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Arceneaux v. Pinnacle Entertainment, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

February 23, 2017

ROY ARCENEAUX, Appellant
v.
PINNACLE ENTERTAINMENT, INC., D/B/A PNK CASINO, INC., OF DELAWARE, Appellee

         On Appeal from the 268th District Court Fort Bend County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 13-DCV-205979

          Panel consists of Justices Busby, Donovan, and Brown.

          OPINION

          Marc W. Brown Justice

         At trial, the jury found that appellee Pinnacle Entertainment, Inc., d/b/a PNK Casino Inc., of Delaware, committed an assault against appellant Roy Arceneaux; Arceneaux caused or contributed to the occurrence or injuries; Arceneaux was 70 percent responsible, while Pinnacle was 30 percent responsible; and a total of $40, 000 would fairly and reasonably compensate Arceneaux for his injuries. On competing motions for entry of judgment, the trial court rendered a final take- nothing judgment in favor of Pinnacle. In a single issue, Arceneaux argues that the trial court erred by not granting the damages awarded to him by the jury. Because chapter 33 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code applies to Arceneaux's assault claim and his percentage of responsibility was greater than 50 percent, Arceneaux may not recover damages. We affirm.

         Background

         On May 6, 2012, Arceneaux was drinking and gambling at a casino owned by Pinnacle. After Arceneaux became disruptive, a casino security officer requested that he cash his chips in and leave. Arceneaux failed to comply and continued to be disruptive. At that point, casino security officers brought him to the ground in an effort to subdue him.

         Arceneaux filed suit against Pinnacle for various claims, including assault. The case was tried before a jury. The jury charge included questions regarding: whether Pinnacle through its employee committed an assault against Arceneaux; whether Arceneaux's actions or omissions caused or contributed to causing the alleged occurrence or injuries; what percentage of responsibility was attributable to Arceneaux and Pinnacle; and what amount of money would fairly and reasonably compensate Arceneaux for his injuries. The jury found that: Pinnacle committed an assault against Arceneaux; Arceneaux contributed to the occurrence or injuries; Arceneaux was 70 percent responsible and Pinnacle was 30 percent responsible; and that a total of $40, 000 would fairly and reasonably compensate Arceneaux for his injuries.

         Pinnacle filed a motion for entry of a final take-nothing judgment based on the application of sections 33.001 and 33.002 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. Arceneaux filed a motion for entry of final judgment in his favor, arguing that chapter 33 does not apply. The trial court rendered a final take- nothing judgment in favor of Pinnacle based on the jury's findings. Arceneaux filed a motion for new trial, which was overruled by operation of law. Arceneaux timely appealed.

         Analysis

         In his sole issue, Arceneaux argues that the trial court erred in refusing to grant his motion for entry of final judgment. Arceneaux points to the jury's finding that Pinnacle assaulted him. According to Arceneaux, where the question instructed that the use of force is justified to protect person or property, the jury's "yes" answer constituted a rejection of Pinnacle's defenses to assault. Arceneaux contends the fact that the jury answered "yes" to the question of whether Arceneaux caused or contributed to causing the alleged occurrence or injuries was therefore immaterial and should have been disregarded by the trial court.

         Pinnacle responds that the trial court correctly entered a take-nothing judgment based on the jury's determination that Arceneaux was 70 percent responsible for his injuries because chapter 33 widely applies to all causes of action based on tort. According to Pinnacle, because chapter 33 applies to Arceneaux's claim, the jury's findings that Arceneaux contributed to causing and was 70 percent responsible for his injuries were not immaterial. We agree with Pinnacle.

         The proportionate-responsibility statute, as set forth in chapter 33, provides a framework for apportioning percentages of responsibility in the calculation of damages in any case in which more than one person, including the plaintiff, is alleged to have caused or contributed to cause the harm for which recovery of damages is sought. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 33.003 (West 2013); JCW Elecs., Inc. v. Garza, 257 S.W.3d 701, 702 (Tex. 2008). Consistent with the tenet of tort law that a party's liability arises from his own injury-causing conduct, the purpose of chapter 33 is to hold each party "responsible [only] for [the party's] own conduct causing injury." MCI Sales & Serv., Inc. v. Hinton, 329 S.W.3d 475, 505 (Tex. 2010) (quoting F.F.P. Operating Partners, LP v. Duenez, 237 S.W.3d 680, 690 (Tex. 2007)). Accordingly, the statute requires the trier of fact to determine the percentage of responsibility of each claimant, defendant, settling person, and responsible third party who has been designated in accordance with the statute. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 33.003.

         If chapter 33 applies to a claim, "a claimant may not recover damages if his percentage of responsibility is greater than 50 percent." Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 33.001 (West 2013); Underwriters at Lloyds v. Edmond, Deaton & Stephens Ins. Agency, Inc., No. 14-07-00352-CV, 2008 WL 5441225, at *3-4 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] Dec. 30, 2008, no pet.) (mem. op.). Chapter 33 applies to "any cause of action based on tort in which a defendant, settling person, or responsible third party is found responsible for a percentage of the harm for which relief is sought." Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 33.002(a) (West 2013) (also DTPA actions). "Chapter 33 applies generally to all common-law tort claims and to statutory tort claims that do not include a separate and conflicting legislative fault-allocation scheme." Underwriters at Lloyds, 2008 WL 5441225, at *3.[1]

         Certain, specific claims are excluded under the statute. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code ยง 33.002(c) (actions to collect workers' compensation benefits, claims for exemplary damages, and claims for damages arising from manufacture of methamphetamine). Arceneaux did not assert any of these claims. Instead, Arceneaux sought monetary damages based on ...


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