Court of Appeals of Texas, Eighth District, El Paso
from County Court at Law No. 3 of El Paso County, Texas (TC #
McClure, C.J., Rodriguez, and Hughes, JJ.
CRAWFORD McCLURE, Chief Justice.
appeal raises the question of whether a trial court can,
without some type of proper notice, issue a judgment to
enforce a "Rule 11" agreement which settles a case.
Under the facts presented here, we conclude that a trial
court cannot issue do so and reverse and remand the case for
AND PROCEDURAL SUMMARY
and Jane Harding, individually and on behalf of their
deceased mother, Mildred Harding, filed this suit against IHS
Acquisition No. 131, Inc., d/b/a Horizon Healthcare Center at
El Paso (Horizon) and Appellant Erik Garcia. Horizon runs a
nursing home and Garcia was an administrator for Horizon. The
Hardings allege that Horizon and Garcia's negligence
caused the death of their mother, who was a resident.
several years of litigation, the parties settled their
disputes. The settlement was first memorialized in a letter
agreement dated October 7, 2015, signed by their respective
counsel, setting out payment terms and the other logistics
for resolving the suit. The claims were resolved for a total
payment of $115, 000; Horizon and Garcia were to pay that
amount in three equal monthly installments. Within two weeks
of the letter agreement, the Hardings signed a comprehensive
settlement and release agreement. The trial court was
informed of the settlement and issued an order on October 7,
2015, directing the parties to present the final
"dispositive pleadings" for the court's
approval by January 6, 2016. The date was not set as a
hearing, but rather a deadline. The parties were informed
that failure to have the closing paperwork by that date would
result in an automatic dismissal under Tex.R.Civ.P. 165a,
unless the deadline was extended by the trial court.
January 19, 2016, the Hardings filed a motion to retain the
case and attached a redacted copy of the letter agreement.
The Hardings asked for additional time to afford them
"an opportunity to seek a final judgment effecting the
settlement agreement." It appears that Horizon and
Garcia had failed to make the payments under the settlement
agreement. The court set the motion for a hearing on February
19, 2016. Prior to that hearing, the Hardings filed their
Fifth Amended Original Petition which included two additional
causes of action. One of the new claims sought to enforce the
settlement as a Rule 11 agreement. The second new claim
sought to enforce the settlement under a breach of contract
theory. The pleading asked that the trial court enforce the
terms of the settlement agreement, enter a final judgment for
the amount due under the agreement, along with court costs,
prejudgment and post-judgment interest, and an award of
reasonable and necessary attorney's fees.
February 19th hearing, the trial court did more than merely
retain the case.Concluding that a valid and enforceable
settlement agreement as "evidenced by a Rule 11 T.R.C.P.
filed in the records of this Court" was entered into
among the parties, the court signed a judgment in the
Hardings' favor. The judgment required each of the
defendants to pay one-half of the settlement amount ($57, 500
each), along with post-judgment interest. Both Garcia and
Horizon were also jointly and severally liable for taxable
filed a motion for new trial. The motion complained that
Garcia was given no notice that the trial court intended to
enter a final judgment at the February hearing. The motion
included Garcia's declaration that he revoked his consent
before the February 19 judgment. He claims that Horizon was
supposed to fund the settlement and upon its failure to so,
he no longer consented to the terms. The motion was overruled
by operation of law, and both Horizon and Garcia filed notice
of appeal. Horizon has since filed a motion to dismiss its
appeal, which this court granted. Garcia v. Harding,
08-16-00096-CV, 2016 WL 5121995, at *1 (Tex.App.-El Paso
Sept. 21, 2016, no pet.)(mem.op.)(not designated for
presents one issue complaining that the trial court abused
its discretion in entering a final judgment without proper
notice. Error was preserved through the motion for new trial.
Generally, a trial court's decision on a motion for new
trial is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. In re
R.R., 209 S.W.3d 112, 114 (Tex. 2006); Munoz v.
Rivera, 225 S.W.3d 23, 26 (Tex.App.--El Paso 2005, no
pet.). A trial court abuses its discretion when it acts in an
arbitrary or unreasonable manner, or it acts without
reference to any guiding principles of law. Downer v.
Aquamarine Operators, Inc., 701 S.W.2d 238, 241-42 (Tex.
1985); Acosta v. Tri State Mortg. Co., 322 S.W.3d
794, 801 (Tex.App.--El Paso 2010, no pet.).
OF SETTLEMENT AGREEMENTS
may enforce settlement agreements entered into during the
pendency of litigation in one of two ways. First, if the
agreement is reduced to writing, filed with the court, and
neither party has withdrawn their consent, the trial court
can enter an agreed judgment consistent with the terms of the
agreement. See Padilla v. LaFrance, 907 S.W.2d 454,
460 (Tex. 1995); Kennedy v. Hyde, 682 S.W.2d 525,
528 (Tex. 1984); Kanan v. Plantation Homeowner's
Ass'n Inc., 407 S.W.3d 320, 327 (Tex.App.--Corpus
Christi 2013, no pet.). Such an agreement meets the
requirements of Tex.R.Civ.P. 11 which states, "[u]nless
otherwise provided in these rules, no agreement between
attorneys or parties touching any suit pending will be
enforced unless it be in writing, signed and filed with the
papers as part of the record, or unless it be made in open
court and entered of record." A trial court has a
ministerial duty to ...