On Nov. 13, the Texas Supreme Court approved new rules for motions to dismiss baseless claims and for mandatory expedited proceedings in civil cases seeking low-dollar amounts of damages. Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht says he hopes the rules for expedited actions will “rejuvenate the courthouse.”
The rules fulfill the requirements of House Bill 274, the 2011 loser-pays law, which called for the Supreme Court to create rules governing a motion to dismiss claims with “no basis in law or fact” and rules to expedite cases claiming damages less than $100,000.
“Small measures cannot achieve that directive. These rules are a significant effort to improve the efficiency of the Texas court system while protecting the rights of litigants,” the high court wrote in its Nov. 13 per curiam order. The court will accept comments on the proposed rules through Feb. 1, 2013, and may amend them in response. The rules are effective March 1, 2013.
Hecht says about expedited actions: “I hope it will help us get our business back from arbitration and make it possible for young lawyers to get more courtroom experience. I hope it will be an enormous boost for the civil trial system. . . . It’s just a way — as lawyers talk about all the time — what they used to do in the old days, you work up a file, you go to the courthouse, you pick a jury, you put your evidence on a couple of days, you get your decision, and go on.”
New Texas Rule of Civil Procedure (TRCP) 169 governs expedited actions, including the types of cases that can and can’t be expedited and procedures for removing a suit from the process. It also establishes a process for discovery, deadlines for trial settings, trial time limits and objections to expert testimony, among other things. In creating the expedited action rules, the high court also amended TRCP 47 and 190, and created a medical expenses affidavit in Texas Rule of Evidence 902(c).
New TRCP 91a lays out the motion-to-dismiss rule. It specifics cases to which a motion to dismiss won’t apply and defines “no basis in law or fact.” It also establishes a timeline for a party to file the motion to dismiss and for the court to hold a hearing and issue a decision. It establishes procedures for a party to amend a pleading or motion and for a court to decide a motion. And it sets out guidelines for awarding attorney fees to a prevailing party, among other things.
“Whether the motion is granted or denied, the winning party gets attorney fees. So, if you file a motion and lose, the other side gets attorney fees. So, parties are going to have to think seriously about when to use it. But I hope it will achieve what the Legislature intended: to end these cases quickly and provide for attorney fees,” says Hecht, the high court’s liaison to the Texas Supreme Court Advisory Committee, which helped draft the rules.
-- Angela Morris