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Dallas County Republican Party v. Dallas County Democratic Party

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

August 26, 2019

DALLAS COUNTY REPUBLICAN PARTY AND MISSY SHOREY AS DALLAS COUNTY REPUBLICAN PARTY CHAIR, Appellants
v.
DALLAS COUNTY DEMOCRATIC PARTY AND CAROL DONOVAN AS DALLAS COUNTY DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIR, Appellees

          On Appeal from the 14th Judicial District Court Dallas County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. DC-18-00821-A

          Before Justices Schenck, Osborne, and Reichek

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          DAVID J. SCHENCK, JUSTICE

         Appellants challenge the trial court's decision to dismiss their claims with prejudice and award attorney's fees to appellees. In three issues, appellants argue the trial court erred in concluding a political party lacks standing to sue another political party for injunctive relief against a violation of the election code; dismissing appellants' cause of action under rule 91a; and awarding appellees their attorney's fees. For the reasons discussed below, we reverse the portion of the trial court's order awarding attorney's fees. Because all issues are settled in law, we issue this memorandum opinion. Tex.R.App.P. 47.4.

         Background

         On January 19, 2018, appellants Dallas County Republican Party and Missy Shorey as Dallas County Republican Party Chair filed suit against appellees Dallas County Democratic Party and Carol Donovan as the Dallas County Democratic Party Chair, challenging appellees' certification of over one hundred Democratic candidates' applications for a place on the Democratic Primary Ballot. In their petition, appellants alleged Donovan, as party chair, failed to properly certify the challenged candidates for inclusion on the primary ballot in violation of sections 141.037 and 172.029 of the election code. See Tex. Elec. Code Ann. §§ 141.037, 172.029. Appellants sought to enjoin appellees from including challenged candidates on the Democratic Primary Ballot and the General Election Ballot. Appellants also sought to enjoin appellees from declaring any of the challenged candidates administratively ineligible and replacing them with candidates of Donovan's choice so as to avoid a ruling in favor of appellants on the merits.

         On January 24, appellees filed an answer that denied appellants' allegations and raised numerous affirmative defenses, as well as a motion to abate to allow joinder of all challenged candidates, the Texas Secretary of State, and the Dallas County Elections Administrator. The same day, appellees filed a plea to the jurisdiction, alleging the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction for the following reasons: appellants lacked standing to challenge the eligibility of any Democratic candidates; appellants' claims were moot because absentee balloting began the day after appellants filed suit; and lack of justiciable controversy because Dallas County Democratic Party lacks any power over the ballots and thus declarative relief would have no legal effect and injunctive relief would similarly be unavailable. Appellees also filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to rule 91a of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, alleging three grounds: appellants' claims became moot when absentee balloting began on January 20; the Dallas County Republican Party lacked standing to challenge eligibility of another party's candidates; and the election code does not impose any signature requirement as alleged by appellants as the basis for relief.

         On February 22, appellees filed an amended motion to dismiss pursuant to rule 91a, in which they alleged appellants' suit should be dismissed because:

(1) the Dallas County Republican Party lacked standing to challenge eligibility of another party's candidates;
(2) all of the Dallas County Republican Party's claims for relief in the primary election were moot;
(3) the Dallas County Republican Party's claims regarding any signature requirement ignored new regulations implemented by the Texas Secretary of State, rendering them incorrect; and
(4) even assuming allegations in pleadings were correct, Texas Supreme Court precedent required remedy of elimination of errors, not candidates.

         Additionally, several of the challenged candidates filed pleas in intervention in this case, including Margaret Jones-Johnson ("Intervenor Jones-Johnson"). Intervenor Jones-Johnson filed an amended plea in intervention and plea to the jurisdiction in which she sought dismissal of appellants' claims on similar grounds as appellees, including mootness, standing, and lack of violation of the election code.

         On April 20, the trial court conducted a hearing on the motion to dismiss and plea to the jurisdiction, and on April 23, the trial court signed an order granting both without indicating on which ground or grounds the court was granting the motion. The April 23 order further stated an award of costs and attorney's fees was mandatory pursuant to rule 91a, ordered appellees to submit evidence on attorney's fees no later than April 30, and ordered appellants to submit objections or present "further pertinent evidence" no later than May 7. On May 7, the trial court signed a Final Judgment Including Award of Attorney's Fees in which it awarded fees to the Dallas County Democratic Party and Intervenor Jones-Johnson, sustained the plea to the jurisdiction, and granted the 91a motion to dismiss. Late the night of May 7, appellants filed a response to appellees' request for attorney's fees and objections to evidence appellees presented on attorney's fees, and an objection to the trial court's ruling on attorney's fees before the ordered deadline of May 7 had elapsed. On May 8, the trial court signed an order in which it considered appellants' objection to the timing of the ruling as a motion for reconsideration and set the motion for hearing on May 14. On May 14, the trial court signed an order overruling appellants' objection and "affirming" the final ...


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