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Mills v. Carlock

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

April 26, 2017

MARK MILLS, Appellant

         On Appeal from the County Court at Law No. 4 Dallas County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. CC-16-02498-D

          Before Justices Francis, Lang-Miers, and Lang Opinion by Justice Francis



         Mark Mills appeals the trial court's order dismissing his claims against David Carlock, Blaise Gormley, Jackie Milander, and the law firm of Carlock-Gormley-Hight ("Carlock"). In five issues, Mills contends the trial court erred in dismissing his claims and awarding Carlock sanctions and attorney's fees. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         The facts as set out in the pleadings show that in February 2014, Carlock began representing Mills's former wife in her divorce action against Mills in the 302nd Judicial District Court. Both sides characterize the divorce as contentious.

         A hearing was conducted on March 24 at which a court reporter retained by Carlock was present. The next day, Mills filed a notice in the trial court designating the transcript of the hearing and the exhibits attached as confidential under an earlier confidentiality order governing the production and disclosure of business and financial materials. Four days later Carlock objected to the designation. On April 23, the district court signed an addendum to the confidentiality order stating that "upon receipt of an objection to the 'confidential' designation, the producing party shall submit the document designated as 'confidential' for in camera inspection, and the Court will rule on the designation of 'confidential.'" Mills did not submit the transcript from the March 24 hearing to the court for an in camera inspection and ruling at that time.

         On May 6, a hearing was held by an associate judge on orders made by the district court regarding interim attorney's fees and temporary support. At the beginning of the hearing, counsel for Mills stated "I would like to - and I believe Mr. Carlock and I have already discussed offer - or tender to the Court the transcript from the March 24 hearing as [Mills's] Exhibit 1." Carlock stated he had no objection and the trial court admitted the transcript with the attached exhibits. Mills made no mention of any potentially confidential information in the transcript at the time he tendered it as an exhibit. Mills was ultimately ordered to pay Carlock $85, 000 in interim attorney's fees of which he paid $35, 000 in change and small bills delivered to Carlock's offices in baggies.

         On May 16, Carlock filed a response to a motion for summary judgment filed by Mills. Attached as an exhibit to the response was the transcript of the March 24 hearing. Three weeks later, Mills filed a "Motion to Deem Exhibits Confidential" submitting for the first time the March 24 transcript for in camera inspection as required by the confidentiality order addendum. Mills also filed a "Motion for Protection and Motion for Injunction Regarding Filing of Documents Designated as Confidential" stating that the addendum failed to prevent disclosure of documents designated as confidential between the time the documents were designated and the time the court made its ruling on any objections to the designation.

         On June 12, a hearing was conducted in the 256th Judicial District Court on a petition by Carlock to unseal the record of another divorce action involving Mills. At the hearing, Carlock submitted the March 24 transcript as one of the exhibits.

         The 302nd district court conducted a hearing on September 22 in which it addressed various motions including Mills's motions concerning the allegedly confidential material. Although the confidentiality order specified it covered "business and financial material, " Mills argued at the hearing that the March 24 transcript also included confidential healthcare information. The court informed Mills's counsel it was not willing to declare the entire March 24 transcript confidential, but would consider a redaction of specific portions identified by Mills. Mills's counsel stated they would "present a specific letter, line item, [and] page number for each specific objection" to identify the material in the transcript Mills wanted removed. There is no indication Mills ever submitted proposed redactions of the March 24 transcript to the district court for consideration.

         Two months later, Carlock provided Dr. Blake Mitchell, the court appointed psychologist, with various pleadings, hearing transcripts, discovery responses, and court orders from the divorce proceeding. Mills contends these disclosures included the confidential information at issue.

         On January 16, 2015, the district court signed an order with its rulings on the motions heard on September 22. The court ordered both parties enjoined from filing any document designated as "confidential" until the court determined the document could be filed. The court further ordered if a party designated a document as "confidential, " the other side must object within five days, and a hearing must be held within seven days of the objection being filed. The record does not indicate Mills took any further action with regard to the March 24 transcript.

         The divorce was resolved by a consent decree on October 22, 2015. One day after the decree was signed, Mills sent Carlock an email attaching a grievance he filed against the firm with the State Bar Disciplinary Counsel. The email stated "Thought you would enjoy seeing your legal careers in peril. Things are about to get expensive, so you better hang on to that money I paid you. You are going to need every penny of it (like the ones I delivered to your office) and MORE!! BAHAHAHAHA!!" According to Carlock, the grievances were based on, among other things, the firm's alleged disclosure of Mills's confidential medical information. Carlock asserts, and Mills does not dispute, the disciplinary counsel determined the allegations made by Mills lacked merit and were not investigated.

         Mills filed his original petition in this suit on May 16, 2016 asserting causes of action against Carlock for negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, unauthorized use of identifying information, violations of the Texas Medical Records Privacy Act, and violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Mills later filed a supplemental petition adding a claim for publication of private facts. The petitions show Mills based his claims on Carlock's alleged disclosures of confidential information in the ...

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