Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sanctions Claim under Rule 13 and CPRC



Rule 13 authorizes the imposition of sanctions against an attorney, a represented party, or both, who filed a pleading that is either: (1) groundless and brought in bad faith; or (2) groundless and brought to harass. Tex. R. Civ. P. 13; see also Rudisell v. Paquette, 89 S.W.3d 233, 236 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 2002, no pet.). The rule defines “groundless” as having “no basis in law or fact and not warranted by good faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law.” Tex. R. Civ. P. 13.

Sanctions may only be imposed for good cause under Rule 13, the particulars of which must be stated in the order. Tex. R. Civ. P. 13; Rudisell, 89 S.W.3d at 237. To impose sanctions under Rule 13 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, the proponent of sanctions must establish that the suit was groundless and brought (1) in bad faith or (2) for purposes of harassment. Tex. R. Civ. P. 13.

A pleading is groundless when it has no basis in law or in fact. Tex. R. Civ. P. 13. The burden is on the party moving for sanctions to overcome the presumption that the pleading was filed in good faith. GTE Commc’ns Sys. Corp. v. Tanner, 856 S.W.2d 725, 731 (Tex. 1993). A groundless pleading is not sanctionable unless it is also brought in bad faith or for the purpose of harassment. Id. Bad faith does not exist when a party exercises bad judgment or negligence. Rather, bad faith means “the conscious doing of a wrong for dishonest, discriminatory, or malicious purposes.” Campos, 879 S.W.2d at 71; Mattly v. Spiegel, Inc., 19 S.W.3d 890, 896 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2000, no pet.). In deciding whether a pleading was filed in bad faith or for the purpose of harassment, the trial court must measure a litigant’s conduct at the time the relevant pleading was signed. Texas-Ohio Gas, Inc. v. Mecom, 28 S.W.3d 129, 139 (Tex. App.—Texarkana 2000, no pet.). Rule 13 generally requires that the trial court hold an evidentiary hearing to make a determination about the motives and credibility of the person signing the petition. R.M. Dudley Constr. Co. v. Dawson, 258 S.W.3d 694 (Tex. App.—Waco 2008, pet. denied); see, e.g., Low, 221 S.W.3d at 613, 617 (referring to trial court’s evidentiary hearing on motion for Chapter 10 sanctions).

Rule 13 requires sanctions based on the acts or omissions of the represented party or counsel, and not merely on the legal merit of the pleading. Parker v. Walton, 233 S.W.3d 535, 539 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2007, no pet.). This is true because improper motive is an essential element of bad faith. Elkins, 103 S.W.3d at 669; Alejandro v. Bell, 84 S.W.3d 383, 393 (Tex. App.––Corpus Christi 2002, no writ) (no evidence presented at sanctions hearing from which the trial court could determine lawsuit filed in bad faith).


Similarly, to award sanctions under Chapter 10, it must be shown that: (1) the pleading or motion was brought for an improper purpose; (2) there were no grounds for the legal arguments advanced; or (3) the factual allegations or denials lacked evidentiary support. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 10.001 (Vernon 2002); Low, 221 S.W.3d at 614; Armstrong v. Collin County Bail Bond Bd., 233 S.W.3d 57, 62 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2007, no pet.).

Chapter 10 specifies that one of the aims for imposition of sanctions for the filing of frivolous or groundless pleadings is to “deter repetition of the conduct or comparable conduct by others similarly situated.” Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 10.004(b) (Vernon 2002). We construe the phrase “improper purpose” as the equivalent of “bad faith” under Rule 13. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 13; cf. Save Our Springs Alliance, Inc. v. Lazy Nine Mun. Util. Dist. ex rel. Bd. of Directors, 198 S.W.3d 300, 321 (Tex. App.—Texarkana 2006, pet. denied) (“nonfrivolous” requirement is same as “good faith” requirement); Elwell v. Mayfield, No. 10-04-00322-CV, 2005 WL 1907126, at *5 (Tex. App.—Waco Aug. 10, 2005, pet. denied) (mem. op.) (same). An order imposing a sanction under Chapter 10 “shall describe . . . the conduct the court has determined violated Section 10.001 and explain the basis for the sanction imposed.” Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 10.005 (Vernon 2002).

In determining whether sanctions are appropriate, the trial court must examine the facts available to the litigant and the circumstances existing when the litigant filed the pleading. Robson v. Gilbreath, 267 S.W.3d 401, 405 (Tex. App.—Austin 2008, pet. denied); Alejandro v. Robstown Indep. Sch. Dist., 131 S.W.3d 663, 669 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 2004, no pet.). Courts should presume parties and their counsel file all papers in good faith, and the party seeking sanctions must overcome that presumption. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 13; GTE Commc’ns Sys. Corp. v. Tanner, 856 S.W.2d 725, 731 (Tex. 1993). The party seeking sanctions has the burden of showing its right to relief. Tanner, 856 S.W.2d at 731; Elkins v. Stotts-Brown, 103 S.W.3d 664, 668 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2003, no pet.).

SOURCE: Texarkana Court of Appeals - 06-10-00080-CV - 4/1/11


Chapter 10 provides that: The signing of a pleading or motion as required by the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure constitutes a certificate by the signatory that to the signatory’s best knowledge, information, and belief, formed after reasonable inquiry: (1) the pleading or motion is not being presented for any improper purpose, including to harass or to cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation; (2) each claim, defense, or other legal contention in the pleading or motion is warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law or the establishment of new law; (3) each allegation or other factual contention in the pleading or motion has evidentiary support or, for a specifically identified allegation or factual contention, is likely to have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for further investigation or discovery; and (4) each denial in the pleading or motion of a factual contention is warranted on the evidence or, for a specifically identified denial, is reasonably based on a lack of information or belief. 

SOURCE: Texarkana Court of Appeals - 06-10-00080-CV - 4/1/11

1 comment:

  1. This is a great article.

    I have a small claims case at the moment. The first thing the defendant's lawyer did was file a motion for no-evidence summary judgement. I believe I should ask the court to sanction or otherwise instruct them as to the harrassing nature of the motion and hearing, given there is tremendous amount of evidence and most of it they already had been sent.