Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Texas Supreme Court Weighs in on Mandamus for Denial of Responsible Third-Party Designations

By Chris Littell

In a per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court of Texas granted mandamus relief directing the trial court to grant a motion to designate a responsible third party as part of the comparative responsibility scheme in chapter 33 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code.  In re Frank Coppola and Bridget Coppola, Relators, ___Tx. S. Ct. J. ___( No. 16-0723) (Tex. December 12, 2017) (per curiam).  This marks the first time the Texas Supreme Court has considered this issue.  Texas appellate courts were previously split on the issue, although the majority favored the availability of mandamus as a remedy for improper denial of a motion to designate a responsible third party.

Without a showing of good cause, Texas Civil Practices & Remedies Code Section 33.004 requires such motions to be filed more than sixty days before trial. The Defendant in In re Coppola filed a motion after the initial trial setting, but more than sixty days before the current trial setting. By a per curiam opinion, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that “[t]rial courts have no discretion to deny a timely-filed motion to designate [a responsible third party] absent a pleading defect and an opportunity to cure….”

Even if a factual allegation deficiency exists, the Court held, the trial court lacks discretion to deny the motion to designate without affording an opportunity to replead. Quoting the Dallas Fifth Court of Appeals opinion, In re Smith, the Texas Supreme Court found that “the trial judge was statutorily required to give relators an opportunity to replead before denying their motion, regardless of whether they made a specific request for time to replead.” In re Smith, 366 S.W.3d 282, 288 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2012, orig. proceeding).  Most importantly, the Texas Supreme Court recently held that a relator need only establish a trial court’s abuse of discretion to demonstrate entitlement to mandamus relief with regard to a trial court’s denial of a timely-filed section 33.004(a) motion.  

This opinion now settles the divided opinions of the Texas appellate courts and provides clarity on the application of mandamus proceedings based on the denial of designations of responsible third parties.

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