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In re Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

June 6, 2019

IN RE HOUSTON LIVESTOCK SHOW AND RODEO, INC., Relator

          Original Proceeding on Petition for Writ of Mandamus

          Panel consists of Justices Lloyd, Landau, and Countiss.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Russell Lloyd, Justice.

         Relator, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, Inc. (HLSR), has filed a petition for a writ of mandamus, challenging the trial court's order granting a Motion to Consolidate/Transfer HLSR's declaratory judgment suit from one Harris County district court to another Harris County district court. The defendant in the declaratory judgment action and the real party in interest is Dolcefino Communications, LLC, doing business as Dolcefino Consulting (Dolcefino).[1] In its sole issue, HLSR contends that the trial court abused its discretion in granting the motion and HLSR is entitled to relief because it does not have an adequate remedy by appeal. We conditionally grant the petition.

         Background

         Brie Ana Williams filed suit, in Harris County district court, against HLSR, two individuals, and the Los Vaqueros Rio Grande Trail Ride Association, seeking damages arising from a sexual assault at a trail ride event (the "personal injury suit"). The personal injury suit was assigned to the 334th District Court of Harris County and docketed as cause number 2017-19367.

         Williams retained Dolcefino "as an investigative consultant." On March 23, 2018, Dolcefino sent to HLSR, in correspondence that made no reference to the personal injury suit, "a formal request to inspect and if desired obtain copies of records" under section 22.353 of the Texas Business Organizations Code.[2] Dolcefino requested "[a] searchable ledger detailing payments made to any security company" from January 1, 2012 through December 31, 2013, and January 1, 2017 through the present; and "PDF copies of documents detailing any payments made to settle any litigation involving harassment or assault, redacted to exclude any information made confidential under state law, between January 1, 2012 through the present." During the next several months, Dolcefino also requested inspection of other financial records and documents, including:

• "[f]inancial records detailing the purchase of all furniture since January 1, 2016";
• "[f]inancial records" detailing expenditures for travel and entertainment since January 1, 2016";
• "[f]inancial records detailing the prizes and awards for Champion livestock at the Rodeo for the last two years, including the payments to the winners, and documents detailing the use of all remaining proceeds";
• "financial records detailing the purchase of any services or materials or anything of value from any Board Members as identified in 990 tax returns since January 1, 2015";
• "[s]alaries and compensation of all current rodeo officers and employees";
• "[d]ocuments detailing any complaints of sexual harassment or sexual assault from Jan. 1, 2013 to the present";
• "[d]ocuments detailing all employees terminated from Jan. 1, 2013 to the present"; and
• "[d]ocuments detailing all expenditures on travel and entertainment from Jan. 1, 2013 to the present."

         After Dolcefino sent his initial request, HLSR moved for a protective order in the 334th District Court where the personal injury suit was pending, contending that "[n]one of the permissible forms of discovery includ[ed] a public inspection request to a non-profit institution." HLSR asserted that Williams was "attempting to circumvent" the discovery rules "by abusing" section 22.353 and "having [Dolcefino] obtain certain financial documents of HLSR outside allowable discovery," and Dolcefino was "attempting to obtain information that [Williams] would not be entitled to obtain through the normal course of discovery and use such information in the instant lawsuit and to create negative publicity in an effort to prejudice HLSR." The trial court denied HLSR's motion.

         Dolcefino also filed a verified Complaint of Violations of Chapter 22-Texas Business Organizations Code with the Harris County District Attorney's Office stating that, on March 23, 2018, Dolcefino "filed a request for information with [HLSR] under Chapter 22 of the Texas Business Organizations Code," and HLSR "then filed a protective order in a current civil litigation to withhold records sought." The complaint also stated ...


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