The Supreme Court of Texas handed down an opinion in Regent Care of San Antonio, L.P. v. Detrick in early May.  The main holding in the case addresses the application of a settlement credit.   But one short paragraph at the end of the opinion has appellate practitioners talking.

The paragraph in question states:

“Regent Care also challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support the jury’s findings on causation and past medical damages. Having independently reviewed these issues, we conclude they present no error requiring reversal. The court of appeals’ judgment is correct, and further discussion of the issues would not add to the jurisprudence of the State. In reaching this conclusion, we express no opinion on the court of appeals’ reasoning.”

Instead of undertaking a comprehensive review of the issue raised, the opinion summarily concludes that the judgment is correct and that nothing would be added to the state’s jurisprudence by analyzing the issue.  This language sounds a bit like the “no reversible error” label used under Texas’ old application for writ of error system.

The summary holding comes as a surprise to many in the appellate bar because historically the court’s practice has been to address all issues raised and necessary to the disposition of the case.  The opinion in Regent Care hints at a change in the court’s practice, such that the court may henceforth use its jurisdictional standard (important to the state’s jurisprudence) to pick and choose the issues raised in a petition that it deems worthy of its judicial resources.  So Regent Care raises the question whether the Court has discretion to pick and choose issues within a granted petition to address and resolve in its written opinion.

Is the court required to address all issues in a petition?

A number of practitioners suggested that the court is required to address all issues raised and necessary to the disposition of the case.  I did a little digging to see what I could discern, and I share my analysis and research here for the benefit of my colleagues and for those who wish to dig deeper.

First, I note that the Regent Care opinion cites a number of authorities at the end of the above-quoted paragraph, presumably as support for the summary disposition:

See, e.g., In re L.G., ___ S.W.3d___, ___ (Tex. 2020) (per curiam); City of Waco v. Abbott, 209 S.W.3d 104, 105 (Tex. 2006) (per curiam); Engelman Irrigation Dist. v. Shields Bros., Inc., 989 S.W.2d 360, 360 (Tex. 1998) (per curiam); W. Tex. Gulf Pipe Line Co. v. Hardin County, 159 Tex. 374, 321 S.W.2d 576, 577 (Tex. 1959) (per curiam); cf. Tex. R. App. P. 56.1(b)(1).

I won’t bore you with the details, but these authorities do not support  summary disposition.

Without a doubt all issues raised are before the court

From a jurisdictional standpoint, there is little doubt that the granting of a petition for review puts the entire case before the court and all issues raised.  Texas Government Code Section 22.007(e) states, “The granting of a petition for review admits the case into the supreme court, and the supreme court shall proceed with the case as provided by law.”

Over time, the supreme court has operated under different versions of jurisdictional statutes that to small degrees affect this analysis, but one thing that stands clear from the case authority is this:  If the court has jurisdiction to take the case based upon one issue (or point of error), then the court necessarily has jurisdiction over all the issues presented, even if the other issues (or points of error) do not independently present a complaint that falls within the court’s defined jurisdiction.  This view was expressed in 1941 in Commercial Standard Insurance Co. v. Robinson, 151 S.W.2d 795, 797 (Tex. 1941):

[T]he court having exercised its jurisdiction to grant the writ on the assignments upon which same was granted, it is not wanting in power to consider each and every law question presented and to render such judgment as its holdings on such question may require.

There are a number of other similar holdings.  See, e.g, Harry Eldridge Co. v. T. S. Lankford & Sons, Inc., 371 S.W.2d 878, 879 (Tex. 1963); Giant Mfg. Co. v. Davis, 121 S.W.2d 590, 592 (Tex. 1938); Moore v. Davis, 27 S.W.2d 153, 157 (Tex. 1930).  But just because the court has jurisdiction of all issues raised does not mean that the court MUST decide them all, right?  In other words, just because the court has jurisdiction, does it necessarily follow that the court is obliged to address all issues raised–particularly when the court’s jurisdiction is discretionary?

Is the court duty-bound to address all issues raised in a granted petition?

The answer to this question over 100 years ago was “yes”:

[A]ll questions material to the determination of the case, which should be raised upon the appeal and properly presented to this court, should be decided by it, and that it should make such disposition of the appeal as the Court of Civil Appeals ought to have made. . . . [I]t is certainly expedient that the court should decide every question properly raised in every case which reaches it by a writ of error. We therefore conclude, that it is our duty to consider the whole case, to dispose of every question that has been presented to us, and to render a judgment, either reversing or affirming the judgment of the trial court, as the law may demand.

City of Austin v. Nalle, 22 S.W. 668, 672 (Tex. 1893) (emphasis added).  Almost 30 years later, the court repeated this view in Holland v. Nimitz, 239 S.W. 185, 186 (Tex. 1922), concluding that  it “must proceed to dispose of the case by the proper judgment and, in order to do that, must decide the questions of law on which the character of the judgment must depend.”  Other authorities in which the court’s jurisdiction over some points was questioned indicate that the court did indeed endeavor to address all points raised.  See, e.g., Northeast Texas Motor Lines, Inc. v. Hodges, 158 S.W.2d 487, 489 (Tex. 1942) (“So we have considered all points of error assigned, thereby overruling respondent’s motion to dismiss.”).

One conclusion to be drawn from these authorities is that use of the court’s jurisdictional standard (importance to the jurisprudence of the state) to avoid addressing an issue within a granted petition is contrary to settled authority.  That authority provides that the court has jurisdiction of ALL issues in a granted petition and has a duty to dispose of all issues necessary to the judgment.

Maybe not ALL issues…

Those of you who have been paying attention up to this point probably recognize qualifying phrases in the quotes above suggesting that it is only the issues “necessary to the court’s judgment” that must be addressed.  As far back as the Nalle case, the court recognized that the issues it is required to address are those that are “material to the determination of the case.”  Sometimes this phrasing is expressed as addressing issues “necessary to the final disposition.”   Appellate Rule 47.1–applicable to intermediate courts of appeals uses that phrasing.  Tex. R. App. P. 47.1.   Appellate Rule 63 would seem to contain a similar requirement in that opinions are required in any case in which the court issues a judgment.  In the Regent Care case, disposing of the legal sufficiency point of error was necessary to the final disposition of the case, as that phrase is used in the case law, so that the court could render a judgment.

In my mind, the real question here is whether summary disposition of issues has support in the rules of procedure or the case law.  Appellate Rule 63 requires the court to hand down an opinion in all cases in which the court issues a judgment, but the rule doesn’t say how detailed the analysis must be.  It would seem almost pointless to require an opinion to be issued if the opinion doesn’t say anything meaningful.  A judgment could achieve the same result and be more direct about it.

In thinking about this issue, however, I am reminded of a series of cases from the mid- to late 80’s in which the Texas Supreme Court became ever more concerned that intermediate appellate courts were not showing their work in their opinions and were merely substituting their views for the jury’s views when ruling on factual insufficiency challenges.  For that reason, the court held that appellate courts must detail the evidence they considered when reversing on a factual insufficiency complaint.  Pool v. Ford Motor Co., 715 S.W.2d 629, 635 (Tex. 1986); see also Herbert v. Herbert, 754 S.W.2d 141, 144 (Tex. 1988).  The irony here is that the Texas Supreme Court appears to be establishing a precedent for itself that allows for the very thing that caused the court to criticize the intermediate appellate courts in the 1980s.

I am not sure how much my musings may have added to the discussions, but I welcome input from any of my colleagues that may read this blog posting.  I would also note that the Petitioner in the Regent Care case has filed a motion for rehearing.  We will watch to see if the supreme court does anything to change or beef up the discussion in its opinion or whether the opinion will be left as is.

Update [5/28/20]: Ben Taylor, one of my appellate colleagues,  called to my attention the fact that in In re Columbia Medical Center of Las Colinas, 290 S.W.3d 204 (Tex. 2009) (orig. proceeding), the court cited TRAPs 47.1 and 63 with the statement that both intermediate appellate courts and the Texas Supreme Court must “explain by written opinion their analyses and conclusions as to the issues necessary for final disposition of an appeal.”  Summary disposition seems at odds with the requirement of a writing containing analysis and conclusions.  Thank you, Ben, for that contribution to the analysis.

By Published On: May 27, 2020Categories: AppellateTags: , ,

About the Author: Mike Northrup

Mike Northrup is a Shareholder and Section Head of the Cowles and Thompson Appellate Practice Group.