MARTA RAMIREZ, AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE AND HEIR OF RONALD MONROY, DECEASED, Appellant
NOBLE ENERGY, INC., Appellee
Appeal from the 215th District Court Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Case No. 2015-43210A
consists of Justices Keyes, Bland, and Huddle.
V. Keyes Justice.
personal injury case, Ronald Monroy sued Noble Energy, Inc.
for negligence after he allegedly sustained injuries while
unloading a truck on Noble's property. After Monroy
failed to timely respond to Noble's requests for
admissions, Noble moved for summary judgment. While the case
was pending in the trial court, Monroy died, and his wife and
the personal representative of his estate, Marta Ramirez,
took over prosecution of his suit. The trial court granted
Noble's summary judgment motion. On appeal, Ramirez
contends that the trial court (1) abused its discretion by
overruling Monroy's motion to withdraw deemed admissions,
and (2) erroneously rendered summary judgment in favor of
Noble based on the deemed admissions.
reverse and remand.
worked as a long-distance truck driver for J&R Express,
He alleged that on April 1, 2014, J & R Express
instructed him to deliver a load to Noble at its facility in
Louisiana. Monroy alleged that the area was poorly lit and
Noble's employees did not assist him in unloading the
cargo from his truck. He further alleged that, in the process
of unloading the truck, a steel plate hit his right knee and
right leg. On July 26, 2015, Monroy sued both J&R Express
and Noble, alleging, among other things, that the defendants
were negligent by failing to provide him a safe place to
answered Monroy's suit and served discovery
requests-including eleven requests for admissions-on Monroy
on September 3, 2015. Monroy's responses to the requests
for admissions and other written discovery were due on
October 5, 2015.
did not timely respond to Noble's discovery requests.
Noble thus filed a motion to compel discovery responses on
October 15, 2015. On October 26, 2015, the trial court signed
an order requiring Monroy to fully and completely respond to
Noble's discovery requests within ten days, or by
November 5, 2015.
responded to Noble's discovery requests on November 6,
2015, one day after the trial court's ten-day deadline
had passed. On November 17, 2015, Noble moved for traditional
summary judgment, arguing that because Monroy did not timely
respond to its requests for admissions, the matters within
the requests were deemed admitted. The deemed admissions
included admissions that "Noble is not a proper party to
this lawsuit" and that "[t]he truck which [Monroy]
was driving was not Noble's property." Noble argued
that these admissions demonstrated that Noble was not a
proper party to Monroy's suit and that Noble had no
responsibility for or involvement in Monroy's alleged
injuries. Noble argued that the admissions conclusively
established that it "did not own the truck out of which
the steel plate is alleged to have fallen and injured"
Monroy and that the "driver of a truck is generally
responsible for cargo loading and securement, " citing a
provision in the Code of Federal Regulations for support.
Noble contended, based on the deemed admissions, that Monroy
had no claim against it and that it was entitled to summary
attached as summary judgment evidence the answers that it
received to its requests for admission from Monroy on
November 6, 2015. In his answers to the requests for
admissions, Monroy denied that Noble was not a proper
defendant to the suit. Monroy admitted that he drove the
truck while employed by J&R Express, that the truck was
not Noble's property, and that the steel plate that
struck him was on the truck. Noble did not attach any other
evidence to its summary judgment motion.
also moved for sanctions on the same day that it moved for
summary judgment. In this motion, Noble argued that
Monroy's responses to its discovery requests and his
document production were inadequate. Noble asked the trial
court "to sanction [Monroy] monetarily and to dismiss
this lawsuit as against Noble, with prejudice to refiling, if
[Monroy] fails to respond fully and completely to Noble's
discovery requests within ten (10) days of the Court's
December 8, 2015, Monroy responded to Noble's motion for
sanctions. Monroy argued that Noble had not demonstrated any
harm or prejudice from his allegedly inadequate discovery
responses. Monroy also stated that his counsel had repeatedly
advised Noble that her secretary had left her firm in July
2015, shortly after Monroy filed suit, and that the discovery
responses had been overlooked due to the change in personnel.
Monroy thus argued that Noble could not demonstrate that his
failure to respond was intentional or due to conscious
disregard of his discovery obligations. Monroy attached email
correspondence between his counsel and Noble's counsel in
which his counsel stated that her new assistant, who had been
in training for two months, had quit and she was
"uncovering past due discovery that wasn't
calendared." She stated, "I will need about 2-3
weeks to send discovery responses." The correspondence
also included an email from Monroy's counsel's legal
assistant, dated October 23, 2015, stating that she had a
meeting with Monroy scheduled for October 27, 2015, "to
December 30, 2015, Monroy filed a motion to withdraw the
deemed admissions. Monroy stated:
The reason Plaintiff's counsel failed to respond was due
to a mistake and not the result of conscious indifference.
Plaintiff['s] counsel's long-time assistant left the
firm and the new assistant hired was in training when
plaintiff received discovery requests. The assistant did not
calendar discovery deadlines, including discovery in this
also noted that the trial court had set the discovery
deadline for September 12, 2016, and the trial setting for
November 14, 2016, and, as a result, Noble would not be
prejudiced by the withdrawal of deemed admissions because the
withdrawal would not "delay trial or hamper
[Noble's] ability to prepare for trial."
same day, Monroy moved for an extension of time to respond to
Noble's summary judgment motion, asking that the trial
court grant additional time and rule first on his motion to
withdraw deemed admissions. Monroy requested "a
continuance for additional time to secure the court's
ruling" on the motion to withdraw deemed admissions and
also to conduct additional discovery concerning his claims.
He argued that Noble's sole basis for summary judgment
was the deemed admissions and that Noble "should not be
allowed to exit this case before J&R Express answers and
additional discovery can be conducted."
trial court did not rule on Monroy's request for an
extension of time. Monroy did not file a response to
Noble's summary judgment motion.
January 8, 2016, the trial court granted Noble's summary
judgment motion and dismissed Monroy's claims against
Noble with prejudice. The trial court denied Noble's
motion for sanctions ...