Fort Worth Court of Appeals

Today, the Supreme Court of Texas denied review in Hilz v. Riedel, a Fort Worth Court of Appeals decision reversing a summary judgment granted pursuant to Chapter 87 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code. 

As such, the Fort Worth Court of Appeals’ opinion will stand and the case will proceed to trial on remand to the trial court.

A detailed discussion of the Fort Worth Court of Appeals’ opinion is contained in this prior post.

Yesterday, the Fort Worth Court of Appeals reversed and rendered in part and affirmed in part the judgment of the 236th District Court of Tarrant County, Texas in Whitmire v. NCHA. 

In the underlying suit, the jury returned a verdict for Lainie Whitmire for $70,000 in damages for breach of oral contract and $0 in damages on her false imprisonment claim. Lainie requested that the trial court enter judgment in accordance with the jury’s verdict and also requested attorneys’ fees for prevailing on her breach of contract claim.

On motion of the NCHA, the trial court entered a judgment notwitstanding the verdict (JNOV), holding that Lainie take nothing on her breach of oral agreement claim and awarding her no attorneys’ fees. The final judgment also ordered that the NCHA recover $302,000 in attorneys’ fees from Lainie and $45,000 in attorneys’ fees from her husband, Ray.

The Whitmires filed a timely notice of appeal.

A panel of the Fort Worth Court of Appeals, consisting of Dauphinot, Walker, and Gabriel, JJ., held on appeal that the trial court erred by disregarding the jury’s findings that the NCHA breached an oral agreement with Lainie and that Lainie sustained $70,000 in damages as a result. The court of appeals reversed that portion of the judgment and rendered judgment in favor of Lainie for $70,000. 

The court of appeals also sustained the Whitmires’ issue on the NCHA’s attorneys’ fees, and modified the trial court’s judgment to delete the NCHA’s recovery of attorneys’ fees of $302,000 from Lainie and $45,000 from Ray. The court of appeals affirmed the remainder of the judgment.

Case InformationWhitmire v. National Cutting Horse Ass’n, No. 02-11-00170-CV, 2012 WL 4815413 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth, Oct. 11, 2012, no pet. h.).

Related post

NCHA Litigation Update: NCHA Wins Again

Yesterday, the Fort Worth Court of Appeals handed down an opinion in a case styled Hilz v. Riedel, reversing the trail court’s summary judgment granted in favor of a defendant based on Chapter 87 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code (the “Act”).

Case Background: Thirteen-year-old Ciarra Hilz was injured at her friend Steven’s house while riding a “five-year-old male quarter horse” by the name of “Logan.” Logan belonged to Steven’s dad, Richard Riedel. 

Ciarra’s father, Greg, claimed that he told Richard not to allow Ciarra to ride outside of the round-pen located on Richard’s property. Richard claimed that Greg never said anything about where he wanted Ciarra to ride horses.

Ciarra started her ride in the round pen, but then rode out into the pasture afterwards. While Ciarra was riding in the pasture, Logan “bolted” and ran Ciarra into a tree, causing a tree limb to impale Ciarra’s side. Ciarra was hospitalized for a week and had multiple surgeries.

Greg sued Richard Hilz on his own behalf and on behalf of Ciarra. Richard filed a motion for summary judgment under Section 87.003 of the Act, which, prior to its amendment in 2011 stated,

 

[e]xcept as provided by Section 87.004, any person…is not liable for…damages arising from the personal injury or death of a participant in an equine activity…if the…injury results from the dangers or conditions that are an inherent risk of an equine activity.

Richard’s motion further addressed the reasons why he was not liable under the exceptions to the Act provided in Section 87.004(2) [failure to make a reasonable and prudent effort to determine the ability of the participant to engage safely in the equine activity] and 87.004(3) [dangerous latent condition of the land].

However, Greg had amended his petition to add an allegation that the exception provided in Section 87.004(4) [commission of an act or omission with willful or wanton disregard for the safety of the participant] before filing his summary judgment response.

The Appeal: The Fort Worth Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s summary judgment in favor of Richard, holding that:

1) a fact issue precluding summary judgment existed as to the exception found in Section 87.004(2) because Greg claimed that he told Richard not to let Ciarra ride outside the round pen; and

2) Because Richard did not amend his motion for summary judgment to include the exception found in Section 87.004(4), summary judgment was improper on that claim.

Take Aways: Defendants relying upon the Act in a motion for summary judgment should 1) include arguments as to why each and every pleaded exception to the Act does not apply; and 2) have parents and minors sign carefully-drafted liability waivers prior to allowing guests to ride; and 3) have parents put all specific instructions regarding their child’s participation in equine activities in writing.

Case Information: Hilz v. Riedel, No. 02-11-00288-CV, 2012 WL 2135648 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth Jun. 14, 2012, no pet h.)

Photo:  In celebration of Father’s Day this Sunday, today’s photo is of my dad, Chuck McCormack, and me riding at Bardwell Lake.  Have a great Father’s Day everyone!

The Fort Worth Court of Appeals has affirmed the 348th District Court of Tarrant County’s dismissal of horse trainer Rebecca “Becky” George’s lawsuit against Adam Deardorff and Lana Wirsig, holding that the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction over Wirsig and Deardorff.

Becky George of Tomball, Texas alleged that statements by Deardorff and Wirsig were submitted to the American Paint Horse Association (APHA), which caused the APHA to revoke George’s status as an official APHA judge and suspend her from APHA competitions for six months. George alleged that the suspension caused her to lose more than half of her clients.

All parties agreed that Deardorff was a resident of Pennsylvania, and Wirsig was a resident of Missouri. The trial court dismissed George’s claims against Deardorff and Wirsig on jurisdictional grounds. According to the Court of Appeals, George did not meet her burden to allege facts sufficient to give the trial court personal jurisdiction over Deardorff and Wirsig, because:

1) George asserted in her pleadings that another defendant named Harlan Hall (and not Deardorff or Wirsig) submitted Deardorff and Wirsig’s statement to the APHA (which is based in Fort Worth). 

2) George alleged that Deardorff had engaged in negotiations with Hall regarding the possibility of Hall hiring Deardorff to become the Hall family’s horse trainer in Texas. But George did not allege where these negotiations occurred or allege any other facts about these negotiations.

3) Even if Deardorff and/or Wirsig had submitted their statements to the APHA, this allegation is not sufficient to establish personal jurisdiction because it “was too is too random or isolated to constitute purposeful availment and does not show that Deardorff or Wirsig sought some benefit, advantage, or profit by availing themselves of Texas.”

 4) George’s claim asserting a civil conspiracy among Deardorff, Wirsig, and Hall (a Texas resident) did not impute Hall’s acts to Deardorff and Wirsig. The court held that George had to establish jurisdiction over Deardorff and Wirsig individually and not based on the acts of another person as part of a conspiracy.

5) George argued that Deardorff and Wirsig attended APHA events and that Wirsig competed in APHA-sponsored events, and because the APHA is headquartered in Texas, these acts constitute doing business in Texas. The Court of Appeals overruled this argument because George did not allege that Deardorff and Wirsig attended any of these events in Texas, much less that their contacts with Texas in connection with these events constituted purposeful availment of the laws of Texas.

6) George claimed that Wirsig was a customer of George, and George’s business is located in Texas. But George never alleged that Wirsig ever did business with George in Texas or other facts showing that Wirsig purposefully invoked the benefits of Texas laws by using George’s services.

As you can see, a defendant’s isolated or indirect contacts with Texas do not always give rise to jurisdition in Texas.  The defendant must usually be shown to have committed a tort in Texas, to have done busniess in Texas, or to have otherwise purposefully availed himself of the protections of Texas law to in order to submit to the jurisdiction of Texas courts.  Plaintiffs should always plead jurisdictional facts against out-of-state defendants in a detailed manner to demonstrate the defendant’s specific acts undertaken in Texas.

Plaintiffs to litigation against defendants who reside in other states should carefully consider jurisdictional factors before deciding where to bring suit. Filing suit in the correct forum to begin with can expedite the litigation process and save attorneys’ fees and court costs. Typically, jurisdiction is proper in the state and county were the defendant resides. If a defendant has a possible “quick way out” of a lawsuit by challenging personal jurisdiction, a defendant will usually take advantage of this.  If a defendant’s suit is dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, the plaintiff must then sue them again in a proper forum.  But the plaintiff must act expediently in doing so to ensure that the statute of limitations does not expire before the new suit is filed.

Case informationGeorge v. Deardorff, No. 02-11-00173-CV, 2012 WL 335854, (Tex. App.—Fort Worth, Feb. 2, 2012).

On July 28, 2011, the Fort Worth Court of Appeals affirmed the entire judgment in favor of the National Cutting Horse Association in the Paula Gaughan lawsuit. A copy of the Gaughan opinion can be found here. [Note: Westlaw has labeled this case, in error, as a Waco Court of Appeals case. The opinion was issued by the Fort Worth Court of Appeals].

Gaughan Recap: The Gaughan case stemmed from Paula Gaughan’s written requests to NCHA to inspect certain financial data found in the books and records of the NCHA. Gaughan sought the records to make sure the NCHA was “not guilty of waste or mismanagement in its financial affairs and in the administration of the NCHA’s business.” The NCHA produced 89,214 pages of documents to Gaughan under a protective order, but designated 36,556 of those pages as confidential. Gaughan wanted to share all of the documents with other NCHA members, which was one of the points of contention in the case.

A fellow by the name of Dean Sanders was also originally a plaintiff in the case, but he later dropped out. In November 2009, the 67th District Court in Fort Worth granted a motion for summary judgment in favor of the NCHA and ordered Gaughan and Sanders [even though he had dropped out of the case] to pay NCHA’s attorneys’ fees in the amount of $75,000 [NCHA had asked for $84,243].

Both Gaughan and the NCHA have issued public statements about the July 28, 2011 appellate opinion affirming the judgment, and they can be found here.

The Gaughan appellate decision comes on the heels of Lainie Whitmire’s May 13, 2011 appeal of the trial court’s surprising judgment in her case against the NCHA.

Whitmire Recap: In January 2011, the Whitmire case was tried to a jury in the 236th District Court of Tarrant County (Judge Tom Lowe, presiding). The jury found that NCHA officials “falsely imprisoned” Lainie Whitmire during the 2004 NCHA Futurity. According to Whitmire, they had taken her to a room at the Will Rogers Coliseum and allegedly not allowed her to leave while questioning her about her amateur status. The jury also determined that the NCHA breached an oral agreement with Whitmire leading her to believe her suspended NCHA membership and Amateur or Non-Pro status would be restored. The jury awarded no monetary damages on the false imprisonment claim, but it awarded Whitmire $70,000 in mental anguish damages against the NCHA on the claim related to the oral agreement.

In a turn of events that was shocking to many who were following the Whitmire case, the final judgment signed by Judge Lowe on April 15, 2011 overturned the jury verdict and ordered the Whitmires to pay the NCHA $347,000 in attorneys’ fees and court costs. The parties had spent four years and more than $1.6 million in attorneys’ fees and court costs in the Whitmire matter.

Whitmire appealed the case to the Fort Worth Court of Appeals on May 13, 2011. The parties have until August 15 to submit briefs to the court. For more information, see this article in the Quarter Horse News.

Stay tuned for more developments on the Whitmire appeal as they unfold. 

Follow me on Twitter @alisonmrowe