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In re Castle Texas Production Limited Partnership

Court of Appeals of Texas, Twelfth District, Tyler

July 31, 2017

IN RE: CASTLE TEXAS PRODUCTION LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, RELATOR

         ORIGINAL PROCEEDING

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

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Greg Neeley Justice

         Castle Texas Production Limited Partnership seeks mandamus relief from the trial court's decision to reopen the record to determine postjudgment interest.[1] In a single issue, Castle contends that, by reopening the record, the trial court exceeded the bounds of the Texas Supreme Court's mandate in Long v. Castle Tex. Prod. Ltd. P'ship, 426 S.W.3d 73 (Tex. 2014). We deny the petition.

         Background

         Castle operates gas wells in which the Long Trusts have an interest. In 1996, the Long Trusts sued Castle for breach of a joint operating agreement and conversion. Castle counterclaimed for amounts owed on joint interest billings. Following a trial, Castle prevailed on its counterclaim. In its first judgment, entered in 2001, the trial court awarded Castle prejudgment interest without specifying its calculation. On appeal, this court remanded the case to the trial court to recalculate prejudgment interest because it appeared to have been incorrectly calculated.[2]

         On remand, the trial court ordered the record be reopened. The trial court reasoned that there was insufficient evidence in the existing record to determine when the Long Trusts received the joint interest billings to adjudicate prejudgment interest under the joint operating agreement. In response to the trial court's decision, Castle waived its prejudgment interest claim in open court and the trial court entered a new judgment in 2009, which awarded Castle postjudgment interest from the original 2001 judgment. This Court affirmed that judgment.[3]The Long Trusts appealed to the Texas Supreme Court on the sole ground that accrual of postjudgment interest as of the date of the original judgment was improper.[4]

         The Texas Supreme Court agreed with the Long Trusts, reversed this court's judgment, and remanded the case to the trial court to render judgment for Castle, with postjudgment interest to accrue "in accordance with this opinion."[5] On remand, the trial court issued a letter ruling that the record be reopened again for the court to "determine postjudgment interest including the accrual period." This original proceeding followed.

         Prerequisites to Mandamus

         Mandamus is an extraordinary remedy that is only available when the trial court has clearly abused its discretion and there is no adequate remedy by appeal. In re Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 148 S.W.3d 124, 135-36 (Tex. 2004). A clear abuse of discretion occurs when a trial court "reaches a decision so arbitrary and unreasonable as to amount to a clear and prejudicial error of law." Walker v. Packer, 827 S.W.2d 833, 839 (Tex. 1992) (orig. proceeding). When a trial court fails to issue a judgment in accordance with the supreme court's mandate, an aggrieved party may seek a writ of mandamus. Lee v. Downey, 842 S.W.2d 646, 648 (Tex. 1992).

         Compliance with Supreme Court Mandate

         Castle contends the trial court exceeded the scope of the supreme court's mandate by directing the record be reopened to determine postjudgment interest, including the accrual period. It argues the supreme court's directive that the trial court "render judgment for Castle, with postjudgment interest to accrue in accordance with this opinion, " means that the trial court was to do nothing more than revise its judgment to award postjudgment interest starting on the date the new judgment was entered on March 25, 2009, rather than from the date of the original 2001 judgment. In short, Castle argues that the trial court was merely to perform the ministerial act of changing only the commencement date for accrual of postjudgment interest.

         The Long Trusts, however, argue that the supreme court's reversal of this court's opinion nullified the 2009 judgment and, consequently, it is within the trial court's discretion to reexamine all aspects of the postjudgment interest award. It argues that if the supreme court had only intended the trial court perform the ministerial act propounded by Castle, it could have done so itself or directed it be done by the appellate or trial court. Because the supreme court did not do so, the Long Trusts argue that the supreme court's opinion merely defines the methodology to determine the date in which postjudgment interest begins to accrue and directs the trial court, by remand, to determine if sufficient evidence in the record exists to correctly enter an award as to postjudgment interest. If the record is insufficient, the Long Trusts argue the trial court must reopen the record to admit the necessary evidence to enter a new correct final judgment. Both parties recognize that the crux of the dispute is an interpretation of the phrase "to render judgment for Castle, with postjudgment interest to accrue in accordance with this opinion."

         Applicable Law

         When an appellate court affirms a trial court's judgment or renders the judgment the trial court should have rendered, that judgment becomes the judgment of both courts. Cessna Aircraft Co. v. Aircraft Network, LLC, 345 S.W.3d 139, 144 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2011, no pet.). Once the opinion and judgment of the appellate court have issued, the trial court loses the power to review, interpret, or enforce its prior judgment. Id. The trial court has no option but to observe and carry out the appellate court's mandate. Id.

         If a judgment is reversed and the case is remanded to the trial court to render a certain judgment, the appellate court retains jurisdiction until that particular judgment is entered and the mandate is obeyed. Id.; see also Bramlett v. Phillips, 322 S.W.3d 443, 445-46 (Tex. App.- Amarillo 2010, no pet.). On remand, the filing of the mandate with the trial court vests the trial court with limited jurisdiction, as defined by the parameters of the mandate, to decide those issues specified in the mandate. Cessna, 345 S.W.3d at 144. When an appellate court remands a case with specific instructions, the trial court is limited to complying with the instructions and cannot re-litigate issues controverted at the former trial. Id. The trial court's order carrying out the mandate is ministerial. Id. The scope of the mandate is determined with reference to both the appellate court's opinion and the mandate itself. Id.

         With regard to issues on which an appellate court reverses a trial court's judgment, the trial court's judgment is nullified, leaving the judgment as to those issues as if it had never been rendered. Id. at 145. When a case is remanded, the trial court must determine whether it must reopen the record. Long, 426 S.W.3d at 81. If a trial court determines that it must reopen the record on remand to comply with an appellate court's decision, it should make that determination based upon the claims and record as of the time of the remand. Id. at 82. If a party believes the trial court erred ...


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