This Week at the Texas Supreme Court

Posted by Rich PhillipsThis week, the Court heard argument in six cases. You can watch recordings of the arguments here.On Tuesday, September 22, the Court heard arguments in:No. 14-0193, Caffe Ribs Inc. v. State – In this condemnation suit, the issue is whether the trial court properly allowed evidence of environmental remediation issues that the State argued affected the value of the property, while excluding evidence that the issues had not been addressed because of the State’s project.No. 14-0534, Railroad Commission v. Gulf Energy Exploration Corp. – After obtaining legislative consent to sue the State, Gulf Energy obtained a $2.5 million judgment arising from the plugging of an offshore well. One issue is whether the State can assert a statutory immunity defense after the Legislature granted Gulf Energy the right to sue. The State complains that the trial court refused to submit a jury question about whether the State was acting in good faith when it plugged the well. The court of appeals found that this complaint was waived because the State did not request a transcript of the informal charge conference in which the trial court refused the submission. The court of appeals also found that the State waived other complaints about the charge.No. 14-0574, J&D Towing LLC v. American Alternative Insurance Corp. – This insurance-coverage case involves a tow truck that was destroyed. The principal issue is whether the insured can recover loss-of-use damages for the lost profits suffered before the truck was replaced.On Wednesday, September 23, the Court heard arguments in:No. 14-0379, Campbell v. Wilder – In this case (which has attracted a fair amount of media attention), indigent parties challenge the Tarrant County District Clerk’s practice of sending collection notices demanding payment of court costs by parties who have already been determined to be indigent (and therefore exempt from paying court costs) under Rule 145. The court of appeals held that only the court that issued the underlying judgment has jurisdiction over a dispute regarding costs. The petitioners argue that the district court in this case has jurisdiction to enjoin the clerk’s practice.No. 15-0146, Forte v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. – The certified question relates to the civil penalty provisions of the Texas Optometry Act. Essentially, the Supreme Court has been asked to resolve how the civil penalty provisions of the Texas Optometry Act should be harmonized with the restrictions on exemplary damages found in Chapter 41 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. There are two questions: (1) whether the civil penalties are “damages” as that term is used in Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code section 41.002(a); and (2) if the civil penalties are “damages,” whether they are subject to the limitation in Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code section 41.004(a), which precludes recovery of exemplary damages if there is no recovery of actual damages. No. 15-0437, Garofolo v. Ocwen Loan Servicing LLC – This is a certified question from the Fifth Circuit. The issue relates to the home-equity loan provision of the Texas Constitution. The question is whether a lender forfeits principal and interest where the loan agreement incorporates the protections required by the constitution but the lender fails to return the cancelled note and release of lien upon full payment within 60 days of notice of its failure to comply. A second question is whether (if the answer to the first question is “no”) forfeiture can be granted as a breach-of-contract remedy where the lender files the release of lien but fails to send the cancelled note and release of lien.In the weekly order list issued on September 25, 2015, the Court did not issue any opinions or grant any new cases. Read the complete order list here.