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Harris v. Bell

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

February 27, 2018

EBONY HARRIS AND ROCHELLE WILEY, Appellants
v.
GRAHAM BELL AND TINA BELL, Appellees

         On Appeal from the 412th District Court Brazoria County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 76077-CV.

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

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          William J. Boyce Justice

         Appellants Ebony Harris and Rochelle Wiley challenge the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of appellee Graham Bell based on appellants' failure to exercise due diligence in procuring citation and effecting service of process on Bell before the statute of limitations expired. We affirm.

         Background

         Appellants and Bell were in a car accident on June 9, 2012, in Brazoria County, Texas. The parties agree and we conclude that appellants' claims arising from the accident accrued on the date of the accident and were subject to a two-year statute of limitations. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 16.003(a) (Vernon 2017). The limitations deadline for appellants' claims was June 9, 2014. See id.

         Appellants filed suit against Bell on February 25, 2014, asserting negligence claims arising from the June 2012 car accident.

         Appellants' attorney retained private investigator Jon Manning to assist with serving process on Bell in June 2014. According to Manning's affidavit, he "first received information on Defendant Graham Bell from [appellants' attorney] June 3, 2014." Appellants' attorney informed Manning that Bell resided in Kemah, Texas. Manning made five attempts to verify Bell's Kemah address in June 2014, all of which were unsuccessful.

         The trial court issued a citation for Bell on June 18, 2014. The citation was returned unserved on June 26, 2014.

         According to his affidavit, Manning continued his efforts to verify Bell's Kemah address and made two or three visits to the Kemah address each month from July 2014 through July 2015.[1] Manning's affidavit states that all of his visits to Bell's Kemah address were unsuccessful. Based on his research, Manning concluded that Bell resided at the Kemah address or in London.

         The trial court issued a notice of intent to dismiss appellants' suit on November 25, 2014, citing appellants' failure to effect service of process on Bell. Appellants filed a motion to retain, asserting that their attempts to serve Bell were unsuccessful because Bell "has been out of the country and his local address is in a gated community." The trial court signed an order retaining appellants' case on January 15, 2015.

         Appellants' attorney states in his affidavit that, in January 2015, it was his understanding that Bell had "multiple address[es], " one of which was in London, England. Appellants' attorney requested service abroad through the United States Department of Justice.[2]

         Appellants filed their first amended petition in April 2015 and asserted a claim against Tina Bell, Bell's wife, for negligent entrustment. Service was effected and Tina filed her answer in May 2015. Tina filed a motion for partial summary judgment asserting that appellants' suit against her was barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The trial court signed an order granting Tina's summary judgment motion in August 2015.

         The trial court issued a second citation for Bell on August 13, 2015. Service on Bell was effected on August 25, 2015. Bell filed an answer to appellants' petition.

         Appellants' case was dismissed for want of prosecution on January 4, 2016. Appellants filed a motion to reinstate, which the trial ...


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