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Morris v. Terrazas

Court of Appeals of Texas, Eleventh District

June 8, 2017


         On Appeal from the County Court at Law No. 2 Midland County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. CC17487

          Panel consists of: Wright, C.J., Willson, J., and Bailey, J.



         Paula Morris's pro se appeal arises out of an automobile accident that occurred on October 21, 2011. Although she was not directly involved in the accident, she owned the vehicle that was damaged when it was rear-ended in a multiple-vehicle collision.[1] Theresa Myers, who was following too closely, rear-ended Jose Terrazas, who then rear-ended Elizabeth Mayers, whose vehicle rear-ended Morris's vehicle. Morris filed suit in county court on April 11, 2014, seeking damages related to the collision. The trial court granted Mayers's, Terrazas's, and Myers's motions for summary judgment and entered a take-nothing judgment as to Morris's claims.

         On appeal, Morris asserts four issues. First, she alleges that the district clerk failed to timely prepare and issue citations to the parties. Second, she claims that the trial court erred when it did not grant a default judgment. Third, she alleges that the trial court failed to give due consideration to her reasons for delay in serving Myers with service of process. Fourth, she argues that the trial court should not have granted summary judgment because there was a material issue of fact on Terrazas's and Myers's liability. We affirm.

         I. Procedural History

         On November 4, 2013, fourteen days after the statute of limitations deadline, Morris first filed suit for damages in justice court.[2] However, the justice court dismissed the suit because Morris claimed an amount of damages that exceeded the jurisdictional limits of that court.[3] Following this dismissal, Morris filed her claim in county court on April 11, 2014. Terrazas received service of process more than seven months later on November 17, 2014. Morris attempted service of process by certified mail on Myers on November 20, 2014, and again by certified mail on March 4, 2015. Morris then had the Midland County Sheriff's Department complete personal service of process on Myers on June 2, 2015, which was more than eighteen months after she had filed suit.

         Although the record does not reflect when Mayers was served, it does indicate that the trial court granted her traditional and no-evidence motion for summary judgment on February 5, 2015.[4] Terrazas and Myers also filed separate summary judgment motions in which they claimed the affirmative defense of statute of limitations. Myers questioned whether Morris exercised diligence to complete service of process. Myers also asserted the grounds of collateral estoppel or issue preclusion. The trial court, in separate judgments, granted the motions on January 20, 2016, but did not state the grounds for each of the judgments. Morris now appeals the trial court's summary judgments in favor of Terrazas and Myers.

         II. Standard of Review

         We review a summary judgment de novo. Travelers Ins. Co. v. Joachim, 315 S.W.3d 860, 862 (Tex. 2010); Mid-Century Ins. Co. of Tex. v. Ademaj, 243 S.W.3d 618, 621 (Tex. 2007). The movant for traditional summary judgment must show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 166a(c); Mann Frankfort Stein & Lipp Advisors, Inc. v. Fielding, 289 S.W.3d 844, 848 (Tex. 2009). A defendant who moves for traditional summary judgment must either negate at least one essential element of the nonmovant's cause of action or prove all essential elements of an affirmative defense. Randall's Food Mkts., Inc. v. Johnson, 891 S.W.2d 640, 644 (Tex. 1995). When a party moves for summary judgment on traditional grounds, we take the evidence adduced in favor of the nonmovant as true and draw every reasonable inference and resolve all doubts in the nonmovant's favor. Id. (citing El Chico Corp. v. Poole, 732 S.W.2d 306, 315 (Tex. 1987)).

         Once the defendant establishes a right to summary judgment as a matter of law, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to present evidence that raises a genuine issue of material fact. City of Houston v. Clear Creek Basin Auth., 589 S.W.2d 671, 678-79 (Tex. 1979); Plunkett v. Conn. Gen. Life Ins. Co., No. 11-13-00129-CV, 2015 WL 3484985, at *4 (Tex. App.-Eastland May 29, 2015, pet. denied) (mem. op.). Thus, if a movant establishes an affirmative defense, then the burden of production shifts to the nonmovant. Hofstetter v. Loya Ins. Co., No. 01-10-00104-CV, 2011 WL 1631938, at *2 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] Apr. 28, 2011, pet. denied) (mem. op.).

         When the trial court's judgment does not specify the grounds upon which it relied for its ruling, the judgment must be affirmed if any of the theories advanced are meritorious. Dow Chem. Co. v. Francis, 46 S.W.3d 237, 242 (Tex. 2001); Carr v. Brasher, 776 S.W.2d 567, 569 (Tex. 1989).

         III. Analysis

         We will first address Morris's second and fourth issues, in which she claims that the trial court should have granted a default judgment in her favor because Terrazas failed to timely answer and should have denied summary judgment in Terrazas's and Myers's favor because she raised questions of material fact on their liability. We will then address her first and third issues, in which she asserts that the district clerk erred in the issuance of citations and service of process ...

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