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Sanders v. Sanders

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

August 29, 2017

PILAR SANDERS A/K/A PILAR LOVE EL DEY, Appellant
v.
DEION L. SANDERS, Appellee

         On Appeal from the 366th Judicial District Court Collin County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 366-04718-2014

          Before Justices Lang, Myers, and Stoddart

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          LANA MYERS, JUSTICE

         Pilar Sanders a/k/a Pilar Love El Dey appeals the trial court's judgment rendered in favor of Deion L. Sanders on his claim for defamation. The trial court granted Deion's motion for partial summary judgment on Pilar's liability for defamation. Following a trial before the court, the court determined Deion's damages from defamation were $2.2 million. Pilar brings five issues on appeal; however, we address only Pilar's second issue contending the trial court erred by granting Deion's motion for summary judgment on Pilar's liability for defamation. We conclude the trial court erred by granting the motion for summary judgment because Deion failed to establish conclusively Pilar's negligence or malice regarding the truthfulness of her statements. We reverse the trial court's judgment and remand the cause to the trial court.

          THE RECORD

         The trial in this defamation case was consolidated with the hearing on the parties' suit affecting the parent-child relationship, including motions to modify child custody, a bill of review, a motion to enforce the divorce decree, and a motion to revoke the suspension of a contempt order in the child-custody litigation. The trial court entered an order sealing the records of the family-law matters, but the court did not seal the records of the defamation case. Because the family-law and defamation cases were tried together, there was only one reporter's record for both cases. Thus, the reporter's record for the defamation case is under seal.

         This Court is required to hand down a public opinion explaining our decision based on the record. See Tex. R. App. P. 47.1, 47.3; In re N.G.G., No. 05-16-01084-CV, 2017 WL 655953, at *1 (Tex. App.-Dallas Feb. 17, 2017, no pet.) (mem. op.). We cannot fulfill this duty without describing, to some extent, the pleadings, evidence, findings, and judgment in the case. "To the extent we include any sensitive information in this memorandum opinion, we do so only to the degree necessary to strike a fair balance between the parties' interest in keeping portions of the record confidential and our responsibilities to the public as an appellate court." In re N.G.G., 2017 WL 655953, at *1 (quoting TMX Fin. Holdings, Inc. v. Wellshire Fin. Servs., LLC, 515 S.W.3d 1, 4 n.1 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] Oct. 11, 2016, pet. filed)).

         BACKGROUND

         Deion Sanders is a former player in the National Football League and a Pro Football Hall of Famer. He was married to Pilar Sanders. After concluding his NFL career, Deion became a commentator on the NFL Network, and he and his children were the subject of a television program called "Deion's Family Playbook" on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). Deion also endorsed products.

          Deion and Pilar divorced in 2013, and the divorce decree required Deion to pay Pilar $1 million pursuant to the parties' premarital agreement. In this lawsuit, Deion alleged that, after the divorce, Pilar made statements on social media, in online videos, and on a national television news program that Deion had physically abused her and their children and had attempted to murder her. He alleged these statements damaged his reputation and caused him economic damages.

         Deion sued Pilar for defamation per se. He moved for summary judgment as to liability on his defamation claim. At the beginning of the consolidated trial on the family-law and defamation cases, the trial court announced it was carrying the motion for summary judgment during the trial. On the last day of the trial, the court granted the motion for summary judgment as to Pilar's liability on the defamation claim. At the conclusion of the trial, the court awarded Deion damages for defamation of $2.2 million and ruled that Deion could offset the $1 million dollars he owed Pilar from the divorce against the $2.2 million of defamation damages.

         JURISDICTION

         Before addressing the merits of the appeal, we must address Deion's assertion that this Court lacks jurisdiction over the appeal because Pilar did not timely file her notice of appeal.

         The trial court signed the final judgment on December 2, 2015. Pilar timely filed a request for findings of fact and conclusions of law on December 22, 2015, which was twenty days after the court signed the final judgment. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 296 (request for findings of fact and conclusions of law "shall be filed within twenty days after judgment is signed"). She filed her ...


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