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Nephrology Leaders and Associates v. American Renal Associates LLC

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

April 2, 2019

NEPHROLOGY LEADERS AND ASSOCIATES AND M. ATIQ DADA, MD, Appellants
v.
AMERICAN RENAL ASSOCIATES LLC, Appellee

          On Appeal from the 190th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 2017-21479

          Panel consists of Justices Keyes, Higley, and Landau.

          OPINION

          LAURA CARTER HIGLEY JUSTICE

         Nephrology Leaders and Associates, PLLC and M. Atiq Dada, M.D. (collectively, "Nephrology") appeal the trial court's order temporarily sealing certain documents that third party American Renal Associates, LLC sought to protect from Nephrology's subpoena.[1] In two issues, Nephrology argues that the trial court abused its discretion by setting the motion for a hearing sua sponte and that the evidence is insufficient to support the order.

         American Renal argues that Nephrology lacks standing to bring this appeal. We agree, and dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.

         Background

         Nephrology initiated the underlying suit against McGuireWoods, LLP (not a party to this appeal) for breach of fiduciary duties arising from prior legal representation. In seeking discovery for the case, Nephrology subpoenaed documents from third party American Renal. In response, American Renal filed a motion for protective order, arguing that Nephrology had released its right to conduct discovery in this matter under two release agreements ("the Releases"), which Nephrology attached as exhibits and filed in camera. At the same time, American Renal filed the subject motion to temporarily and permanently seal the two releases pursuant to Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 76a.

         Three months later, American Renal set its motion for protective order for a "submission hearing" to occur on March 12, 2018. On March 9, the trial court added American Renal's motion to seal to its March 12 submission hearing docket so that the two motions were set together. The day after the submission hearing, the trial court signed an order temporarily sealing the documents under Rule 76a. Nephrology appeals this order.

         Standard of Review

         "Subject matter jurisdiction is essential to the authority of a court to decide a case." Tex. Ass'n of Bus. v. Tex. Air Control Bd., 852 S.W.2d 440, 443 (Tex. 1993); accord Heckman v. Williamson Cty., 369 S.W.3d 137, 150 (Tex. 2012) ("A court has no jurisdiction over a claim made by a plaintiff who lacks standing to assert it."). Appellate courts always have jurisdiction to resolve questions of subject-matter jurisdiction, and we do so via de novo review. State v. Naylor, 466 S.W.3d 783, 787 (Tex. 2015).

         Standing

         "Standing is implicit in the concept of subject matter jurisdiction." Tex. Ass'n of Bus., 852 S.W.2d at 443. It is "a constitutional prerequisite to suit," and courts have no jurisdiction over and thus must dismiss claims made by parties who lack standing to assert them. Heckman, 369 S.W.3d at 150-51.

         Just as plaintiffs must have standing to bring suit, appellants must have standing to appeal trial court judgments. Tex. Quarter Horse Ass'n v. Am. Legion Dep't of Tex., 496 S.W.3d 175, 181 (Tex. App.-Austin 2016, no pet.) (citing Naylor, 466 S.W.3d at 787)); see also Torrington Co. v. Stutzman, 46 S.W.3d 829, 843 (Tex. 2000) ("[A]n appealing party may not complain of errors that do not injuriously affect it or that merely affect the rights of others.").

         In determining whether an appellant has standing, a party's status in the trial court is not controlling. Tex. Quarter Horse, 496 S.W.3d at 184. The "ultimate inquiry is whether the appellant possesses a justiciable interest in obtaining relief from the lower court's judgment." Id. (citing Torrington, 46 S.W.3d at 843-44 (appellate standing requires party's own interests prejudiced by alleged error)). Specifically, to have standing, an appellant must be personally aggrieved, meaning "his alleged injury must be concrete and particularized, actual or imminent, not hypothetical." Fin. Comm'n of Tex. v. Norwood, 418 S.W.3d 566, 580 (Tex. 2013) (quoting DaimlerChrysler Corp. v. Inman, 252 S.W.3d 299, 304-305 (Tex. 2008)); accord McAllen Med. Ctr., Inc. v. Cortez, 66 S.W.3d 227, 234 (Tex. 2001) ("[S]tanding requires that the controversy adversely affect the party seeking review."). And his injury must be "likely to be redressed by the requested relief." Heckman, 369 ...


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