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Hagood v. Pisharodi

Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg

December 12, 2019


          On appeal from the 404th District Court of Cameron County, Texas.

          Before Chief Justice Contreras and Justices Hinojosa and Tijerina



         Appellants Gene S. Hagood and William G. Neumann, individually and d/b/a Hagood & Neumann, appeal the trial court's order setting aside a 2013 judgment in favor of appellants' clients in a medical malpractice suit. Appellants argue: (1) their clients had capacity to assert their claims; (2) appellee Madhavan Pisharodi, M.D., P.A., d/b/a Pisharodi Clinic (Pisharodi), waived his challenge to the plaintiffs' capacity to bring the underlying suit; (3) appellants own an equitable interest in the 2013 judgment; and (4) the trial court erred by concluding the 2013 judgment was void and by refusing to compel post-judgment discovery from Pisharodi. We reverse and remand.

         I. Background

         Appellants represented Mario Saldana, Nancy Lamas, and Jesus Lamas (the plaintiffs) in a lawsuit arising from the 2007 treatment and subsequent death of Micaela Lamas, the plaintiffs' mother. According to their petition, on or about October 29, 2007, Pisharodi performed an epidural steroid injection to treat Micaela's lower back pain. However, complications arose during her recovery. Micaela was diagnosed with severe anoxic brain injury, and she died intestate on November 3, 2007.

         The underlying suit, alleging both survival and wrongful death claims, was filed on May 7, 2009. Pisharodi filed a plea in abatement alleging that the plaintiffs lacked capacity to bring a survival claim because they had not been appointed as personal representatives of Micaela's estate. The plaintiffs responded that they have capacity to sue on behalf of the estate because they are Micaela's only natural heirs and because no estate administration was necessary. The trial court denied Pisharodi's plea in abatement and the case proceeded to jury trial. The jury found Pisharodi sixty percent liable, and it found that Micaela would be fairly and reasonably compensated by $175, 000 for medical expenses and $12, 000 for funeral and burial expenses.[1] See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 71.021 (survival statute). The jury did not award any damages to the plaintiffs in their individual capacities under the wrongful death statute. See id. § 71.002 (wrongful death statute). The trial court rendered judgment on the verdict on September 25, 2013; we affirmed; and the Texas Supreme Court denied review. See Pisharodi v. Saldana, No. 13-13-00721-CV, 2015 WL 7352301, at *1 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi- Edinburg Nov. 19, 2015, pet. denied) (mem. op.).

         At some point after our mandate issued, the plaintiffs-independently of appellants-entered into a settlement agreement with Pisharodi.[2] In accordance with the settlement agreement, on February 18, 2016, plaintiff Saldana filed a pro se "Motion For Nonsuit With Prejudice" stating that he and the other plaintiffs "no longer desire to prosecute this suit against [Pisharodi]." Appellants moved to strike the "Motion For Nonsuit With Prejudice," arguing that the plaintiffs had no right to non-suit their claims because final judgment had already been rendered. Appellants noted that they had a contingency fee agreement with the plaintiffs, and they argued that they therefore own an equitable interest in the 2013 judgment. The trial court granted the motion to strike Saldana's non-suit.

         On March 8, 2016, appellants filed a petition in intervention asking "that their ownership interest in the Judgment be protected" and that they "recover from Defendants and Plaintiffs their interest in said Judgment." Pisharodi moved to strike the plea in intervention, arguing that, although the 2013 judgment had become final, appellants lack a justiciable interest in the case. The court denied Pisharodi's motion to strike the plea in intervention.

         Appellants then filed a motion to compel post-judgment discovery, seeking to identify Pisharodi's executable assets in an attempt to enforce the 2013 judgment. Pisharodi filed a motion for protective order. A hearing on both motions was set for September 20, 2017. That day, Pisharodi filed a response to the motion to compel stating that he was represented by new counsel and that, "[b]ased on the advice of new counsel," he "bring[s] this response raising a collateral attack on the underlying judgment, which would void the judgment and relieve [Pisharodi] entirely from any further collection efforts." Pisharodi alleged in particular that the 2013 judgment is void because the plaintiffs were not appointed as personal representatives of Micaela's estate.

         Following the hearing, the trial court signed an order on November 9, 2017, denying appellants' motion to compel and "granting in part defendants' collateral attack on the judgment." The order stated:

1. After a jury trial in the above styled cause, the jury awarded no damages to the heirs of Micaela Lamas under the wrongful death statute;
2. The jury awarded $187, 000 in medical expenses and funeral expenses to the deceased, Micaela Lamas;
3. Although Plaintiffs' Third Amended Original Petition states that no probate estate was necessary, there is no evidence in the final judgment that the Court reached a final determination on that issue;
4. Notwithstanding Intervenor's argument that Defendants waived their right to object that no probate case was filed or that one was necessary, the final judgment on its face is written for the benefit of the Estate of Micaela Lamas as follows:
"Based on the foregoing, the Court is of the opinion that Judgment should be rendered in favor of Plaintiffs, Mario Saldana, Nancy Lamas and Jesus Lamas, as representatives of the estate of Micaela Lamas, deceased, against [Pisharodi], as set for [sic] below."
5. There is no evidence before the Court that a probate case was ever established and/or filed and due to the passage of time (statute of limitations), there is no evidence before the Court that indicates that one can be established and/or filed in the future;
6. Intervenor's contingency fee contract with the heirs of Micaela Lamas was signed in their individual capacity. There is no evidence of a contractual ...

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