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Bui v. Dangelas

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

December 31, 2019

THANG BUI AND BACH HAC NGUYEN, Appellants
v.
MAYA DANGELAS, Appellee

          On Appeal from the 152nd District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 2018-55787

          Panel consists of Chief Justice Radack and Justices Landau and Hightower.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Sarah Beth Landau Justice

         This is the second interlocutory appeal Thang Bui and Monique Nguyen have brought to challenge rulings made by the trial court in a defamation suit brought against them by Maya Dangelas. Their first interlocutory appeal challenged the trial court's denial of their motion to dismiss Dangelas's suit under the Texas Citizens Participation Act.[1] After concluding that Dangelas met her burden to make a prima facie showing that Bui and Nguyen's Facebook posts about her were defamatory and made with malice, we affirmed the denial of their TCPA motion. [2]

         This second interlocutory appeal challenges the temporary injunction issued against Bui and Nguyen that required them to delete existing Facebook posts if they either (1) "encourag[ed] that violence be inflicted on [Dangelas] or her family" or (2) provided Dangelas's "address or the addresses of her family members." The temporary injunction states that it issued "to preserve the status quo between the parties pending a trial on the merits" and to protect Dangelas's right to, among other things, "physical safety."

         In four issues, Bui and Nguyen contend the trial court abused its discretion in issuing the temporary injunction. The thrust of their complaint is expressed in the following statement from their appellate brief: "Damages, and not prospective injunctive relief, serve as the constitutionally permitted deterrent in defamation actions." Here, though, the trial court's injunctive order did not grant prospective injunctive relief. And there was evidence of concerns about physical harm in response to the Facebook posts that supported returning the parties to the status quo until the defamatory nature of the posts could be litigated.

         Because the trial court did not abuse its discretion in granting the temporary injunction, we affirm.

         Standard of Review

         A temporary injunction preserves the status quo of litigation's subject matter pending trial on the merits. Butnaru v. Ford Motor Co., 84 S.W.3d 198, 204 (Tex. 2002); Walling v. Metcalfe, 863 S.W.2d 56, 57 (Tex. 1993). A temporary injunction is an extraordinary remedy and does not issue as a matter of right. Butnaru, 84 S.W.3d at 204; Walling, 863 S.W.2d at 57. To obtain a temporary injunction, the applicant must plead and prove three specific elements: (1) a cause of action against the defendant; (2) a probable right to the relief sought; and (3) a probable, imminent, and irreparable injury in the interim. Butnaru, 84 S.W.3d at 204; Walling, 863 S.W.2d at 57. An injury is irreparable if the injured party cannot be adequately compensated in damages or if the damages cannot be measured by any certain pecuniary standard. Butnaru, 84 S.W.3d at 204. Whether to grant or deny a temporary injunction is within a trial court's sound discretion. Id. A reviewing court will reverse an order granting injunctive relief if the trial court abused its discretion. Id.; Walling, 863 S.W.2d at 58.

         Whether the Status Quo was Before or After Bui and Nguyen's Posts were Published

         A temporary injunction does not determine the rights of the parties or the merits of their claims but, instead, merely preserves the status quo until those rights may be determined upon final trial on the merits. Butnaru, 84 S.W.3d at 204; City of San Antonio v. Hamilton, 180 S.W. 160, 162 (Tex. Civ. App.-San Antonio 1915, no writ). The status quo is defined as the last actual, peaceable, noncontested status that preceded the pending controversy. In re Newton, 146 S.W.3d 648, 651 (Tex. 2004). "If an act of one party alters the relationship between that party and another, and the latter contests the action, the status quo cannot be the relationship as it exists after the action." Benavides Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Guerra, 681 S.W.2d 246, 249 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 1984, writ ref'd n.r.e.); Layton v. Ball, 396 S.W.3d 747, 753 (Tex. App.-Tyler 2013, no pet.).

         Bui and Nguyen argue that the moment in time that should be considered the status quo is after they published their Facebook posts, meaning that a temporary injunction could not require the parties to return to positions that pre-dated publication of posts about Dangelas on Facebook. This is similar to the argument rejected in Layton.

         In Layton, the owners of a shooting range challenged an injunction order that restricted their operation of the shooting range, arguing that the status quo was the ongoing operation of the business because it was already in operation when nearby homeowners filed suit to close it. 396 S.W.3d at 754. The shooting range owners' argument erroneously "presupposes that the activity conducted on the date suit was filed necessarily controls the status quo determination." Id. Instead, "the status quo is the last actual, peaceable, noncontested status that preceded the controversy." Id. Just because it may have taken time "before the danger became apparent" and suit was brought, the delay does "not necessarily fix the status quo on the date suit was filed." Id. On appeal, the reviewing court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that "the last actual, peaceable, noncontested status that preceded the controversy was prior to the property's use as a shooting range." Id. Similarly, here, the last actual, peaceable, noncontested status that preceded the controversy between Bui and Nguyen on the one hand and Dangelas on the other was before Bui and Nguyen posted inflammatory accusations about Dangelas on Facebook that evoked responsive posts threatening violence against Dangelas.

         Bui and Nguyen admit they have never met Dangelas. Their connection to her is limited to their having researched her on the internet, developed theories about her political and ideological beliefs and family dynamics, and then espoused those theories online, accusing her of being a Viet Cong operative funneling communist money into the United States to bribe locals, support communist causes, and harm the local Vietnamese-American refugee population. There was peace-in fact, zero connection-between the parties before Bui and Nguyen published their accusations online. And it was their posts that prompted the safety concerns for Dangelas and her children as threats of bodily harm filled their replies. Here, the status quo was the period before Bui and Nguyen's posts were uploaded onto ...


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