by Rachel Stinson, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP

McDaniel v. Meador, No. 01-18-00041-CV, 2019 WL 758321 (Tex. App.— Houston [1st Dist.]  Feb. 21, 2019, no pet.) (mem. op.)

Panel consists of Justices Keyes, Higley, and Landau.
Memorandum Opinion by Justice Higley, issued February 21, 2019.

Where decedent’s Will named “the issue who survive me of those of my children who shall not survive me” among her beneficiaries, extrinsic evidence about decedent’s intent to disinherit her third son and his heirs did not defeat Will’s opening definition of “children” as being all three of decedent’s sons—even though the beneficiary paragraph named only her living two sons as her “children.” Trial court entered declaratory judgment that daughter of the third son was still a beneficiary to decedent’s Will.

In upholding the trial court’s declaratory judgment in favor of the grand-daughter, the panel harmonized any apparent conflict between the Will’s first definition of “children” as all three sons with the second definition listing only two sons, even accounting for testimony from the attorney who drafted the Will about the decedent’s intent to disinherit her third son. The Court supported its construction by noting that both Texas law as well as the ordinary meaning of the phrase would understand “children” to include all three sons—not just the two son’s decedent meant to favor in her Will.

Turner v. Williams, No. 01-17-00494-CV, 2019 WL 922057 (Tex. App.— Houston [1st Dist.]  Feb. 26, 2019, no pet.) (mem. op.)

Panel consisted of Justices Lloyd, Kelly, and Hightower.
Memorandum Opinion by Justice Kelly, issued February 26, 2019.

Trial court properly granted special exceptions on plaintiff’s claims against attorneys due to doctrine of attorney immunity, but the doctrine did not, on its own, merit trial court’s quashing discovery and awarding attorney’s fees to defendants.

This dispute involved a dispute between two ex-wives of the same man. The plaintiff (Ex-Wife #2) filed suit alleging that the defendant (Ex-Wife #1) and defendant’s attorneys had filed fraudulent liens and levies against her separate property in earlier child support arrearage proceedings against their mutual ex-husband. Among plaintiff’s causes of action was a claim for sanctions against defendant and her attorneys. During the lawsuit, the parties signed a Rule 11 agreement confirming they would attempt, in good faith, to narrow the issues in dispute between them, and setting a timeline for dispositive briefing over several months. But just two weeks after signing the Rule 11 agreement, defendant and her lawyers moved to quash discovery, filing motions to strike and special exceptions. The trial court granted the special exceptions as to all of plaintiff’s claims and awarded defendant her attorney’s fees.

On appeal, the panel construed the Rule 11 agreement narrowly, finding it was not “exclusive” and therefore did not prevent the defendant’s special exceptions and discovery motions. Next, although the panel concluded granting the special exceptions on the basis of res judicata and collateral estoppel was improper (because defendant’s special exceptions relied on extrinsic evidence from earlier proceedings not incorporated into the present suit), the panel upheld the special exceptions on the basis of attorney immunity.

But this reasoning did not extend to the dismissal of plaintiff’s claim for sanctions against defendant’s attorneys. Instead, the panel found the claim for sanctions was distinguishable and that “attorney immunity is not, per se, a meritorious reason for dismissal of [a] sanctions motion.” The trial court therefore erred by dismissing plaintiff’s claim for sanctions without first allowing plaintiff an opportunity to re-plead some factual basis for the imposition of sanctions that was cognizable in law. Similarly, the trial court also abused its discretion by quashing discovery when the defendant’s motion to quash failed to challenge any particular discovery request, only pointing to the doctrine of attorney immunity and arguing that “no discovery of any kind is proper,” and by awarding attorney’s fees to defendant.