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Akhtar v. Leawood Hoa, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

June 1, 2017


         On Appeal from the 189th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 2015-11364

          Panel consists of Justices Christopher, Jamison and Donovan (Jamison, J., concurring).


          John Donovan Justice

         Iqbal Akhtar brings this appeal from the trial court's judgment signed April 1, 2016, granting "Defendant's Motion to Strike All Plaintiff's Pleadings and Dismissal of Case." In addition to striking appellant's pleadings and dismissing his case, the trial court ordered appellant to pay sanctions in the amount of $9, 300. In a single point of error, appellant claims the trial court abused its discretion because (1) there was no factual or legal basis for imposing sanctions based on the information available at the time the pleadings were filed in this case; (2) there was no evidentiary hearing; (3) the trial court failed to state any reason for the sanction in its orders; and (4) the amount of sanctions is excessive. We affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Leawood HOA, Inc. ("Leawood"), is the homeowners' association for Leawood Condominiums. Appellant owns several Leawood Condominiums units. After the condominiums were repaired from damages caused by Hurricane Ike in 2008, Leawood attempted to collect a portion of the insurance deductible from appellant.

         The question of whether or not appellant owed the assessment was litigated twice in the justice of the peace courts. In both cases, the Justice of the Peace court ruled in favor of Leawood. In each case, appellant appealed that judgment to the appropriate County Court at Law ("CCL"). The appeal to CCL No. 3, trial court cause number 1053687, was filed on October 3, 2014. Following trial on March 10, 2015, the trial judge of CCL No. 3 entered judgment against appellant on June 23, 2015.[1] The appeal to CCL No. 2, trial court cause number 1053689, was tried and judgment entered against appellant on July 23, 2015. That decision was appealed and subsequently affirmed by the First Court of Appeals. See Akhtar v. Leawood, HOA, Inc., 508 S.W.3d 758 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist] 2017, no pet.).

         On February 26, 2015, during the pendency of these other proceedings, appellant filed suit against Leawood HOA, Inc., Nafisa Yaqoob and Werner Weiss (collectively "appellees") in the 189th District Court (the "trial court"), seeking relief from Leawood's attempts to collect the assessment. On March 24, 2015, appellees filed an answer and compulsory counterclaim that informed the trial court of the proceedings in CCL Nos. 2 and 3. Appellees' counterclaim asserted affirmative defenses including res judicata on the basis of the judgment in CCL No. 3 and sought damages for filing a frivolous and baseless cause of action, attorney's fees in the amount of $9, 300, and court costs of $150, as well as interest. Appellees further filed a motion for sanctions and costs pursuant to Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 13 and Chapter 10 the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 13; Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §§ 10.004, 10.005. Appellees requested sanctions of $9, 300 for attorney's fees and $150 in court costs "to deter this type of conduct and establish to the Plaintiff that the filing of a frivolous complaint and/or lawsuit is a very serious matter."

         Rule 13 states:

The signatures of attorneys or parties constitute a certificate by them that they have read the pleading, motion, or other paper; that to the best of their knowledge, information, and belief formed after reasonable inquiry the instrument is not groundless and brought in bad faith or groundless and brought for the purpose of harassment. . . . If a pleading, motion or other paper is signed in violation of this rule, the court, upon motion or upon its own initiative, after notice and hearing, shall impose an appropriate sanction available under Rule 215, [2] upon the person who signed it, a represented party, or both. Courts shall presume that pleadings, motions, and other papers are filed in good faith. No sanctions under this rule may be imposed except for good cause, the particulars of which must be stated in the sanction order. "Groundless" for purposes of this rule means no basis in law or fact and not warranted by good faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law. . . .

Tex. R. Civ. P. 13. Section 10.004 provides, in pertinent part:

(a) A court that determines that a person has signed a pleading or motion in violation of Section 10.001[3] may impose a sanction on the person, a party represented by the person, or both.
(b) The sanction must be limited to what is sufficient to deter repetition of the conduct or comparable conduct by others similarly situated.
(c) A sanction may include any of the following:
(3) an order to pay to the other party the amount of the reasonable expenses incurred by the other party because of the filing of the pleading or motion, including reasonable attorney's fees.

Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 10.004. Section 10.005 requires "[a] court shall describe in an order imposing a sanction under this chapter the conduct the court has determined violated Section 10.001 and explain the basis for the sanction imposed." Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 10.005.

         On March 30, 2015, the trial court entered an order granting "Defendant's Motion for Sanctions and Costs." The order states "Plaintiff and his attorney filed no response to the motion and it is deemed unopposed." Appellees were awarded $9, 300 in attorney's fees and $150 for court costs.

         Appellant moved to vacate the order for lack of service. The trial court granted the motion on May 15, 2015, stating its order was "VACATED at this time and the Court may reconsider if circumstances warrant doing so."

         On June 20, 2015, appellant filed a motion to consolidate his suit in the trial court with his appeal from justice court pending in CCL No. 2. Appellant's motion declares "[t]he underlying matter in that Court is the collection of the special assessment that are [sic] in issue in the case before this Court. The parties are also the same." Further, appellant's motion states that the trial court's decision regarding appellees' authority to collect the assessment and his obligation to pay them would ultimately resolve all issues in the trial court and CCL No. 2. Appellees opposed the motion and urged the trial court to reconsider sanctions. The judgment of CCL No. 3 against ...

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