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In re 3 Atoms, LLC

Court of Appeals of Texas, Seventh District, Amarillo

August 14, 2019

IN RE 3 ATOMS, LLC AND FUN SPOT MANUFACTURING, LLC, RELATORS

          ORIGINAL PROCEEDING

          Before QUINN, C.J., and CAMPBELL and PARKER, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PER CURIAM.

         Relators 3 Atoms, LLC and Fun Spot Manufacturing, LLC, seek a writ of mandamus compelling respondent, the Honorable Ruben G. Reyes, Judge of the 72nd District Court of Lubbock County, to vacate his order granting a new trial for real party in interest, Billy Gonzales, as next friend of Aidan Zachary Gonzales, a minor. We will conditionally grant mandamus relief.

         Background

         Gonzales brought the underlying lawsuit for personal injuries Aidan sustained at Altitude Trampoline Park in Lubbock. Prior to trial, Gonzales settled with other defendants for the stipulated sum of $960, 991.78.

         The case against relators then proceeded to trial by jury. After three days of testimony, the jury returned a 10-2 verdict that apportioned relators' fault at 15% and awarded Gonzales $500, 000 for past damages and $0 for future non-economic damages, including disfigurement. Because the amount of the settlement credit exceeded the amount awarded, the trial court rendered judgment that Gonzales take nothing.

         In a motion for new trial, Gonzales argued the "jury's award of zero damages for [Aidan's] future disfigurement, mental anguish, physical impairment, and physical pain was too small, and was against the great weight and preponderance of evidence so as to be manifestly unjust, shock the conscience, or clearly demonstrate bias." Relators responded, Gonzales filed a reply, and the trial court conducted a hearing on the motion. Thereafter, the trial court signed an order granting Gonzales's motion and ordering a new trial. Its sole expressed rationale was the jury's failure to award an amount of money for future disfigurement. This original proceeding followed.

         Analysis

         In their first issue, relators argue the trial court clearly abused its discretion by granting a new trial.

         To obtain relief by mandamus the relator must demonstrate (1) the trial court clearly abused its discretion and (2) the relator lacks an adequate remedy by appeal. In re Reece, 341 S.W.3d 360, 364 (Tex. 2011) (orig. proceeding); see In re Bent, 487 S.W.3d 170, 177-78 (Tex. 2016) (orig. proceeding) (even when appeals court conducts a merits-based review of a trial court's rationale for ordering a new trial, the "abuse-of-discretion standard that is familiar and inherent-to-mandamus proceedings" applies). A trial court clearly abuses its discretion if it reaches a decision so arbitrary and unreasonable as to amount to a clear and prejudicial error of law or if it clearly fails to analyze the law correctly or apply the law correctly to the facts. In re Cerberus Capital Mgmt. L.P., 164 S.W.3d 379, 382 (Tex. 2005) (orig. proceeding) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks omitted) (citing Walker v. Packer, 827 S.W.2d 833, 839-40 (Tex. 1992) (orig. proceeding)). If the trial court abuses its discretion in granting a motion for new trial, there is no adequate remedy by appeal and the petitioner is entitled to mandamus relief. In re D.C.P. Operating Co., 07-18-00416-CV, 2019 Tex.App. LEXIS 3441, at *4 (Tex. App.-Amarillo Apr. 29, 2019, orig. proceeding) (mem. op.) (citing In re Columbia Med. Ctr. of Las Colinas, Subsidiary, L.P., 290 S.W.3d 204, 209-10 (Tex. 2009) (orig. proceeding)).

         Trial courts historically have been afforded broad discretion to grant a new trial, but that discretion is not "limitless." In re Columbia, 290 S.W.3d at 210, 213; see Tex. Const. art. 1, § 15 (right to trial by jury "shall remain inviolate"). "Our rules of civil procedure vest trial courts with broad authority to order new trials 'for good cause' and 'when the damages are manifestly too small or too large.'" In re Bent, 487 S.W.3d at 175 (citing Tex.R.Civ.P. 320). But a trial court may not substitute its judgment for that of the jury in granting a new trial. In re Orren, 533 S.W.3d 926, 929 (Tex. App.-Tyler 2017, orig. proceeding).

         A trial court granting a new trial following a jury trial must provide the litigants with "an understandable, reasonably specific explanation" for doing so. In re Bent, 487 S.W.3d at 172-73 (citing In re Columbia, 290 S.W.3d at 213). Generally a trial court satisfies the requirement when its stated reason for granting the new trial is "a reason for which a new trial is legally appropriate" and "is specific enough to indicate that the trial court did not simply parrot a pro forma template, but rather derived the articulated reasons from the particular facts and circumstances of the case at hand." In re United Scaffolding, Inc., 377 ...


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