Saturday, July 12, 2014

Spoliation: Destruction of Evidence

In Texas, what are the standards governing whether spoliation (destruction of evidence) has occurred and a trial court’s discretion to impose a remedy for spoliation?

In Texas, spoliation is an evidentiary concept rather than a separate cause of action.  Trevino v. Ortega, 969 S.W.2d 950, 952 (Tex. 1998).

The Texas Supreme Court recently clarified the law on this issue.  In Brookshire Bros., Ltd. v. Aldridge, 2014 Tex. LEXIS 562, *2-4 (Tex. July 3, 2014), the Court held “that a spoliation analysis involves a two-step judicial process: (1) the trial court must determine, as a question of law, whether a party spoliated evidence, and (2) if spoliation occurred, the court must assess an appropriate remedy. To conclude that a party spoliated evidence, the court must find that (1) the spoliating party had a duty to reasonably preserve evidence, and (2) the party intentionally or negligently breached that duty by failing to do so. Spoliation findings--and their related sanctions--are to be determined by the trial judge, outside the presence of the jury, in order to avoid unfairly prejudicing the jury by the presentation of evidence that is unrelated to the facts underlying the lawsuit. Accordingly,  evidence bearing directly upon whether a party has spoliated evidence is not to be presented to the jury except insofar as it relates to the substance of the lawsuit. Upon a finding of spoliation, the trial court has broad discretion to impose a remedy that, as with any discovery sanction, must be proportionate; that is, it must relate directly to the conduct giving rise to the sanction and may not be excessive. Key considerations in imposing a remedy are the level of culpability of the spoliating party and the degree of prejudice, if any, suffered by the nonspoliating party.”

Additionally, “While the spectrum of remedies that may be imposed range from an award of attorney's fees to the dismissal of the lawsuit, the harsh remedy of a spoliation instruction is warranted only when the trial court finds that the spoliating party acted with the specific intent of concealing discoverable evidence, and that a less severe remedy would be insufficient to reduce the prejudice caused by the spoliation. This intent requirement is congruent with the presumption underlying a spoliation instruction--that the evidence would have hurt the wrongdoer. A failure to preserve evidence with a negligent mental state may only  underlie a spoliation instruction in the rare situation in which a nonspoliating party has been irreparably deprived of any meaningful ability to present a claim or defense.”  Brookshire Bros., Ltd. v. Aldridge, 2014 Tex. LEXIS 562, *4-5 (Tex. July 3, 2014).

Monday, July 7, 2014

Statute of Limitations for Quantum Meruit Claims

Is there a limited time within which a plaintiff must file a quantum meruit claim?

Yes.  As a general matter of Texas law, the statute of limitations on a claim for quantum meruit is four years.  See Quigley v. Bennett, 256 S.W.3d 356, 361 (Tex. App. – San Antonio 2008, no pet.); see also Pepi Corp v. Galliford, 254 S.W.3d 457, 461 (Tex. App.– Houston [1st Dist.] 2007, pet. denied)(A four-year limitations period applies to a quantum meruit claim.).

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Equitable Remedy of Quantum Meruit

My company did work for another company, we did not have a contract, and now the other company refuses to pay.  Does the law provide a cause of action upon which my company may recover?

Yes, equity may allow you to recover.  In Texas, this equitable claim is generally called “quantum meruit.”  “To recover in quantum meruit, a claimant must prove that (1) valuable services were rendered or materials furnished; (2) for the person sought to be charged; (3) and were accepted by the person sought to be charged; (4) under circumstances that reasonably notified the person sought to be charged that the plaintiff, in performing the services or furnishing the materials, expected to be paid by the person sought to be charged.”  Weaver v. Jamar, 383 S.W.3d 805, 811 (Tex. App.– Houston [14th Dist.] 2012, no pet.).  “To recover in quantum meruit, the plaintiff must show that his efforts were undertaken for the person sought to be charged; it is not enough to merely show that his efforts benefitted the defendant.”  Truly v. Austin, 744 S.W.2d 934, 937 (Tex. 1988).

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Mandamus Available When Trial Court Refuses to Decide a Motion

Is mandamus available if a trial court refuses to rule on a motion?

Yes.  The act of considering and ruling on a properly filed motion is a ministerial act. In re Bonds, 57 S.W.3d 456, 457 (Tex. App. – San Antonio 2001, orig. proceeding).  Mandamus will issue when there is a legal duty to perform a non-discretionary act, a demand for performance, and a refusal to act.  O'Connor v. First Court of Appeals, 837 S.W.2d 94, 97 (Tex. 1992).  Although a trial court has a reasonable time within which to perform its ministerial duty to rule on a pending motion, In re Guetersloh, 326 S.W.3d 737, 740-41 (Tex. App.--Amarillo 2010, orig. proceeding), a trial court commits a clear abuse of discretion when it refuses to rule on a properly filed motion. See Eli Lilly and Co. v. Marshall, 829 S.W.2d 157, 158 (Tex. 1992).  There is no adequate remedy at law for a trial court’s failure to rule because “[f]undamental requirements of due process mandate an opportunity to be heard.”  See In re Christensen, 39 S.W.3d 250, 251 (Tex. App. – Amarillo 2000, orig. proceeding) (citing Creel v. Dist. Atty. for Medina Cnty., 818 S.W.2d 45, 46 (Tex. 1991)).

Mandamus Available for Continuance of Special Appearance Hearing

Does a trial court abuse its discretion if it continues a special appearance hearing even though the plaintiff has not followed the requirements of Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 120a?

Yes.  If a plaintiff, prior to a hearing on a special appearance, does not file affidavits proving he needs a continuance to obtain essential discovery, the trial court abuses its discretion if it continues the special appearance hearing to allow discovery.  See IRN Realty Corp. v. Hernandez, 300 S.W.3d 900, 903 (Tex. App – Eastland 2009, no pet.)(holding trial court abused its discretion by granting motion to compel and abating special appearance hearing to allow plaintiff to conduct additional discovery because plaintiff did not follow procedures for continuance under Rule 120a(3)); see also Washington DC Party Shuttle, LLC v. IGuide Tours, 406 S.W.3d 723, 739 (Tex. App.--Houston [14th Dist.] 2013, pet. filed)(holding plaintiff did not follow procedures under Rule 120a(3) for discovery continuance).  “Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 120a governs special appearances,” and “Rule 120a ‘specifically provides for the means to obtain a continuance of the special appearance so that . . . [additional discovery] may be conducted: affidavits of the party opposing the special appearance.’”   In re Stern, 321 S.W.3d 828, 836-839 (Tex. App. – Houston [1st Dist.] 2010, orig. proceeding)(quoting IRN Realty Corp. v. Hernandez, 300 S.W.3d 900, 903 (Tex. App – Eastland 2009, no pet.)); see also Said v. Maria Invs., Inc., No. 01-08-00962-CV, 2010 Tex. App. LEXIS 959, 2010 WL 457463, at *3 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] Feb. 11, 2010, pet. denied) (mem. op.) ("Rule 120a(3) gives the trial court the discretion to continue a special appearance hearing and thereby extend the time in which evidence may be served, but this power applies only to a party opposing the special appearance who avers that he cannot adequately prepare for the special appearance hearing.")(emphasis added); see also Parex Resources, Inc. v. ERG Resources, LLC, 2014 Tex. App. Lexis 880, *66 fn. 34 (Tex. App. – Houston [14th Dist.] Jan. 28, 2014).