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Torres v. The Continental Apartments

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

May 21, 2019

RUTH TORRES, Appellant
v.
THE CONTINENTAL APARTMENTS, ALL CITIES TOWING INC., AND CITY VEHICLE STORAGE INC., Appellees

          On Appeal from the County Court at Law No. 4 Dallas County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. CC-17-03695-D

          Before Justices Whitehill, Partida-Kipness, and Pedersen, III

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ROBBIE PARTIDA-KIPNESS, JUSTICE

         Appellant Ruth Torres appeals pro se from the trial court's final ruling entered in appellees' favor. We affirm. Because the issues are settled in law, we issue this memorandum opinion. See Tex.R.App.P. 47.4.

         BACKGROUND

         On June 4, 2017, appellant Ruth Torres's car was towed when she parked in front of the loading dock of appellee The Continental Apartments. The car was towed by appellee All Cities Towing, Inc. and stored at appellee City Vehicle Storage, Inc. Torres filed a Request for Tow Hearing which included the following allegations: (1) she was charged more for her tow than what is legally authorized; (2) property management failed to provide reasonable parking options due to safety reasons; (3) property management failed to provide communication to address a change in common parking practice at the dock; and (4) property management failed to provide notice or warning that she could be towed when she only planned to be there a few minutes. A hearing was held pursuant to Chapter 2308 of the Texas Occupations Code before the Justice of the Peace Court (JP court) and the court entered findings that: (1) probable cause existed for the removal and placement of the vehicle in the storage lot; (2) the towing charge and storage fee was authorized and just; (3) Torres's payment of the tow fee was just and owing; and (4) Torres was responsible for court costs. Torres appealed the JP court's decision to the County Court of Law No. 4.

         In county court, Torres filed a motion to protect and compel discovery and appearance. Torres asked the court to compel appellees to produce documents, video recordings, and witnesses. In response, the county court entered an order which narrowed the scope of the discovery and limited the number of trial subpoenas. Torres then filed a motion to amend and sought to add claims alleging violations of section 2308.401 and 2308.402 of the Texas Occupations Code against Continental and All Cities Towing. The county court denied Torres's motion to amend. Torres also filed a motion for contempt which alleged that appellees failed to respond to her discovery requests. Torres then filed a motion for sanctions due to spoliation which alleged that Continental failed to preserve the recording of the tow. Prior to conducting the administrative tow hearing, the county court heard Torres's motion for spoliation and the county court denied the motion.

         Following the hearing, the county court concluded in its Final Ruling/Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law that the tow was not illegal. In addition, the county court found as follows: (1) there was signage all over the loading dock area informing drivers that towing was enforced and the length of time that Torres intended to park there was irrelevant; (2) there was probable cause for Torres's car to be towed; (3) reasonable parking options existed and there were no legitimate safety concerns that warranted parking in front of the dumpsters; (4) towing at the Continental was enforced for years; (5) Torres's payment of the tow, impoundment and storage fees was justified; (6) All Cities Towing and City Vehicle Storage are properly licensed; (7) there is no evidence that Torres was charged towing or storage fees greater than what is authorized; and (8) Torres was liable to defendants for their attorney's fees and court costs. Torres then filed this appeal.

         ANALYSIS

         In fives issues, Torres appears to argue as follows: (1) the county court erred by not finding that the violations of the Texas Occupations Code made the tow illegal: (2) the county court erred in finding probable cause for the towing under the Texas Occupations Code; (3) the county court erred in failing to find violations of the Texas Property Code; and (4) the county court abused its discretion in denying the motion to amend, limiting discovery, preventing testimony and awarding attorney's fees.[1]

         A. Standard of Review

         Our review of the trial court's conclusions of law is de novo. See Burlington N. and Santa Fe. Ry. Co. v. City of Houston, 171 S.W.3d 240, 245 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2005, no pet.).

         The standard of review of denial of leave to amend is abuse of discretion. See Austin v. Countrywide Homes Loans, 261 S.W.3d 68, 75 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2008, pet. denied). A trial court abuses its discretion when it reaches a result so arbitrary and unreasonable that it amounts to a clear and prejudicial error of law. Id.

         The abuse of discretion standard also applies to the trial court's decisions regarding discovery and attorney's fees. See Bituminous Cas. Corp. v. Cleveland, 223 S.W.3d 485, 490 (Tex. App.-Amarillo 2006, no pet.) ("[T]he abuse of discretion standard applies in reviewing the ruling of the trial court regarding a discovery question."); RSL Funding, LLC v. Aegon Structured Settlements, Inc., 384 S.W.3d 405, 409 (Tex. App.-Eastland 2012, pet. ...


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