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In re Fraudulent Hospital Lien Litigation

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

December 19, 2019

IN RE FRAUDULENT HOSPITAL LIEN LITIGATION

          On Petition for Writ of Mandamus.

          Before Chief Justice Contreras and Justices Hinojosa and Tijerina

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JAIME TIJERINA JUSTICE [1]

         Relators, plaintiffs in a multidistrict litigation (MDL) proceeding filed a petition for writ of mandamus and emergency motion in these causes on October 22, 2019. Through this original proceeding, relators seek to compel the MDL pretrial court[2] to comply with the automatic stay provided by § 51.014(b) of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 51.014(b). We conditionally grant the petition for writ of mandamus.

         I. Background

         This case arises from an MDL proceeding regarding claims that certain medical liens filed pursuant to the Texas Property Code were fraudulent. See Tex. Prop. Code Ann. §§ 55.001-.008 (governing hospital and emergency medical services liens). Plaintiffs below and relators herein are former emergency room patients who assert that they were injured in accidents caused by the negligence of third parties. They allege that the real parties in interest[3] filed fraudulent hospital liens to collect payment for the medical services provided to the relators. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 12.002 (providing for civil liability related to "a fraudulent court record or a fraudulent lien or claim against real or personal property or an interest in real or personal property"). In the MDL proceeding, some of the real parties in interest filed multiple and/or consolidated motions to dismiss the relators' claims against them under the Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA). See id. §§ 27.001-.011. The MDL pretrial court ultimately denied TCPA motions to dismiss in two cases, resulting in two interlocutory appeals currently pending in this Court in cause numbers 13-19-00461- CV and 13-19-00462-CV. The MDL pretrial court thereafter continued to set and conduct hearings on other pending TCPA motions to dismiss.

         This original proceeding ensued. Relators contend that the MDL pretrial court has "refused to honor" the automatic stay of all other proceedings pending in the MDL. By two issues, relators contend that: (1) the stay of proceedings imposed by § 51.014(b) after the pending interlocutory appeals were filed applies to proceedings "in all other individual cases consolidated for pretrial in an MDL where the issues of fact and law common to all related cases" are pending review by interlocutory appeal, and (2) the MDL pretrial court abused its discretion by conducting a hearing on October 16, 2019, on TCPA motions to dismiss "seeking dismissal of 868 consolidated cases, and by setting an additional 26 TCPA Motions to Dismiss in 868 consolidated cases, setting the stage for a total of 44 interlocutory appeals in 868 individual consolidated cases to this Court."

         Relators sought emergency relief in connection with these original proceedings. By order issued on October 23, 2019, this Court granted relators' emergency motions for stay in the instant original proceedings, and we ordered the MDL pretrial court to stay all pending matters in that court. On October 28, 2019, the real parties in interest filed motions in these original proceedings requesting that we reconsider our October 23, 2019 order and lift the stay, or alternatively, that we clarify our October 23, 2019 order. We denied the real parties' motions to lift the stay and granted their motions for reconsideration. We clarified that all proceedings in these causes were stayed "and remain on hold including legal deadlines applicable to any party pending further order of the Court or resolution of these original proceedings." See Tex. R. App. P. 52.10(b) ("Unless vacated or modified, an order granting temporary relief is effective until the case is finally decided."); In re Geomet Recycling LLC, 578 S.W.3d 82, 91 (Tex. 2019) (orig. proceeding) (explaining that § 51.014(b) "contains no exceptions to its mandatory stay of 'all other proceedings in the trial court pending resolution of that appeal'").

         This Court further requested that the real parties in interest, or any others whose interest would be directly affected by the relief sought, file a response to the petition for writ of mandamus in these causes. See Tex. R. App. P. 52.4, 52.8. MedData, Inc. filed a response, as did McAllen Hospitals, L.P., Universal Health Services, Inc., and UHS Delaware, Inc. Russell DeVore and Douglas Turek filed a joinder in these responses.

         II. Mandamus

         Mandamus is an extraordinary remedy issued at the discretion of the court. In re Garza, 544 S.W.3d 836, 840 (Tex. 2018) (orig. proceeding) (per curiam). To obtain relief by writ of mandamus, a relator must establish that an underlying order is void or is a clear abuse of discretion and there is no adequate appellate remedy. In re Nationwide Ins. Co. of Am., 494 S.W.3d 708, 712 (Tex. 2016) (orig. proceeding); see In re Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 148 S.W.3d 124, 135-36 (Tex. 2004) (orig. proceeding); Walker v. Packer, 827 S.W.2d 833, 839-40 (Tex. 1992) (orig. proceeding).

         An abuse of discretion occurs when a trial court's ruling is arbitrary and unreasonable or is made without regard for guiding legal principles or supporting evidence. In re Nationwide Ins. Co. of Am., 494 S.W.3d at 712; Ford Motor Co. v. Garcia, 363 S.W.3d 573, 578 (Tex. 2012). We determine the adequacy of an appellate remedy by balancing the benefits of mandamus review against the detriments. In re Essex Ins. Co., 450 S.W.3d 524, 528 (Tex. 2014) (orig. proceeding); In re Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 148 S.W.3d at 136.

         III. Analysis

         The Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code provides for an interlocutory appeal of an order that denies a motion to dismiss filed under the TCPA. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. ยง 51.04(a)(12). Section 51.014(b) provides that an interlocutory appeal of such an order stays the commencement of a trial pending resolution of the appeal and "also stays all other ...


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