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Crawford v. Davis

Court of Appeals of Texas, Eleventh District

May 16, 2019

TRINITY D. CRAWFORD, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF PRECISION FRAC, LLC, BLUE GOLD ENERGY, LLC, BLUE GOLD ENERGY BARSTOW, LLC, AND KARMIC ENERGY, LLC; CHAD A. CARSON, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF PRECISION FRAC, LLC, BLUE GOLD ENERGY, LLC, BLUE GOLD ENERGY BARSTOW, LLC, AND KARMIC ENERGY, LLC; KALEE VANMETER; AND DONNIE SEBURG, Appellants/Cross-Appellees
v.
JARROD E. DAVIS A/K/A JARED E. DAVIS, Appellee/Cross-Appellant

          On Appeal from the 142nd District Court Midland County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. CV54756

          Panel consists of: Bailey, C.J., Stretcher, J., and Wright, S.C.J. [2]

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KEITH STRETCHER, JUSTICE.

         This appeal arises from the trial court's partial denial of Appellants' TCPA[1] motion to dismiss and presents us with an unusual situation-neither Appellants nor Appellee request that we affirm the trial court's order. Instead, both Appellants and Appellee ask that we render judgment vacating the attorney's fees awarded to Appellee and remand the cause to the trial court for a determination of the attorney's fees and sanctions to be awarded to Appellants. Furthermore, although Appellants and Appellee disagree on whether the trial court erred in partially denying Appellants' TCPA motion to dismiss, Appellee nonetheless asks that we dismiss with prejudice the contested claims underlying this appeal pursuant to Appellants' TCPA motion to dismiss. Thus, because both parties seek the same relief, we reverse.

         Background Facts

         Appellants, Trinity D. Crawford, Chad A. Carson, Kalee VanMeter, and Donnie Seburg, together with Appellee, Jarrod E. Davis a/k/a Jared E. Davis, were co-owners and business partners of multiple companies. After the relationship between Appellee and Appellants deteriorated, Appellants alleged that Appellee began using company credit cards and funds to finance purchases of personal vehicles, fund a gambling habit, and pay down personal credit card debt. Consequently, Appellants asserted multiple causes of action against Appellee for misappropriating company funds, including claims for breach of duty and self-dealing. Appellants sought, among other things, restitution, damages, and an injunction against Appellee.

         Appellee counterclaimed and asserted claims against Appellants for the following: abuse of process; wrongful injunction; malicious prosecution; tortious interference with a contract; tortious interference with business relations; defamation; business disparagement; civil conspiracy; breach of fiduciary duty; conversion; and theft. Appellee alleged that Appellants defamed him and attempted to deprive him of business opportunities out of a personal vendetta against him.

         In response, Appellants filed a motion under the TCPA to dismiss Appellee's counterclaims for abuse of process, wrongful injunction, malicious prosecution, tortious interference with a contract, tortious interference with business relations, defamation, business disparagement, and conspiracy. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 27.003 (West 2015). Appellants did not move to dismiss Appellee's claims for breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, or theft.

         Following a hearing, the trial court partially granted Appellants' TCPA motion to dismiss but denied the motion with regards to Appellee's claims for wrongful injunction, tortious interference with a contract, and tortious interference with business relations. The trial court also awarded attorney's fees to both Appellants and Appellee in the amount of $5, 000 but declined to assess sanctions against Appellee.

         Both Appellants and Appellee appealed the trial court's order on Appellants' TCPA motion to dismiss. As required by the TCPA, Appellee's non-contested counterclaims (fiduciary duty, conversion, and theft) were automatically stayed pending the outcome of this appeal. See id. § 27.003(c).

         Analysis

         Appellants bring six issues on appeal. In their first three issues, Appellants argue that the trial court erred in denying their TCPA motion to dismiss Appellee's counterclaims for wrongful injunction, tortious interference with a contract, and tortious interference with a business relation. In their fourth and fifth issues, Appellants argue that the trial court erred in determining and awarding attorney's fees to Appellants and Appellee. Lastly, in their sixth issue, Appellants argue that the trial court erred in failing to impose sanctions against Appellee as required by the TCPA.

         In response, Appellee has advanced an unusual request-he asks us to rule against him. Specifically, Appellee has foregone addressing Appellants' issues on appeal and has instead requested that we (1) enter an order requiring Appellee to nonsuit with prejudice the contested causes of action, (2) vacate the attorney's fees awarded Appellee by the trial court, and (3) remand this cause to the trial court for a determination of Appellants' proper attorney's fees and sanctions. While Appellee does not concede that the trial court erred in partially denying Appellants' TCPA motion to dismiss, Appellee argues that he is being harmed by the TCPA's automatic stay. Thus, Appellee wishes to withdraw his contested claims so that litigation may proceed on the "non-contested claims" currently stayed at the trial level.

         Notwithstanding Appellee's request, Appellants argue that they are entitled to a ruling on the merits of their claims and stress that ordering Appellee to nonsuit would not afford Appellants the same relief that a dismissal with prejudice would. However, a closer look at Appellee's brief reveals that he wishes to "dismiss, with prejudice, all . . . contested claims," and Appellee clarified at oral argument that the contested claims should be dismissed with prejudice. Thus, Appellee has agreed that his counterclaims ...


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