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Patman v. Lloyds

Court of Appeals of Texas, Twelfth District, Tyler

June 7, 2017

JOHN PATMAN, APPELLANT
v.
STATE FARM LLOYDS, APPELLEE

         Appeal from the County Court at Law No. 2 of Dallas County, Texas (Tr.Ct.No. CC-14-01094-B)

          Panel consisted of Worthen, C.J., Hoyle, J., and Neeley, J.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GREG NEELEY JUSTICE.

         John Patman appeals the trial court's order assessing costs against him after he filed a notice of nonsuit of his claims against State Farm Lloyds (State Farm). In one issue, Patman argues that the trial court abused its discretion by ordering that he pay court costs to State Farm because State Farm filed its motion seeking reimbursement for court costs after Patman filed his notice of nonsuit. We affirm.

         Background

         Patman filed the instant suit against State Farm on March 7, 2014, alleging State Farm was liable to him for breach of contract, violations under the Texas Insurance Code, violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, fraud, and civil conspiracy. Following discovery the trial court rendered partial summary judgment in State Farm's favor on all but Patman's contract cause of action.

         The case was set for trial on October 27, 2015, at which time the parties conferred on certain pretrial matters and argued pretrial motions. The trial was scheduled to resume on November 3, 2015.

         On October 28, 2015, Patman filed a notice of nonsuit without prejudice. That same day, State Farm filed a motion to enter an order of nonsuit with prejudice and assess court costs and expenses against Patman. The trial court conducted a hearing on State Farm's motion on November 16, 2015. Ultimately, the trial court ordered that the case be nonsuited without prejudice and that Patman pay court costs to State Farm in the amount of $4, 505.25. This appeal followed.

         Motion for Court Costs Filed After Notice of Nonsuit

         In his sole issue, Patman argues that the trial court abused its discretion by ordering that he pay court costs to State Farm because State Farm filed its motion seeking reimbursement for court costs after Patman filed his notice of nonsuit.

         Standard of Review and Governing Law

         We review a trial court's decision to grant sanctions for abuse of discretion. See Am. Transitional Care Ctrs. of Tex., Inc. v. Palacious, 46 S.W.3d 873, 878 (Tex. 2001). The test for abuse of discretion is whether the court acted without reference to any guiding rules and principles. See Downer v. Aquamarine Operators, Inc., 701 S.W.2d 238, 241-42 (Tex. 1985).

         "At any time before the plaintiff has introduced all of his evidence other than rebuttal evidence, the plaintiff may . . . take a nonsuit, which shall be entered in the minutes. Notice of the . . . nonsuit shall be served . . . on any party who has answered or who has been served with process without necessity of court order." Tex.R.Civ.P. 162. A party has an absolute right to file a nonsuit, and a trial court is without discretion to refuse an order dismissing a case because of a nonsuit unless collateral matters remain. Travelers Ins. Co. v. Joachim, 315 S.W.3d 860, 862 (Tex. 2010); see Villafani v. Trejo, 251 S.W.3d 466, 468-69 (Tex. 2008); In re Bennett, 960 S.W.2d 35, 38 (Tex. 1997); Hooks v. Fourth Court of Appeals, 808 S.W.2d 56, 59 (Tex. 1991). A nonsuit "extinguishes a case or controversy from 'the moment the motion is filed' or an oral motion is made in open court; the only requirement is 'the mere filing of the motion with the clerk of the court.'" Joachim, 315 S.W.3d at 862; Univ. of Tex. Med. Branch at Galveston v. Estate of Blackmon ex rel. Shultz, 195 S.W.3d 98, 100 (Tex. 2006). It renders the merits of the nonsuited case moot. See Villafani, 251 S.W.3d at 469 ("One unique effect of a nonsuit is that it can vitiate certain interlocutory orders, rendering them moot and unappealable."); Shultz, 195 S.W.3d at 101 ("Although [Rule 162] permits motions for costs, attorney's fees, and sanctions to remain viable in the trial court, it does not forestall the nonsuit's effect of rendering the merits of the case moot."); Gen. Land Office v. OXY U.S.A., Inc., 789 S.W.2d 569, 571 (Tex. 1990).

         Timing of Motion ...


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