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In re Casey

Supreme Court of Texas

November 22, 2019

In re Stephen Casey, Relator

          ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS

          PER CURIAM

         Attorney Stephen Casey challenges a trial court order sanctioning him for "misrepresenting" and "not disclosing" legal authority in a motion to designate the real party in interest a vexatious litigant. Casey seeks a writ of mandamus compelling the trial court to either vacate the monetary sanctions order and reinstate the vexatious-litigant designation or defer the sanctions-payment deadline until rendition of an appealable judgment. In Braden v. Downey, we declined to consider the propriety of monetary sanctions by mandamus, holding instead that payment of monetary sanctions must be deferred until rendition of an appealable judgment if (1) the sanctioned party contends immediate payment would impair access to the courts and (2) the trial court does not promptly hold a hearing and make express written findings to the contrary. 811 S.W.2d 922, 929-30 (Tex. 1991). The Braden procedure helps ensure an adequate remedy for an improper sanctions order is available by appeal. Id. at 930. Consistent with Braden, we direct the trial court to modify the sanctions order to defer payment until final judgment is rendered, allowing Casey "an opportunity to appeal before such sanctions must be paid." See id.

         This mandamus proceeding arises in the context of a long-running intra-family dispute over a personal loan Ann Coyle, an attorney licensed in Massachusetts, made to her brother and former sister-in-law, Chad Walker and Alisha Flood. Two previous lawsuits Coyle filed against Walker and Flood were settled by agreed judgment, but a dispute about satisfaction of the agreed judgments resulted in the parties levying new claims against one another.

         Walker and Flood, represented by Casey, sued Coyle for abstracting a judgment fraudulently claiming they were in default. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §§ 12.002 (liability for fraudulent court record or lien or claim against property), 37.001-.011 (Texas Declaratory Judgments Act). Coyle, acting pro se, countersued Walker and Flood and instituted a third-party action against Casey for monetary, declaratory, and equitable relief. Like Walker and Flood, Coyle claimed court documents had been filed fraudulently. She also sought damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress and a declaration that Casey, Walker, and Flood are vexatious litigants as defined in Chapter 11 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §§ 11.001-.104 (vexatious litigants), 37.001-.011 (declaratory judgments). Casey, on his own behalf and for his clients, responded to Coyle's suit with a motion to dismiss her claims as frivolous under Rule 91a and to designate her a vexatious litigant. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §§ 11.001-.104; Tex.R.Civ.P. 91a.

         Texas's vexatious-litigant statute permits a court to designate a plaintiff a vexatious litigant if the defendant proves that (1) in reasonable probability, the plaintiff will not prevail in the case against the defendant and (2) the plaintiff has a history of pro se litigation covered by the statute. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 11.054. The statute defines a history of vexatious litigation as including having commenced, prosecuted, or maintained at least five state or federal civil actions as a pro se litigant in the immediately preceding seven-year period that were:

(1) finally determined adversely to the pro se plaintiff;
(2) remained pending at least two years without having been brought to trial or hearing; or
(3) determined by a trial or appellate court to be frivolous or groundless under state or federal laws or rules of procedure.

Id. §§ 11.001(2), .051, .054.

         Casey presented evidence that, in the preceding seven-year period, Coyle had commenced, prosecuted, or maintained the following pro se actions:

• a federal habeas petition challenging her expired criminal sentence for misdemeanor disorderly conduct and reckless endangerment, which was dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction;
• a Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) proceeding challenging the same expired criminal sentence on the same legal basis, which was dismissed for the same reason;
• a Pennsylvania praecipe for a writ of summons action asserting professional misconduct by an attorney, which was dismissed more than two ...

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