Thursday, October 20, 2011

Availability of declaratory relief under the Texas version of the UDJA

When is declaratory relief available under the Declaratory Judgments Act (DJA), when not? 

A person interested under a deed, will, written contract, or other writings constituting a contract or whose rights, status, or other legal relations are affected by a statute, municipal ordinance, contract, or franchise may have determined any question of construction or validity arising under the instrument, statute, or ordinance, contract or franchise and obtain a declaration of rights, status, or other legal relations thereunder. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 37.004(a) (West 2008).
The purpose of the Declaratory Judgments Act is "to settle and afford relief from uncertainty and insecurity with respect to rights, status, and other legal relations." Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem.Code Ann. § 37.002(b) (West 2008). It is "remedial" and "is to be liberally construed." Id.
The Declaratory Judgments Act cannot be used to obtain an advisory opinion, which Texas courts lack subject-matter jurisdiction to give. Tex. Ass'n of Bus. v. Tex. Air Control Bd., 852 S.W.2d 440, 444 (Tex.1993).
Declaratory judgment is appropriate only when a real controversy exists between the parties and the entire controversy may be determined by the judicial declaration. Brooks v. Northglen Ass'n, 141 S.W.3d 158, 163-64 (Tex. 2004); OAIC Commercial Assets, L.L.C. v. Stonegate Village, L.P., 234 S.W.3d 726, 745 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2007, pet. denied). The Act does not give a litigant the right to try a case piecemeal. United Servs. Life Ins. Co. v. Delaney, 396 S.W.2d 855, 858 (Tex. 1965); SW Airlines Co. v. Tex. High-Speed Rail Auth., 863 S.W.2d 123, 125 (Tex. App.-Austin 1993, writ denied).
Ripeness is a requirement of justiciability. Perry v. Del Rio, 66 S.W.3d 239, 249 (Tex. 2001); Patterson v. Planned Parenthood of Houston & Se. Tex., Inc., 971 S.W.2d 439, 442 (Tex. 1998). The ripeness doctrine conserves judicial time and resources for real and current controversies, rather than abstract, hypothetical, or remote disputes. Mayhew v. Town of Sunnyvale, 964 S.W.2d 922, 928 (Tex. 1998); TCI West End, Inc. v. City of Dallas, 274 S.W.3d 913, 918 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2008, no pet.). The doctrine prohibits suits involving "uncertain or contingent future events that may not occur as anticipated, or indeed may not occur at all." Patterson, 971 S.W.3d at 442. A case is not ripe if its resolution depends on contingent facts or upon events that have yet to come to pass. See id. at 443.
A defendant may not use a declaratory judgment to prematurely adjudicate defenses to liability that may not yet exist. Cf. Calderon v. Ashmus, 523 U.S. 740 (1998) (under federal constitution, party may not use a declaratory judgment to get advance ruling on an affirmative defense); see also Cohen v. Orthalliance New Image, Inc., 252 F. Supp.2d 761, 766 (N.D. Ind. 2003) (assessing the success of a defense to a potential claim (breach-of-contract or otherwise) is generally the type of hypothetical question federal courts endeavor to avoid).
SOURCE: DALLAS COURT OF APPEAL - 05-10-00655-CV - 10/19/11


A declaratory judgment is appropriate only if a justiciable controversy exists as to the rights and status of the parties and the controversy will be resolved by the declaration sought. Bonham State Bank v. Beadle, 907 S.W.2d 465, 467 (Tex. 1995) (citing Tex. Ass'n of Bus. v. Tex. Air Control Bd., 852 S.W.2d 440, 446 (Tex. 1993)). "To constitute a justiciable controversy, there must exist a real and substantial controversy involving genuine conflict of tangible interests and not merely a theoretical dispute" Id. If declaratory relief will not terminate a controversy between parties and would be irrelevant at the time judgment is rendered, a declaratory judgment will amount to no more than an advisory opinion, which the trial court lacks power to provide. Kenneth Leventhal & Co. v. Reeves, 978 S.W.2d 253, 259 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 1998, no pet.).


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