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Tijerina v. Iwuala

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

June 27, 2019


          On appeal from the 430th District Court of Hidalgo County, Texas.

          Before Chief Justice Contreras and Justices Longoria and Perkes



         Appellants Humberto Tijerina III and Tijerina Legal Group, P.C. (collectively Tijerina) appeal from the trial court's order finding that Tijerina had non-suited with prejudice its claims against appellees Jude Iwuala, individually and as next friend of O.I., Iwuala's minor daughter.[1] We reverse and render judgment dismissing without prejudice.

         I. Background

         Appellees were involved in a car accident with a city of Mission employee on September 14, 2013. Shortly after the collision, appellees hired Tijerina to represent them in their suit against the city of Mission, signing a representation and fee agreement. In July of 2015, appellees terminated Tijerina and hired a former employee of Tijerina Law Group, P.C., Daniel Estrada. According to Tijerina, Estrada had been the attorney responsible for appellees' case while employed with Tijerina Law Group, P.C. Subsequently, Estrada prosecuted appellees' lawsuit and ultimately reached a settlement agreement in February of 2017. Because the settlement involved a minor, a friendly suit was set in the trial court to approve the settlement.

         Four days before the settlement approval hearing in the friendly suit, on August 4, 2017, Tijerina filed a petition of intervention alleging breach of contract and a request for attorney's fees against appellees. At the hearing, prior to addressing the settlement agreement, the trial court addressed Tijerina's intervention. Humberto Tijerina, III appeared on behalf of himself and his law firm. Humberto stated that the suit in intervention sought to enforce the original attorney's fee agreement, and expressed his concern over the attorney's fees being received in the underlying settlement. Humberto represented to the trial court that his claim was against appellees and Estrada, though his plea in intervention was solely brought against appellees. When the trial court suggested severing the intervention and allowing the settlement to go forward, the trial court asked Humberto if he was "going to non[-]suit as to the [appellees]," to which Humberto replied: "I will. As I presented to the Court, I have nothing against the clients. It's-it's the way Mr. Estrada handled this whole thing."

         The trial court then severed the intervention and held the hearing on the friendly suit. The trial court approved the settlement amounts; Iwuala's settlement was dispersed directly to him, and his minor daughter's settlement was ordered to be held in the registry of the court until she turns eighteen years old. The trial court ordered that $50, 000 in attorney's fees from Iwuala's settlement be placed in the registry of the court pending the outcome of the intervention; there were no attorney's fees from the minor child's settlement.

         At the conclusion of the friendly suit hearing, the trial court confirmed "that the only claim is going to be between Mr. Tijerina and Mr. Estrada." Humberto and Estrada agreed with the judge, and the trial court approved the representations as a Rule 11 agreement, subsequently stating:

So, the City of Mission is out and it's only-and the minor's claim is out and the adult's claim is out on his portion of the settlement. The only thing that's going to be severed under Cause Number (1) is the intervention between Mr. Tijerina and Mr. Estrada.

         On August 14, 2017, the trial court signed an order to sever which stated: "IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that Intervenor's claims and causes of action against Plaintiffs are hereby SEVERED from this suit and assigned Cause No. C-4158-15-J(1)."

         Estrada, as appellee's counsel, filed a "Motion to Strike and TRCP Rule 13 Sanctions Against Intervenor Humberto Tijerina III" arguing that Humberto intentionally misrepresented his intervention claim to the trial court as a dispute with Estrada rather than with appellees, and he argued that Tijerina's intervention pleadings should be stricken. In response, Tijerina filed a third-party action against Estrada, alleging tortious interference with Tijerina's contract with appellees. Tijerina also filed an arbitration action asserting a breach of contract claim against appellees. Estrada and appellees filed an amended motion to strike.

         Several hearings were held in which the trial court heard: (1) appellees' motion to enforce the trial court's final judgment; (2) appellees' opposition to Tijerina's application for arbitration; (3) appellees' motion for sanctions; (4) Tijerina's motion to compel arbitration; and (5) Tijerina's response to appellees' motions. The trial court then entered an order which stated that Tijerina's petition of intervention "and his alleged claims against [appellees]" were "non-suited with prejudice" during the friendly suit hearing on August 8, 2017. Thus, the trial court denied Tijerina's motion to compel arbitration, and Tijerina was barred from "further prosecution" against appellees on these claims. This appeal followed.

         II.Discus ...

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