Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas
Appeal from the 366th Judicial District Court Collin County,
Texas Trial Court Cause No. 366-04718-2014
Justices Lang, Myers, and Stoddart
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.
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.
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)).
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.
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.
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.
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
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 ...