mooted case or controversy between parties, even though nonsuit was taken after defendant had filed interlocutory appeal

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holding that non-suit of underlying action deprived court of appeals of jurisdiction over governmental unit's interlocutory appeal from plea to the jurisdiction

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holding that nonsuit mooted interlocutory appeal of denial of plea to the jurisdiction and deprived court of appeals of jurisdiction

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holding that the court of appeals lacked jurisdiction to issue an order and opinion on rehearing after appellee nonsuited her claims against appellant in the trial court

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holding that the filing of a nonsuit has the effect of "rendering the merits of the case moot"

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recognizing that without a written order of nonsuit, the period of the court's plenary power and the appellate deadlines do not begin to run

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observing that although a nonsuit is effective upon its filing, expiration of plenary power is determined from the date on which a trial court signs an order dismissing the suit

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filing of non-suit has the effect of "rendering the merits of the case moot"

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pending appeal of trial court's denial of plea to the jurisdiction required to be dismissed after non-suit in trial court

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dismissing pending appeal from denial of plea to jurisdiction because nonsuit of all claims rendered case moot

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In Blackmon, however, the Court did not consider the effect of the statutory stay of all trial-court proceedings because it was inapplicable.See id. at 100-01.

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stating nonsuit extinguishes case or controversy from moment motion is filed

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observing that a nonsuit has the effect of "rendering the merits of the case moot"

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observing that a nonsuit has the effect of "rendering the merits of the case moot"

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stating nonsuit renders merits of case moot

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explaining that claim for affirmative relief must allege claim independent of plaintiff's claim on which claimant could recover compensation even if plaintiff abandons or cannot establish his own claim

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stating nonsuit renders merits of case moot

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explaining that claim for affirmative relief must allege claim independent of plaintiff's claim on which claimant could recover compensation even if plaintiff abandons or cannot establish his own claim

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explaining that rule 162 protects substantive right of party to be heard on claim for affirmative relief after nonsuit and also provides trial court with discretion to defer signing order of dismissal for reasonable time to hold hearings on matters collateral to merits

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filing of nonsuit has the effect of rendering the merits of the case moot and deprives court of appeals of jurisdiction

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filing of nonsuit has the effect of “rendering the merits of the case moot”

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stating that plaintiffs right to nonsuit shall not prejudice the right of an adverse party to be heard on pending claims for affirmative relief, that the dismissal shall have no effect on any motion for sanctions, attorney's fees, or other costs pending at the time of dismissal, and that the claims for affirmative relief must allege a cause of action, independent of the plaintiffs claim, on which the claimant could recover compensation or relief

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In Blackmon, The University of Texas Medical Branch ("UTMB") appealed the trial court's denial of its plea to the jurisdiction.

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Case details for

University of Texas v. Estate of Blackmon

Case Details

Full title:THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS MEDICAL BRANCH AT GALVESTON, Petitioner, v. THE…

Court:Supreme Court of Texas

Date published: Jun 9, 2006

Citations

195 S.W.3d 98 (Tex. 2006)

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