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Galbraith v. Williams Companies, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

July 6, 2017

CHARLES GALBRAITH, Appellant
v.
THE WILLIAMS COMPANIES, INC., WILLIAMS GAS PIPELINE COMPANY, LLC AND TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPE LINE COMPANY, LLC, Appellees

         On Appeal from the 268th District Court Fort Bend County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 13-DCV-210842

          Panel consists of Justices Jennings, Keyes, and Brown.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Terry Jennings Justice

         Appellant, Charles Galbraith, challenges the trial court's rendition of summary judgment in favor of appellees, The Williams Companies, Inc., Williams Gas Pipeline Company, LLC, and Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company, LLC (collectively, "Williams"), in his suit against them for negligence, "[r]es [i]psa [l]oquitor, " "[v]icarious [l]iability, " and gross negligence. In four issues, Galbraith contends that the trial court erred in granting Williams summary judgment.

         We dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

         Background

         In his third amended petition, Galbraith alleged that he sustained personal injuries as a result of a dangerous condition on Williams's property, located along the Brazos River in Fort Bend County, Texas and upon which Williams maintains a pipeline right of way. On or about September 10, 2012, Galbraith, an invitee on Williams's property, set out, using a tractor, to "shred overgrown grass" on the pipeline right of way. As he shredded the grass, the dirt river bank "gave way, " causing his tractor to flip over and Galbraith to sustain serious injuries. He brought claims against Williams for negligence, "[r]es [i]psa [l]oquitor, " "[v]icarious [l]iability, " and gross negligence.

         Williams moved for summary judgment, arguing that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Galbraith's claims, which all sound in negligence, because they are barred by Chapter 95 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code.[1] Williams further argued that there is no evidence that it had "maintained a contractual right of control over [Galbraith's] work, " "controlled the operative details of his work to such a degree that he was not free to perform the work in his own way, " or had actual knowledge of the dangerous condition which injured Galbraith.[2] In other words, Williams asserted that there is "no evidence of an exception to the protections afforded to [it] by Chapter 95." Williams asked the trial court to grant its summary-judgment motion and dismiss all of Galbraith's claims against it with prejudice.

         In his response to the summary-judgment motion, Galbraith argued that Williams did not meet its burden of establishing the applicability of Chapter 95 because it had not shown that it was the owner of the property or that his injuries arose from a condition or use of an improvement to real property, which he constructed, repaired, renovated, or modified.[3] Galbraith also asserted that, even assuming the applicability of Chapter 95, Williams had retained control over the manner in which his work was performed and it had actual knowledge of, and failed to warn him about the soil erosion, i.e., the dangerous condition that caused his injuries.[4]

         After a hearing, on August 14, 2015, the trial court granted Williams summary judgment, specifically stating, "Defendants Williams Companies, Inc., Williams Gas Pipeline Company, and Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company, LLC's Traditional and No Evidence Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED." The trial court titled its order: Order Granting Defendants' Traditional and No Evidence Motion for Summary Judgment. And although it had granted Williams's summary-judgment motion in its entirety, the trial court did not state that it dismissed with prejudice "all of the claims brought by Charles Galbraith against Williams Companies, Inc., Williams Gas Pipeline Company, and Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company, LLC."

         On September 2, 2015, Williams filed a Motion for Entry of Judgment, noting that on August 14, 2015 the trial court had granted its summary-judgment motion based on Chapter 95, which barred all of Galbraith's claims against it, and the court's summary-judgment order, thus, disposed of all claims against all parties in the case. The trial court took no action on Williams's motion. On November 5, 2015, Williams withdrew its Motion for Entry of Judgment, reiterating that the trial court's August 14, 2015 order had disposed of all claims against all parties, asserting that the trial court's plenary power had expired, and explaining that it had filed its Motion for Entry of Judgment in order to "facilitate [the] removal of the case from the trial [court's] docket."

         On November 12, 2015, Galbraith filed a Motion for Docket Control Conference, asserting that the trial court's August 14, 2015 order granting Williams summary judgment did not dismiss all claims or all parties and was not intended to be a final judgment.

         Subsequently, on December 18, 2015, 126 days after it had signed its August 14, 2015 order, the trial court signed another order, titled Final Judgment, stating that it had, on August 14, 2015, granted Williams's matter-of-law and no-evidence summary-judgment motion. The trial court further stated, "all of [Galbraith's] claims are DISMISSED with prejudice." On December 18, 2015, Galbraith filed his notice of appeal.[5]

         Ju ...


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