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In re Yamaha Golf-Car Company

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

April 8, 2019

IN RE YAMAHA GOLF-CAR COMPANY, Relator

          Original Proceeding from the 162nd Judicial District Court Dallas County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. DC-16-02698

          Before Justices Bridges, Osborne, and Carlyle

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CORY L. CARLYLE JUSTICE.

         The underlying proceeding arises from a golf-car rollover accident in which a nine-year-old boy was injured. The child's parents, Tim and Jennifer Siegel, sued relator Yamaha Golf-Car Company and other defendants. Yamaha joined a co-defendant's motion to designate Texas Tech University Medical Center ("UMC") as a responsible third party based on allegations that UMC paramedics improperly intubated the child en route to the hospital and the faulty intubation caused the child to be deprived of oxygen for an extended period and suffer brain damage. The trial court granted the designation. The Siegels later moved to strike the designation, arguing that Yamaha was required to provide evidence that the UMC paramedics engaged in willful and wanton negligence pursuant to Chapter 74 of the civil practice and remedies code but failed to do so. In this original proceeding, Yamaha complains of the trial court's order striking the responsible third party designation. We deny the petition.

         The Order Striking the Designation

         On June 7, 2018 and June 8, 2018, the trial court heard argument on the motion to strike the responsible third party designation and on other motions at a pre-trial[1] hearing. On July 12, 2018, the trial judge sent an e-mail to her court administrator. In the e-mail, the trial judge stated that she needs "the following orders" and then set out a two-column table listing each motion and her ruling on each motion. The ruling listed for the motion to strike the designation of UMC as a responsible third party was "Granted." The court administrator then forwarded the judge's e-mail to all counsel of record and asked the parties to submit appropriate orders approved as to form pursuant to the judge's rulings set out in the judge's e-mail.

         The trial judge did not, however, sign a written order granting the motion to strike the responsible third party designation until February 11, 2019. Yamaha filed this original proceeding on March 8, 2019. The Siegels filed a "preliminary response" to the mandamus petition, arguing that the petition is barred by laches.

         Mandamus Standard

         Mandamus relief is warranted when the trial court clearly abuses its discretion and the relator has no adequate appellate remedy. In re Coppola, 535 S.W.3d 506, 507-08 (Tex. 2017) (orig. proceeding); In re Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 148 S.W.3d 124, 135-36 (Tex. 2004) (orig. proceeding). Mandamus is a proper remedy when a trial court abuses its discretion by striking a responsible third party designation. See In re Coppola, 535 S.W.3d at 508; In re Brokers Logistics, Ltd., 320 S.W.3d 402, 409 (Tex. App.-El Paso 2010, orig. proceeding).

         Applicable Law

         Section 33.004 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code permits a tort defendant to designate a person as a responsible third party. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 33.004(a); The trial court may later strike the designation if, after adequate time for discovery, no legally sufficient evidence of responsibility exists. Id. § 33.004(1). Once a motion to strike is filed, the trial court "shall grant" the motion "unless a defendant produces sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of fact regarding the designated person's responsibility for the claimant's injury or damage." Id. "Under this standard, a defendant has the burden to produce sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to hold the third party responsible for at least a portion of the plaintiff's injury or damage." In re Enter. Beaumont Marine W., LP, No. 09-16-00032-CV, 2016 WL 1469085, at *1 (Tex. App.-Beaumont Apr. 14, 2016, orig. proceeding) (mem. op.) (citing In re Transit Mix Concrete & Materials Co., No. 12-13-00364-CV, 2014 WL 1922724, at *3 (Tex. App.-Tyler May 14, 2014, orig. proceeding) (mem. op.)). Once a party is designated as a responsible third party, the only statutory ground for striking the designation is that "there is no evidence that the designated person is responsible for any portion of the claimant's alleged injury or damage." In re Brokers Logistics, Ltd., 320 S.W.3d at 406 (quoting Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 33.004(1)).

         Discussion

         This proceeding poses two questions for the Court: whether laches bars mandamus review, and whether the trial court abused its discretion. Although mandamus is a legal remedy, it is largely controlled by equitable principles, including the concept that equity aids the diligent and not those who slumber on their rights. Rivercenter Assocs. v. Rivera, 858 S.W.2d 366, 367 (Tex. 1993); Rogers v. Ricane Enters., 772 S.W.2d 76, 80 (Tex. 1989). A delay of only a few months can result in waiver by laches. See Rivera, 858 S.W.2d at 366 (four months); In re Pendragon Transp. LLC, 423 S.W.3d 537, 540 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2014, orig. proceeding) (six month delay and filed less than two weeks before trial); In re Saldivar, No. 13-17-00648-CV, 2017 WL 5760319, at *6 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi-Edinburg Nov. 28, 2017, orig. proceeding) (relators' four-month delay in seeking relief waived their right to pursue mandamus relief from denial of motion for leave to designate responsible third party); Bailey v. Baker, 696 S.W.2d 255, 256 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1985, orig. proceeding) (four-month delay, no explanation for delay, and filed two weeks prior to trial).

         Here, Yamaha waited eight months after the trial court's July 12, 2018 e-mail ruling to seek mandamus relief, filed the petition only three weeks before trial, and initially offered no explanation for the delay. In its reply brief, Yamaha argues that the e-mail from the court coordinator was not sufficiently clear and specific to be reviewed by mandamus but was, instead, simply an expression of future intent to sign a written order. We disagree. The e-mail states specifically that the judge had granted the motion to strike and, as such, signing an order was merely a ministerial act. See, e.g., Burnett v. Lunceford, 545 S.W.3d 587, 592-93 (Tex. App.- El Paso 2016, pet. denied) ("The court's statements that each motion "is granted" demonstrate an intent to rule as a present act, and the request for Lundy's counsel to draft an order does not reflect that the court intended to rule in the future or that its rulings would not be effective until it signed the order"); see also Greene v. State, 324 S.W.3d 276, 282-83 (Tex. App.-Austin 2010, no ...


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