law sanctions cases | Rule 13 | Tex. R. Civ. P. 13 | death penalty sanctions | CPRC Chapter 10 Sanctions |
frivolous pleadings sanctions lack of good faith discovery abuse | frivolous appeal sanctions | sanctions in
health care liability (med-mal) suits | sanctions on appeal for frivolous baseless appeal | Anders Brief |
Sanctions Case Law
Chapter 10 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code allows a trial court to sanction an
attorney or a party for filing motions or pleadings that lack a reasonable basis in fact or law. Low v.
Henry, 221 S.W.3d 609, 615 (Tex. 2007); TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE ANN. §§ 10.001-.005
(West 2002). A sanction under Chapter 10 may include ordering a party to pay the reasonable
attorney’s fees incurred by the other party because of the filing of the frivolous pleadings. TEX. CIV.
PRAC. &REM. CODE ANN. § 10.004(c)(3).
We review the imposition of sanctions under Chapter 10 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code
and Rule 13 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure for an abuse of discretion. Low v. Henry, 221 S.W.3d
609, 614 (Tex. 2007); Cire v. Cummings, 134 S.W.3d 835, 838 (Tex. 2004). Under this standard, courts view
the evidence in the light most favorable to, and indulge every presumption in favor of, the trial court's action.
In re Liu, 290 S.W.3d 515, 519 (Tex. App.-Texarkana 2009, orig. proceeding). "An appellate court may
reverse the trial court's ruling only if the trial court acted without reference to any guiding rules and principles,
such that its ruling was arbitrary or unreasonable." Low, 221 S.W.3d at 614. A trial court abuses its discretion
in awarding sanctions only if the order is based on an erroneous assessment of the evidence or the law.
Dolenz v. Boundy, 197 S.W.3d 416, 421 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2006, pet. denied).
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.
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.).
SANCTIONS IN SAPCR CASE
Section 157.167 of the Texas Family Code, which provides that a court shall order the respondent to pay
reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs if it finds the respondent failed to comply with the terms of an order
providing for the possession and access to a child. See TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 157.167 (West 2008).
RECENT TEXAS SUPREME COURT DECISIONS
INVOLVING SANCTIONS ISSUES
Unifund CCR Partners v. Villa, No. 08-1026 (Tex. Oct. 23, 2009)(per curiam)
(sanctions for filing suit to collect debt discharged in bankruptcy reversed)
MBM Financial Corporation v. The Woodlands Operating Co., No. 08-0390 (Tex. Aug. 28, 2009)(Brister)(what
constitutes nominal damages?, recovery of damages as prerequisite for recovery of attorneys' fees)(the
Regent Care Center of San Antonio II, LP vs. Hargrave, No. 06-0717 (Tex. Apr. 18, 2008)(per curiam) (HCLC,
medical malpractice, effect on nonsuit on health care provider's pending appeal of order denying sanctions)
Villafani vs. Trejo, M.D., No. 06-0501 (Tex. Apr. 18, 2008)(Wainwright) (HCLC, ILA, denial of sanctions, effect
of nonsuit on defendant's right to appeal denial of motion for sanctions)
PETITIONS DENIED BY THE TEXAS SUPREME COURT
IN APPEALS INVOLVING SANCTIONS ISSUES
T. CHRISTOPHER ROBSON v. GARRETT GILBREATH AND DAVID GILBREATH; from Travis County; 3rd
district (03-06-00364-CV, 267 SW3d 401, 08‑01‑08)(frivolous suit sanctions, reasonable inquiry) Rule 13
sanctions for groundless pleading brought in bad faith) Dissenting opinion by Patterson
09‑0314 WILLIAM CRAIG RILEY v. GARY J. COHEN; from Travis County; 3rd district (03-08-00285-CV, ___
SW3d ___, 02‑19‑09)(sanctions appeal, appellate procedure failure to challenge all bases for judgment, pro
William Craig Riley appeals a district court judgment awarding Gary J. Cohen $8,600 in attorney's fees and expenses that
Cohen incurred in defending a lawsuit Riley had filed against him. The judgment recites that it is based upon a motion for
sanctions Cohen filed "under Rule 13 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure and Chapter 9 of the Texas Civil Practice and
Remedies Code." The judgment also incorporates the finding "that Plaintiff's claims against Gary J. Cohen were groundless
and brought for purposes of harassment," but does not otherwise elaborate on the basis for the sanctions. In a single issue,
Riley argues that the district court abused its discretion in failing to state in its judgment "the particulars" of the "good cause" it
found for sanctions, as required by rule 13 of the rules of civil procedure. Tex. R. Civ. P. 13 ("No sanction under this rule may be
imposed except for good cause, the particulars of which must be stated in the sanction order."). Riley invokes the line of cases
holding that rule 13's particularity requirement is mandatory and that noncompliance constitutes harm and reversible error. (1)
1. See, e.g., Rudisell v. Paquette, 89 S.W.3d 233, 237 (Tex. App.--Corpus Christi 2002, no pet.) (citing Thomas v. Thomas, 917
S.W.2d 425, 432 (Tex. App.--Waco 1996, no writ); Friedman & Assocs., P.C. v. Beltline Rd., Ltd., 861 S.W.2d 1, 2-3 (Tex. App.--
Dallas 1993, writ dism'd by agr.); GTE Commc'ns Sys. Corp. v. Curry, 819 S.W.2d 652, 654 (Tex. App.--San Antonio 1991) (orig.
proc.)); Murphy v. Friendswood Dev. Co., 965 S.W.2d 708, 709-10 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 1998, no pet.); see also
Schexnider v. Scott & White Mem'l Hosp., 953 S.W.2d 439, 441 (Tex. App.--Austin 1997, no writ) (observing that rule 13
sanctions order stating only that offending party's pleadings were "groundless and brought . . . in bad faith and brought for the
purpose of harassment" was "erroneous on its face," and that such error precluded "meaningful appellate review" because
"'the sanctioned party [is] unable to overcome the presumption that the trial court found necessary facts in support of its
judgment'" (quoting GTE Commc'ns Sys. Corp., 819 S.W.2d at 654), but holding that complaint was not preserved). Here, Riley
preserved his complaint in a post-trial motion to modify the judgment. Cf. id. (citing Land v. AT & S Transp., Inc., 947 S.W.2d
665, 666-67 (Tex. App.--Austin 1997, no writ)).
2. We also observe that, as Cohen emphasizes, chapter 9 does not contain a particularity requirement like rule 13.
09‑0331 SYBLE HOOD AND TOM H. WHITESIDE v. EDWARD D. JONES & CO., L.P. AND ROBBY R.
ROGERS; from Andrews County; 8th district (08-07-00324-CV, 277 SW3d 505, 01‑29‑09)
Denial of Hood's Request for Sanctions
At the hearing on Hood's motion, her attorney admitted that he had no evidence to support his claim that
Appellees should be sanctioned. He testified to his personal belief that the affidavits were intentionally drafted
so that Rogers could prevail on his motion for summary judgment. Counsel argued that someone had made
the decision to include statements in the affidavits that were not true. Thus, he needed post-judgment
discovery of the attorneys' files to gather the evidence he believed would establish bad faith. Once he found
the evidence of bad faith, he could support his request for sanctions.
Hood had requested post-judgment relief under Rule 13 and Rule 166a(h). Her request derives from the
purported contradiction between affidavits in support of Rogers' motion for summary judgment and trial
testimony of Rogers, Rarick, and Kranzberg. Simply stated, the issue is whether Rogers had the right to
terminate employees without approval of the Human Resources Department. Hood alleges that the affidavits
were not the result of mere bad judgment and negligence, but were consciously drafted and executed to
obtain dismissal of the claims against Rogers, with Jones' employees knowing full well the statements were
false. Appellees respond that the affidavits are not false merely because Jones has procedures in place
requiring ratification by Human Resources. Alternatively, they argue that even if the statements were
contradictory, it is not an indication of dishonesty or bad faith. Appleton, 76 S.W.3d at 86-87. It is "the
conscious doing of a wrong for dishonest, discriminatory, or malicious purpose," which must be shown for
relief under Rule 13. Campos v. Ysleta General Hosp., Inc., 879 S.W.2d 67, 71 (Tex.App.-El Paso 1994, writ
The trial court's decision to deny post-judgment discovery is not at issue in this appeal. Here, Hood only
challenges the trial court's denial of her request for sanctions. In the absence of any evidence to support the
sanctions, we are hard pressed to conclude that the trial court abused its discretion.
Award of Fees and Costs
Hood briefly attacks the award of fees and costs, which she characterizes as Rule 13 sanctions. She argues
that Appellees were required to demonstrate bad faith and she complains that the trial court failed to identify
any sanctionable conduct. Actually, Appellees requested relief pursuant to Rule 215.1(d), which provides in
(d) Disposition of Motion to Compel: Award of Expenses.
If the motion is denied, the court may, after opportunity for hearing, require the moving party or attorney
advising such motion to pay to the party or deponent who opposed the motion the reasonable expenses
incurred in opposing the motion, including attorney fees, unless the court finds that the making of the motion
was substantially justified or that other circumstances make an award of expenses unjust.
The motions to compel and the motion for sanctions were filed by Hood. The trial court denied the motions
and then considered Appellees' request for expenses. In determining the amount of attorneys' fees and
reasonable expenses, the rule requires the court to "award expenses which are reasonable in relation to the
amount of work reasonably expended in obtaining an order compelling compliance or in opposing a motion
which is denied." Tex.R.Civ.P. 215.1(d). Counsel for Jones testified that his firm had incurred $9,050 in
attorneys' fees and $258.31 in expenses related to Hood's motions. The trial court ordered that Hood's
attorney pay to Appellees $3,000 in fees and $258.31 in expenses, the reasonableness of which is not
questioned here. Finding no abuse of discretion, we overrule the sole issue and affirm the judgment of the
trial court below.
1. Rule 166a(h) relates to summary judgment affidavits made in bad faith: "Should it appear to the satisfaction
of the court at any time that any of the affidavits presented pursuant to this rule are presented in bad faith . . .
the court shall forthwith order the party employing them to pay to the other party the amount of the
reasonable expenses which the filing of the affidavits caused him to incur, including reasonable attorney's
fees . . . ." Tex.R.Civ.P. 166a(h).
JOSE THOTTUMKAL AND SARAMMA THOTTUMKAL v. LARRY MCDOUGAL; from Fort Bend County; 14th
district (14-06-00364-CV, 251 SW3d 715, 01-15-08)(frivolous suit sanctions in favor of defendant attorney
affirmed)While the award of attorney's fees based on McDougal's motion for summary judgment for defending
against the lawsuit is improper, the fee award for the Thottumkals' sanctionable conduct under section 10 is
proper. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. '' 10.001, 10.002, 10.004. The trial court's order does not
clearly state that it awarded attorney's fees only for the sanctionable conduct; it potentially awards attorney's
fees based on the summary judgment motion. To the extent that the order does grant attorney's fees on the
summary judgment motion, we sustain the Thottumkals' second issue.
Accordingly, we modify the judgment to delete the award of attorney's fees as requested in defendant=s
motion for summary judgment for defending against this lawsuit and reflect that the award in the amount of
$5,536.50 is awarded to McDougal for sanctions under section 10.
We affirm the judgment as so modified.
BLACKBURNE & BROWN MORTGAGE FUND I AND DAVID, GOODMAN & MADOLE, A PROFESSIONAL
CORPORATION v. ATMOS ENERGY CORPORATION; from Tarrant County; 2nd district
(02-06-00393-CV, ___ S.W.3d ___, 11-15-07, pet. denied May 2008) (no duty, sanctions, good faith
presumption, plenary power)
BONNIE L. JOHNSON ON BEHALF OF CHELSEA ELIZABETH JOHNSON, BENEFICIARY v. CHARLES
CHESTNUTT; from Dallas County; 5th district (05-05-01341-CV, 225 SW3d 737, 04-27-07,
pet. denied Jan 2008) (award of death penalty sanctions following nonsuit affirmed)
Bonnie Johnson, next friend for Chelsea Johnson, appeals the trial court's award of death penalty sanctions
and attorney's fees against her following her nonsuit of the case. In eight issues, categorized according to the
particular rule or statute under which the sanctions are challenged, Bonnie argues that the trial court erred
when it awarded sanctions under Tex. R. Civ. P. 215, Tex. R. Civ. P. 13, and Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code
Ann. § 10.004(b) (Vernon 2002). A motion requesting case-determinative sanctions was pending at the time
of the nonsuit. Because the award of sanctions was not arbitrary, unreasonable, or unjust, the trial court did
not abuse its discretion when it sanctioned Bonnie under Tex. R. Civ. P. 215. Because we conclude that the
sanctions were properly awarded under Tex. R. Civ. P. 215, we need not consider whether the award was also
appropriate under Rule 13 and the Civil Practice & Remedies Code. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.
Because we conclude that the dismissal with prejudice and award of costs and attorney's fees was an
appropriate sanction under Tex. R. Civ. P. 215, we need not reach appellant's remaining issues challenging
the award under Tex. R. Civ. P. 13 and Chapter 10 of the Civil Practices and Remedies Code.
IN THE INTEREST OF J.F., J.J. AND J.J., CHILDREN; from Tarrant County; 2nd district
(02-07-00007-CV, ___ SW3d ___, 10-11-07, pet. denied Jan 2008)
(termination of parental rights, death penalty sanctions)
Texas Causes of Action | 2011 Texas Supreme Court Opinions | 2011 Tex Sup Ct Per Curiams
Texas Caselaw Topics Pages | Texas Opinions homepage |