Texas Supreme Court Argument Preview October 2017 - Legal Fees, Taxes, & Tortious Interference with Inheritance Rights, Oh My!

Posted by Rich PhillipsThis week, the Texas Supreme Court will hear argument in eight cases over three days. Aside from the legal issues, there are some other interesting wrinkles in these arguments. For example, on Tuesday, the Court will hear argument in Hill v. Shamoun & Norman, LLP. The case will be argued by former Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson and Jim Ho. This would have been worth watching beforelast week’s announcement of nominations to the Fifth Circuit. After that announcement, this case presents the chance to watch two potential future Fifth Circuit judges participate in argument from different sides of the bench. Also on Tuesday, the Court will hear argument in a case challenging the constitutionality of a taxation statute, where the taxing authorities are the parties claiming that the statute is unconstitutional. And on Wednesday, the Court will again have the opportunity to decide whether Texas recognizes a claim for tortious interference with inheritance rights. They had a case with the same issue last term, but decided it on other grounds.You can access the live stream and argument recordings here.The cases set to be argued are:Tuesday, October 10No. 15-0683, EXLP Leasing LLC, et al. v. Galveston Central Appraisal Dist. — This will be argument in several consolidated cases that all address the constitutionality of a state statute regarding taxation of heavy equipment inventory. These are a few of over 800 cases pending across the state on this issue. There are a couple of interesting features of these cases. First, in a twist, it is the taxing authorities who assert that the statutes are unconstitutional, rather than the taxpayers. Second, one of the courts of appeals remanded the constitutionality issue for more factual development and suggested that a jury may have to resolve some of the issues related to constitutionality. One of the issues for the Court will be whether juries have any role in deciding constitutionality of a statute.No. 16-0107, Hill v. Shamoun & Norman, LLP — As noted above, this case is noteworthy simply because of who will be arguing. But it also presents an interesting question about contingent fee agreements. Shamoun asserts that he had an oral agreement with Hill for a fee based on a percentage of money saved in a settlement agreement. Because oral contingent fees are unenforceable, the case was submitted to a jury on a quantum meruit theory. The jury awarded about half of the contingency amount. The trial court granted JNOV, finding that the oral contingent-fee agreement could not be enforced in the form of a quantum meruit recovery. The court of appeals reversed and reinstated the jury’s verdict. Hill’s counsel has agreed to split argument time with Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller, who will argue for five minutes.Wednesday, October 11No. 16-0164, Baty v. Futrell — This healthcare liability case presents a new wrinkle on the sufficiency of the expert report that must be filed with the plaintiff’s petition. Here, the plaintiff lost sight in her eye during cataract surgery when the nurse anesthetist injured her optic nerve with the needle that was delivering the anesthesia. The issue is whether the plaintiff’s expert report adequately addressed the standard of care.No. 16-0256, Archer v. Anderson — The Court is again asked to consider whether Texas recognizes a claim for tortious interference with inheritance rights. This issue was presented in Kinsel v. Lindsey last term, but the Court decided that case on other grounds. Here, the plaintiffs argue that the defendant wrongfully attempted to cause the plaintiffs’ uncle to change his will and estate plan to disinherit them. Although the plaintiffs ultimately prevailed on the estate issues, they seek to recover from the defendant the fees and expenses they incurred in fighting about the estate. No. 16-0260, AC Interests, L.P. v. Texas Commission on Environmental Quality — The issue in this case is the effect of a statute that sets a deadline by which suits against the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality must be served. One issue is whether the case must be dismissed if citation is not served by the date set in the statute. A second issue is whether the court of appeals could affirm the dismissal where the TCEQ’s motion was styled as a motion under Rule 91a, even though the issue of service is not one that appears on the face of the pleadings and therefore cannot be addressed in a Rule 91a motion.Thursday, October 12No. 16-0336, URI, Inc. v. Kelberg County — This appeal arises from a dispute about the construction of a settlement agreement between URI, Inc. and Kelberg County. This case may give the Court the opportunity to clarify the difference between admissible evidence of the circumstances surrounding execution of a document and inadmissible parol evidence.No. 16-0337, State Office of Risk Management v. Martinez — In this workers’ compensation dispute, the primary issue is the meaning of a statutory provision that limits judicial review to “issues” decided by the administrative appeals panel. In the administrative proceeding, the state argued that the injury was not compensable because the employee violated an employer rule about working from home without permission. On judicial review, the state argued that working from home without permission violated two sections of the Government Code. The question is whether that constitutes a new “issue” under the applicable Labor Code sections.No. 16-0836, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, et al. v. Rios — This appeal arising from a suit against a governmental unit and some of its employees presents the interpretation of the election of remedies provision of the Texas Tort Claims Act (Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code section 101.106). That section provides that if a plaintiff sues both a governmental unit and employees of that unit, the trial court must dismiss the claims against the employees on motion by the governmental unit. Here, to try to avoid dismissal of the claims against the employees, in response to the governmental unit’s motion to dismiss, the plaintiff amended his petition to remove the tort claims against the governmental unit. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss the claims against the employees, and the court of appeals affirmed.