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Raub v. Gate Guard Services, L.P.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg

March 30, 2017


         On appeal from the County Court at Law No. 1 of Nueces County, Texas.

          Before Chief Justice Valdez and Justices Rodriguez and Hinojosa


          Rogelio Valdez Chief Justice

         Appellants, Timothy D. Raub and Raub Law Firm, P.C. (collectively "Raub"), appeal the trial court's grant of a plea to the jurisdiction in favor of appellees, Gate Guard Services, L.P., Sidney L. Smith, and Association Casualty Insurance Company (collectively "Gate Guard"). By one issue, Raub contends it had standing. We affirm.

         I. Background

         Tonya Craft entered into a contract with Raub to represent her after she received injuries in a car accident in April 2011. Craft was a passenger in a car driven by Kristilyn Carlock that collided with a vehicle driven by Smith, who was in the course and scope of his employment with Gate Guard Services. In July 2011, Craft terminated her contract with Raub and hired another attorney to represent her in this cause. Craft's new attorney filed suit against Gate Guard on October 17, 2011.[1]

         On February 27, 2013, Raub intervened in Craft's suit against Gate Guard asserting an interest in Craft's lawsuit. Raub argued it was entitled to contractually assigned attorneys' fees and reimbursement of the expenses Raub had incurred in Craft's case before she fired Raub. Raub claimed "an interest in and a lien on 'any money derived as a result of settlement or final judgment obtained in this case and cause.'"

         In August 2013, Gate Guard agreed to mediate Craft's claims. Raub was not notified of the mediation and did not participate. After mediation, Gate Guard settled with Craft who agreed to accept $350, 000 in exchange for the release of her claims. Craft also agreed to indemnify Gate Guard against any future lawsuits brought by Raub. The trial court signed a final judgment memorializing the settlement agreement. However, Raub was not notified of the final judgment.

         Raub sued Gate Guard when Raub discovered that Craft had settled with Gate Guard. In addition, Raub sought a declaratory judgment on the validity of Raub's contract with Craft and a declaration of its rights under that contract. Gate Guard filed a plea to the jurisdiction seeking dismissal of Raub's claims, arguing that Raub lacked standing to sue. Relying on a case from this Court, Berry v. Nueces County, Gate Guard argued that Raub's claims were derivative of Craft's claims, and therefore Raub's cause of action should have been brought against Craft. No. 13-05-383-CV, 2006 WL 1280901, at *3 (Tex. App.- Corpus Christi May 11, 2006, pet. denied) (mem. op.). After a hearing, the trial court granted Gate Guard's plea and dismissed Raub's suit. This appeal followed.

         II. Standard of Review and Applicable Law

         We review a plea to the jurisdiction under a de novo standard of review. Westbrook v. Penley, 231 S.W.3d 389, 394 (Tex. 2007). A plea to the jurisdiction seeks to dismiss a case for want of jurisdiction. Tex. Dep't of Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 226-27 (Tex. 2004).

A plea to the jurisdiction is a dilatory plea, the purpose of which is to defeat a cause of action without regard to whether the claims asserted have merit. The claims may form the context in which a dilatory plea is raised, but the plea should be decided without delving into the merits of the case. The purpose of a dilatory plea is not to force the plaintiffs to preview their case on the merits but to establish a reason why the merits of the plaintiffs' claims should never be reached.

Bland Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Blue, 34 S.W.3d 547, 554 (Tex. 2000) (internal citations omitted).

         Standing is a necessary element of subject-matter jurisdiction. Berry, 2006 WL 1280901, at *2. To establish standing, a party asserting a claim must show a justiciable interest by alleging an actual or imminent threat of injury peculiar to one's circumstances. Id. Thus, in order to have standing Raub must demonstrate that a personal justiciable interest is at stake. See id. When an attorney has been discharged by his client before the representation is completed, the attorney may sue the client for breach of contract and collect the amount of his compensation. Mandell & Wright v. Thomas, 441 S.W.2d 841, 847 (Tex. 1969); see also Berry, 2006 WL 1280901, at *2. Moreover, because the attorney-client relationship is one of contract and the attorney's rights are wholly derivative from those of his ...

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