Texas Causes of Action & Affirmative Defenses

Texas Causes of Action & Affirmative Defenses

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Standard for Imposition of Sanctions (TRCP 13) - Presumption of good faith pleading

SANCTIONS  UNDER RULE 13 

When are sanctions proper for filing of a dubious pleading?

A trial court may impose sanctions if a pleading is groundless and brought in bad faith or for the purpose of harassment. Tex. R. Civ. P. 13. A pleading is groundless if it has “no basis in law or fact” and is “not warranted by good faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law.” Id.

Courts must presume that a lawsuit has been filed in good faith, and a party moving for sanctions must overcome this presumption. Daves v. Daniels, 319 S.W.3d 938, 941 (Tex. App.—Austin 2010, pet. denied); Appleton v. Appleton, 76 S.W.3d 78, 86 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2002, no pet.). In determining whether to award sanctions, a trial court must examine the facts and circumstances in existence at the time a pleading was filed to determine whether sanctions are proper. Appleton, 76 S.W.3d at 86.

Bad faith does not exist when a party merely exercises bad judgment or is negligent; rather bad faith is the conscious doing of a wrong for dishonest, discriminatory, or malicious purposes. Elkins v. Stotts-Brown, 103 S.W.3d 664, 669 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2003, no pet.). To “harass” means to annoy, alarm, and verbally abuse another person. Id.

SOURCE: Houston Court of Appeals - 01-10-00586-CV - 8/11/11

After reviewing the record, we conclude that Modesto did not conclusively establish that Mona filed her motions to enforce in bad faith or for the purpose of harassment. Although the trial court did not find Modesto to be in contempt, it does not necessarily follow that the motions to enforce were filed in violation of rule 13. Even if the trial court could have inferred bad faith or an intent to harass from the lack of a legal basis for the motions, it was not required to do so. See In re K.N.R., No. 05-03-00214-CV, 2004 WL 878273, at *2 (Tex. App.—Dallas April 26, 2004, no pet.) (mem. op.) (citing c.f. Drew v. Harrison County Hosp. Ass’n, 20 S.W.3d 244, 249 (Tex. App.—Texarkana 2000, no pet.)) (intent not ordinarily subject to absolute verification). It was within the trial court’s discretion to conclude that the motions to enforce were not groundless and were not brought in bad faith or for the purpose of harassment.

We note that Modesto correctly asserts that an individual cannot be held in constructive contempt of court for a violation of an oral order to pay child support. See Ex parte Grothe, 570 S.W.2d 183, 184 (Tex. Civ. App.—Austin 1978, no writ) (orig. proceeding). Here, however, Modesto failed to present any evidence that Mona or her trial counsel filed the motions to enforce in bad faith or for the purpose of harassment. Modesto, as the party seeking sanctions, bore the burden of overcoming the presumption that the motions were filed in good faith. Daniels, 319 S.W.3d at 941.

SOURCE: Houston Court of Appeals - 01-10-00586-CV - 8/11/11