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American Surgical Assistants, Inc. v. Villegas

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

April 6, 2017

AMERICAN SURGICAL ASSISTANTS, INC. D/B/A AMERICAN SURGICAL PROFESSIONALS, Appellant,
v.
JUAN "JOHNNY" DE DIOS VILLEGAS, PATRICIA TROMBLEY, SCOTT ROBIN, ABEL GARCIA, AND WILLIAM BERRY, Appellees,

         On appeal from the 148th District Court of Nueces County, Texas.

          Before Justices Contreras, Benavides, and Longoria

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NORA L. LONGORIA, Justice

         Appellant American Surgical Assistants, Inc. d/b/a American Surgical Professionals (American) perfected an appeal from a take-nothing judgment rendered against it and in favor of appellees, Juan "Johnny" de Dios Villegas, Patricia Trombley, Scott Robin, Abel Garcia, and William Berry, following a bench trial. As discussed below, we dismiss the appeal as moot.

         American filed suit under the Covenants Not To Compete Act (the Act) for reformation and injunctive relief to enforce noncompete covenants against five former employees, the appellees in this case. See Tex. Bus. & Com. Code Ann. §§ 15.50-.52 (West, Westlaw through 2015 R.S.). The trial court granted temporary restraining orders against appellees, then subsequently dissolved the temporary restraining orders and denied American's application for a temporary injunction. After a bench trial on the merits, the court rendered final judgment on February 19, 2016 denying all relief sought by American. American has filed its brief in this matter, and by five issues, American generally contends that the trial court erred in concluding that the noncompete covenants were not enforceable and further erred by not reforming the covenants to render them enforceable.

         Rather than file a brief in this matter, appellees have filed a motion to dismiss this appeal on grounds that it has been rendered moot because the two-year covenants not to compete at issue herein have now expired: four of the covenants expired in October of 2016 and the fifth covenant expired on February 5, 2017. American has filed a response in opposition to the motion to dismiss. It urges that this matter is not moot because American requested equitable tolling of the noncompete period before it expired and that request, if granted, would affect the parties' rights or interests. American further contends that the non-competition period expired during the pendency of this appeal and enforcement has been delayed due to the duration of the judicial process and not because of delays that it has caused. Finally, American contends that if this Court determines that the case is moot, the proper action is to vacate the judgment below and dismiss the entire case. Appellees have filed a reply in support of their motion to dismiss this appeal.

         The mootness doctrine applies to cases in which a justiciable controversy exists between the parties at the time the case arose, but the live controversy ceases because of subsequent events. Matthews, on behalf of M.M. v. Kountze Indep. Sch. Dist., 484 S.W.3d 416, 418 (Tex. 2016); Heckman v. Williamson Cnty., 369 S.W.3d 137, 149-50 (Tex. 2012). It prevents courts from rendering advisory opinions, which are outside the jurisdiction conferred by Texas Constitution article II, section 1. See Matthews, 484 S.W.3d at 418; Valley Baptist Med. Ctr. v. Gonzalez, 33 S.W.3d 821, 822 (Tex. 2000) (per curiam). "[A] suit can become moot at any time, including on appeal, and . . . courts have an obligation to take into account intervening events that may render a lawsuit moot." Heckman, 369 S.W.3d at 166-67. If a proceeding becomes moot, the court must dismiss the proceeding for want of jurisdiction. See id.

         In this case, appellant sought reformation and injunctive relief, but did not seek damages or other relief. The Texas Supreme Court has held that issues regarding injunctive relief and reformation of covenants not to compete become moot after the term of the noncompetition covenant has expired. See Weatherford Oil Tool Co. v. Campbell, 340 S.W.2d 950, 952 (Tex. 1960); Sadler Clinic Ass'n, P.A. v. Hart, 403 S.W.3d 891, 899 (Tex. App.-Beaumont 2013, pet. denied) ("The Texas Supreme Court has indicated that the issue of reformation becomes moot after the term of the noncompetition covenant has expired."); Rimes v. Club Corp. of Am., 542 S.W.2d 909, 912 (Tex. Civ. App.-Dallas 1976, writ ref'd n.r.e.) ("Here, the parties entered into a contract providing for a noncompetitive period following cessation of employment and such period is now past which causes the issue [of extending the applicable period of the non-compete agreement] to become moot."); see also White v. Cannon, No. 12-05-00095-CV, 2005 WL 1405003, at *1 (Tex. App.-Tyler June 15, 2005, no pet.) (mem. op.) ("Based upon our review of the record and White's brief, we conclude that the covenant not to compete cannot be enforced against White after June 15, 2005, the date the permanent injunction expires. Consequently, the question of its validity is moot because of the passage of time, and any relief we could grant would have no practical effect."); Leon's Fine Foods, Inc. v. McClearin, No. 05-97-01198-CV, 2000 WL 277135, at *1 (Tex. App.-Dallas Mar. 15, 2000, pet. denied) (mem. op.) (stating that when the non-competition period ends, "the trial court's ability to enforce the covenant by injunction becomes moot" and the trial court "could not reform the covenant since the covenant was no longer in effect.").

         The covenants not to compete have expired, and accordingly, we agree with appellees that, on the record presented, this appeal has been rendered moot. If an appeal has become moot, we "vacate any order or judgment previously issued and dismiss the case for want of jurisdiction." Heckman, 369 S.W.3d at 162; see Speer v. Presbyterian Children's Home & Serv. Agency, 847 S.W.2d 227, 229 (Tex. 1993). We grant the appellees' motion to dismiss, we vacate the judgment of the trial court, and ...


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