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In re Geomet Recycling LLC

Supreme Court of Texas

June 14, 2019

In re Geomet Recycling LLC, Richard Goldberg, Kenneth Goldberg, Josh Applebaum, Alicia McKinney, Eloisa Medina, Lee Wakser, Spencer Lieman, Mikel Shecht, Laura Myers, Henry Jackson, and Kelly Couch, Relators

          Argued March 12, 2019

          ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS

          OPINION

          James D. Blacklock Justice

         During certain interlocutory appeals, section 51.014(b) of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code "stays the commencement of a trial in the trial court pending resolution of the appeal." Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 51.014(b). For a subset of these interlocutory appeals, including appeals from the denial of a motion to dismiss under the Texas Citizens Participation Act ("TCPA"), section 51.014(b) "also stays all other proceedings in the trial court pending resolution of that appeal." Id. In this case, while an interlocutory TCPA appeal was pending, the court of appeals granted the appellees' motion to lift the stay "for the limited purpose of allowing the trial court to conduct a hearing on appellees' request for temporary injunction and motion for contempt." The appellant filed a petition for writ of mandamus in this Court, arguing that by authorizing further trial court action the court of appeals' order violates the statutory stay of "all other proceedings in the trial court." For the reasons explained below, we conclude that the court of appeals' order violates the statutory stay and that the relator has no adequate remedy by appeal. We therefore conditionally grant the mandamus petition.

         I. Background

         The relators are Geomet Recycling LLC, a scrap metal recycling business, and several affiliated individuals (collectively "Geomet"). The real parties in interest are EMR (USA Holdings) Inc., also a scrap metal recycling business, and affiliated entities (collectively "EMR"). In mid-2017, some of EMR's employees left EMR to start Geomet, a competing company. A few months later, EMR sued Geomet for trade secret misappropriation, breach of fiduciary duty, and related claims. EMR alleged that Geomet was unlawfully using EMR's trade secrets to advance its new business. Early in the case, the trial court issued a temporary restraining order directing Geomet not to use EMR's trade secrets and confidential information.

         Geomet filed a motion to dismiss under the TCPA. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 27.003. The trial court ordered limited discovery on the motion. Meanwhile, EMR moved for contempt, alleging that Geomet was violating the TRO. EMR also moved for a temporary injunction. The trial court set EMR's contempt motion for a hearing. Before that hearing, the parties signed an agreed scheduling order that delayed both the contempt hearing and the temporary-injunction hearing. The scheduling order provided for additional continuances of the contempt and temporary-injunction hearings in case of an interlocutory appeal on Geomet's TCPA motion to dismiss. The order stated:

In the event that the Court denies [Geomet's] TCPA Motion To Dismiss, in whole or in part, and [Geomet] files an interlocutory appeal of the Court's denial . . . the Parties have agreed to extend, and shall extend, the Court's TRO . . . . The Parties hereby agree that the automatic stay under Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Section 51.014(b) (the "Statutory Stay") shall be partially waived for the sole and limited purpose of allowing the Parties to sign, and the Court to enter, one or more agreed extensions of the TRO and Temporary Injunction hearing, as provided in this Order, to maintain the TRO in place until the time of the Temporary Injunction hearing. Otherwise, the Statutory Stay shall be in effect per its terms and applicable case law.

         The trial court denied Geomet's TCPA motion to dismiss. Geomet took an interlocutory appeal pursuant to section 51.014(a)(12) of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code. That appeal triggered a stay of "all other proceedings in the trial court pending resolution of that appeal." Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 51.014(b). Less than three weeks after Geomet filed its notice of appeal, EMR filed a motion in the court of appeals requesting the stay be lifted so the trial court could entertain EMR's request for a temporary injunction and its motion for contempt. EMR argued that while section 51.014(b) prohibits a trial court from conducting proceedings on its own, it does not deprive a court of appeals of authority to lift the stay for a limited purpose. Geomet opposed the motion. The court of appeals sided with EMR and issued an order lifting the statutory stay "for the limited purpose of allowing the trial court to conduct a hearing on appellees' request for temporary injunction and motion for contempt." Geomet's mandamus petition to this Court challenges the court of appeals' order lifting the stay for a limited purpose.

         II. Analysis

         Section 51.014(b) of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code provides:

An interlocutory appeal under Subsection (a), other than an appeal under Subsection (a)(4) or in a suit brought under the Family Code, stays the commencement of a trial in the trial court pending resolution of the appeal. An interlocutory appeal under Subsection (a)(3), (5), (8), or (12) also stays all other proceedings in the trial court pending resolution of that appeal.

(emphasis added). Because Geomet's appeal of the denial of its TCPA motion is "[a]n interlocutory appeal under Subsection . . . (12)," the appeal automatically resulted in a stay of "all other proceedings in the trial court." Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 51.014(b). The parties do not dispute this. The dispute concerns whether and to what extent the court of appeals may lift the statutory stay during the appeal.

         Our analysis of that question begins with the statutory text imposing the stay. Entergy Gulf States, Inc. v. Summers, 282 S.W.3d 433, 445 (Tex 2009) (Hecht, J, concurring) ("Ascertaining the meaning of a statutory text (or any text for that matter) begins with the language used, and if that language is plain enough, absent some obvious error or an absurd result, that is where the task ends."). Other than certain timing provisions in section 51.014(c), which are not applicable here, the statute itself contains no exceptions to its mandatory stay of "all other proceedings in the trial court pending resolution of that appeal." Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 51.014(b). Neither section 51.014 nor any other statute to which we are directed authorizes a court of appeals to lift the stay, whether altogether or for a limited purpose. It is not our place to "judicially amend the statute to add an exception not implicitly contained in the language of the statute." Fitzgerald v. Advanced Spine Fixation Sys., Inc., 996 S.W.2d 864, 867 (Tex. 1999). And "[w]e have no right to engraft upon the statute any conditions or provisions not placed there by the legislature." Iliff v. Iliff, 339 S.W.3d 74, 80-81 (Tex. 2011). Courts cannot add equitable or practical exceptions to section 51.014(b) that the legislature did not see fit to enact. The statute creates a clear and definite rule, and its text admits of no exceptions to that rule.[1] The stay is of "all other proceedings in the trial court," and the text dictates that the stay lasts until "resolution of th[e] appeal," not until the court of appeals lifts the stay. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code ยง 51.014(b) (emphasis added). Here, the court of appeals' order lifted the stay only for a limited purpose, but the statute contains no indication that courts ...


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