Texas Supreme Court Orders - 10/9/15

Posted by Rich PhillipsIn its weekly order list on October 9, 2015, the Supreme Court of Texas issued a revised opinion in one case and granted argument in eight new cases.The Court issued a new majority opinion in No. 13-0596, Kachina Pipeline Co. v. Lillis. The judgment is unchanged, and Chief Justice Hecht’s opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part remains the same. Our previous coverage of this case is here. The modified opinion appears to have two primary changes. The Court now focuses on the state of the record evidence regarding whether the additional compression costs were necessary to introduce the gas into the pipeline system. The second change is in the final sentence of the opinion, which changes the remand instruction to the more general “further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”The Court granted oral argument in the following eight cases.No. 14-0692, State v. One 2004 Lincoln Navigator – In this civil forfeiture case, there are two issues. First, whether illegally obtained evidence may be introduced in a civil forfeiture proceeding to justify the forfeiture. Second, whether police had reasonable suspicion to detain a suspected drug dealer based on an anonymous tip with some corroborating facts. Argument is set for November 4.No. 14-0714, Wood v. HSBC Bank USA – The issue in this case is whether a homestead lien that fails to comply with consumer safeguard provisions in Article XVI, §50(a)(6) of the Texas Constitution is void or merely voidable and thus subject to the four year statute of limitations. Argument is set for December 8.No. 14-0747, Hegar v. Texas Small Tobacco Coalition – As part of a 1997 settlement with the State, certain tobacco companies pay the state an annual fee based on how many packs they sell each year. The Legislature enacted Texas Health and Safety Code Chapter 161 to impose a similar fee on cigarette manufacturers who are not parties to the settlement agreement. The issue is whether this fee violates the Equal and Uniform Clause of the Texas Constitution. Argument has been set for December 8.No. 14-0984, Hysaw v. Dawkins – This case involves grants made in a 1947 will, in which the testator granted a separate tract of land in fee simple to each of her three children but reserved for each child 1/3 of a 1/8 nonparticipating royalty on the two tracts granted to their siblings. The issue is whether that “1/3 of 1/8” royalty is a “fixed” 1/24 royalty on all production on the other two tracts regardless of the terms of any future-negotiated leases or a “floating” royalty that entitles each child to 1/3 of any royalty in any current of future lease. Argument has been set for December 8.No. 14-0986, Williams v. Sterling City Indep. Sch. Dist. – This school finance case involves two issues. First, whether the school districts can bring an ultra-vires action to challenge decisions by the Commissioner of Education to claw back funds, even though the statute at issue expressly provides that the Commissioner’s decisions are final and not subject to appeal. Second, whether an order of “future credits” in the amount of a past debt constitutes retrospective damages, which would not be available in an ultra-vires suit. Argument is set for December 9.No. 14-1006, In re Bent – This mandamus petition involves the proper standard of review in a merits-based mandamus review of a trial court’s order granting a motion for new trial. The issue is whether the appellate court should apply a factual-sufficiency standard or a more deferential standard. Argument has been set for November 4.No. 14-1075, Hallmark Marketing Co. v. Hegar – This tax case examines whether the term “net gain,” as used in Tax Code § 171.105(b) is ambiguous. The section provides that if a taxable entity sells an investment or capital asset, the entity’s gross receipts from its entire business, for franchise tax apportionment purposes, includes only the net gain from the sale. In this case, the Court of Appeals found “net gain” to be ambiguous, and deferred to a Comptroller Rule which states that net losses from the sale of investments and capital assets are included in the denominator for the statutory apportionment factor fraction. Hallmark contends that that “net gain” is unambiguous, and does not require adjustment for losses. Argument has been set for December 9.No. 14-1077, In re Christus Santa Rosa Health System – The sole issue in this mandamus petition is whether the district court in the underlying medical malpractice suit abused its discretion by ordering the hospital (which has been designated as a responsible third party) to produce a peer review report of the surgery at issue after the hospital alleged that the physician was responsible for a surgery error. Argument has been set for December 9.