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In re Simpson

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

January 12, 2018

IN RE PAUL SIMPSON, Relator

         ORIGINAL PROCEEDING WRIT OF MANDAMUS County Civil Court at Law No. 1Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 1103791

          Panel consists of Chief Justice Frost and Justices Busby and Jewell.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PER CURIAM

         On January 8, 2018, relator Paul Simpson filed a petition for writ of mandamus in this court. See also Tex. Gov't Code Ann. § 22.221 (West Supp. 2017); see also Tex. R. App. P. 52. In the petition, relator asks this court to compel the Honorable George Barnstone, presiding judge of the Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 1, to vacate his First Amended Temporary Restraining Order ("Amended TRO"). This order directs Paul Simpson, the Chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, and Stan Stanart, the Harris County Clerk (collectively, "Defendants"), to reinstate Paul Coselli's name on the March 2018 Republican Primary Ballot as a candidate for the 281st District Court of Harris County, and restrains Defendants from removing Coselli's name from the ballot. Because the county court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the Amended TRO is void. We therefore conditionally grant the petition for writ of mandamus.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Coselli alleges that on December 19, 2017, Simpson, in his capacity as Chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, accepted Coselli's application to be on the Republican primary ballot and his filing fee of $2, 500.

         Also on December 19, Sylvia Matthews filed a challenge to Coselli's application, alleging that Coselli's application and supporting petitions were defective for various reasons. At the Harris County Republican Party's request, Coselli filed a response to Matthews's challenge. Simpson rejected Coselli's application on December 29, 2017.

         On January 2, 2018, Coselli filed suit in Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 1 against Simpson, as the chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, and Stan Stanart, the Harris County Clerk, seeking a temporary restraining order and temporary and permanent injunctions restraining and enjoining Simpson from removing Coselli from the Republican primary ballot. In his petition, Coselli also asserts claims for fraud in the inducement and money had and received, seeking actual damages of $2, 500 (which Coselli paid as a filing fee) as well as exemplary damages.[1]

         On January 2, 2018, Coselli sought and obtained a temporary restraining order that that restrained Simpson and the Harris County Republican Party from removing Coselli's name from the Republican primary ballot (the "TRO"). On January 5, Coselli filed a motion to modify the TRO. On January 8, the county court signed the Amended TRO, which directed both Defendants to reinstate Coselli on the March 2018 Republican Primary Ballot and restrained Defendants from removing Coselli's name from the ballot. A hearing on the request for temporary injunction is set for January 16, 2018.

         Mandamus Standard

         To obtain mandamus relief, a relator generally must show both that the trial court clearly abused its discretion and that the relator has no adequate remedy by appeal. In re Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 148 S.W.3d 124, 135-36 (Tex. 2004) (orig. proceeding). A trial court clearly abuses its discretion if it reaches a decision so arbitrary and unreasonable as to amount to a clear and prejudicial error of law, or if the trial court clearly fails to analyze the law correctly or apply the law correctly to the facts. In re Cerberus Capital Mgmt. L.P., 164 S.W.3d 379, 382 (Tex. 2005) (orig. proceeding) (per curiam). A trial court does not have the discretion to make an erroneous legal conclusion even in an unsettled area of law. See Huie v. DeShazo, 922 S.W.2d 920, 927-28 (Tex. 1996).

         When an order is void, the relator need not show the relator lacks an adequate appellate remedy, and mandamus relief is appropriate. In re Vaishangi, Inc., 442 S.W.3d 256, 261 (Tex. 2014) (orig. proceeding). An order is void if the court rendering it had no jurisdiction of the subject-matter jurisdiction. See Mapco, Inc. v. Forrest, 795 S.W.2d 700, 703 (Tex. 1990). Whether a pleader has alleged facts that demonstrate a trial court's subject-matter jurisdiction is a question of law reviewed de novo. Sampson v. Univ. of Texas at Austin, 500 S.W.3d 380, 384 (Tex. 2016).

         Analysis

         Simpson argues, among other things, that the Amended TRO is void because the county court was without subject-matter jurisdiction to grant ...


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