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In re Hartley

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

May 24, 2019

IN RE MIKE HARTLEY AND JANIE HARTLEY, Relators

          Original Proceeding from the 193rd Judicial District Court Dallas County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. DC-18-02863

          Before Justices Brown, Schenck, and Reichek

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ADA BROWN JUSTICE

         The issue before the Court in this original proceeding is whether a trial court has the statutory authority to grant a new trial on a Texas Citizens Participation Act ("TCPA") motion to dismiss more than thirty days after the hearing on the motion. Applying this Court's precedent, we conclude the answer is no, and we conditionally grant the writ of mandamus.

         Background

         The underlying proceeding was initiated by Radix Realty, LLC against relators Janie and Mike Hartley ("the Hartleys"). Real party in interest Praveen Panchakarla intervened and later joined in an amended petition. The Hartleys filed a motion to dismiss under the TCPA, and the trial court heard the TCPA motion on February 18, 2019. On February 22, 2019, the trial court signed an order granting the TCPA motion and dismissing the claims asserted against the Hartleys. Panchakarla filed a motion for reconsideration and for new trial on March 22, 2019. On May 6, 2019, the trial court signed an order vacating the February 22 order and denying the Hartleys' TCPA motion.

         In this original proceeding, the Hartleys contend the May 6 order is void because the TCPA prohibits a trial court from ruling on a TCPA motion to dismiss more than thirty days after the trial court hears the TCPA motion. This Court requested a response to the petition for writ of mandamus from Panchakarla and respondent. Panchakarla filed a response. After reviewing the petition, the response, and the mandamus record, we conclude the trial court was without authority to deny the TCPA motion outside the time allowed by statute. As such, the May 6 order is void, and the Hartleys are entitled to the relief requested.

         Availability of Mandamus Relief

         An interlocutory appeal is permitted from the denial of a TCPA motion to dismiss. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. 51.014(a)(12). The Hartleys have filed an interlocutory appeal challenging the merits of the May 6 order. That interlocutory appeal is pending in this Court and docketed as cause number 05-19-00565-CV.

         Mandamus generally issues to correct a clear abuse of discretion or the violation of a duty imposed by law when there is no other adequate remedy at law. In re Prudential Ins. Co., 148 S.W.3d 124, 135-36 (Tex. 2004) (orig. proceeding). Mandamus is also proper, however, if a trial court issues an order beyond its jurisdiction because such an order is void. In re Sw. Bell Tel. Co., 35 S.W.3d 602, 605 (Tex. 2000) (orig. proceeding). For example, mandamus is appropriate when a trial court issues an order after its plenary power has expired. In re Daredia, 317 S.W.3d 247, 250 (Tex. 2010) (orig. proceeding) (per curiam); In re Brookshire Grocery Co., 250 S.W.3d 66, 68-69 (Tex. 2008) (orig. proceeding). When an order is void, the relator need not show he lacks an adequate appellate remedy to obtain mandamus relief. In re Sw. Bell Tel. Co., 35 S.W.3d at 605.

          As our sister court has aptly noted, the TCPA "is directed toward the expeditious dismissal and appeal of suits that are brought to punish or prevent the exercise of certain constitutional rights." Direct Commercial Funding, Inc. v. Beacon Hill Estates, LLC, 407 S.W.3d 398, 401 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2013, no pet.). To effectuate that purpose, we conclude it is appropriate to address the trial court's statutory authority to enter the May 6 order through this original proceeding rather than as a part of the interlocutory appeal.

         Applicable Law

         A trial court must rule on a TCPA motion to dismiss not later than the 30th day following the date of the hearing. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 27.005(a); see Avila v. Larrea, 394 S.W.3d 646, 656 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2012, pet. denied) (statute requires that the court rule on the motion within thirty days of hearing and either dismiss the action or not). If the trial court does not rule on the motion within the time prescribed, the motion is considered denied by operation of law. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 27.008(a); see also Dallas Morning News v. Mapp, No. 05-14-00848-CV, 2015 WL 3932868, at *3 (Tex. App.-Dallas June 26, 2015, no pet.) (mem. op.).

         This Court held in Mapp that a trial court's written order signed forty-one days after the hearing came too late and was void. Mapp, 2015 WL 3932868, at *3. In Mapp, a TCPA motion to dismiss was denied by operation of law and an interlocutory appeal was perfected before the trial court granted the TCPA motion. Id. at *1. This Court rejected the argument that rule 29.5 of the appellate rules permitted the trial court to belatedly rule on the ...


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