Canadian Helicopters Ltd. v. Wittig

Decision Date15 June 1994
Docket NumberNo. D-4128,D-4128
Citation876 S.W.2d 304
PartiesCANADIAN HELICOPTERS LIMITED, Relator, v. The Honorable Don E. WITTIG, District Judge of the 125th Judicial District, Harris County, Texas, Respondent.
CourtTexas Supreme Court

Mickie S. Fleetwood, Jim E. Cowles, John M. Pease, Dallas, for relator.

Michael D. Sydow, Kelli McDonald Sydow, Joe H. Reynolds, Kay K. Daniel Morgan, Houston, for respondent.

PHILLIPS, Chief Justice, delivered the opinion of the Court, joined by HIGHTOWER, DOGGETT, CORNYN, GAMMAGE, ENOCH, and SPECTOR, Justices.

This original mandamus action involves the overruling of a special appearance filed pursuant to TEX.R.CIV.P. 120a. Relator, the defendant in a wrongful death suit, requests this Court to direct the trial court to withdraw its order overruling relator's special appearance, and substitute it with an order sustaining the same. Because relator has an adequate remedy by appeal, we hold that mandamus is inappropriate, and we deny the writ.

The underlying cause of action concerns a fatal helicopter crash that occurred on April 17, 1990, in Blue River, British Columbia, Canada. The helicopter was owned by relator, Canadian Helicopters Limited ["CHL"], a Canadian corporation that provides helicopter services. CHL's principal place of business is in Canada; it is not licensed to do business in Texas and has never had an office or agent for service of process in this state. CHL had leased the helicopter to Mike Wiegele Skiing, another Canadian corporation in the business of conducting "heli-ski" trips. The helicopter was manufactured by Bell Helicopter Textron ["Bell"] and piloted by a Canadian. The flight occurred wholly within the borders of Canada. None of the real parties in interest, plaintiffs in the underlying litigation, are Texas residents. 1

The plaintiffs filed a wrongful death suit against CHL and defendant Bell Helicopter Textron on August 30, 1991, in the 125th District Court of Harris County, Texas. CHL entered a special appearance pursuant to Rule 120a, contesting the personal jurisdiction of the trial court. CHL argued that the assertion of personal jurisdiction by the trial court would not comport with the requirements of due process under the United States Constitution. 2 Specifically, CHL contended that it lacked minimum contacts with Texas. The trial judge appointed a special master to consider CHL's jurisdictional objection on July 6, 1992. On January 26, 1993, the master held a hearing at which both sides presented evidence on the jurisdictional issue. On March 9, 1993, the master filed with the trial court his report, which concluded that the court lacked personal jurisdiction and recommended that CHL's special appearance be sustained. On April 2, 1993, the trial court overruled CHL's special appearance in an order that made no reference to the master's report.

CHL filed a motion for leave to file a petition for writ of mandamus in the 14th Court of Appeals in Houston, seeking relief from the April 2 order. On July 22, 1993, the court of appeals overruled the motion, and CHL subsequently filed a motion for leave to file a petition for writ of mandamus in this Court. We granted the motion and stayed proceedings in the trial court pending disposition of this petition. CHL argues that it is entitled to the relief sought because the trial court abused its discretion in overruling the special appearance and because its remedy by appeal is inadequate.

Mandamus is "an extraordinary remedy, available only in limited circumstances." See Walker v. Packer, 827 S.W.2d 833, 840 (Tex.1992). A writ of mandamus will issue "only to correct a clear abuse of discretion or the violation of a duty imposed by law when there is no other adequate remedy by law." Johnson v. Fourth Court of Appeals, 700 S.W.2d 916, 917 (Tex.1985). Such a limitation is necessary to preserve "orderly trial proceedings" and to prevent the "constant interruption of the trial process by appellate courts." Pope v. Ferguson, 445 S.W.2d 950, 954 (Tex.1969), cert. denied, 397 U.S. 997, 90 S.Ct. 1138, 25 L.Ed.2d 405 (1970). Consistent with this narrow approach to mandamus, the burden of showing an abuse of discretion as well as the inadequacy of a remedy by appeal is placed on the relator. This burden is "a heavy one." Lutheran Social Serv., Inc. v. Meyers, 460 S.W.2d 887, 889 (Tex.1970).

We focus today on the second prong of this test, the requirement that relator lack an adequate remedy by appeal. Although some cases have previously relaxed or ignored this requirement, 3 we recently reaffirmed its importance. See Walker, 827 S.W.2d at 842 (specifically disapproving of any authorities that "might be read as abolishing or relaxing this rule"); see also Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc. v. Walker, 787 S.W.2d 954, 955 (Tex.1990) ("We have consistently held that we lack jurisdiction to issue writs of mandamus to supervise or correct incidental rulings of a trial judge when there is an adequate remedy by appeal."); Holloway v. Fifth Court of Appeals, 767 S.W.2d 680, 684 (Tex.1989) (characterizing the requirement of an inadequate remedy by appeal as a "fundamental tenet of writ practice"); Johnson, 700 S.W.2d at 917; Iley v. Hughes, 158 Tex. 362, 311 S.W.2d 648, 652 (1958); Aycock v. Clark, 94 Tex. 375, 60 S.W. 665, 666 (1901) (holding that "it is elementary law that a mandamus is never awarded where the law has provided another plain, adequate, and complete remedy"). This requirement is met only when parties are in danger of permanently losing substantial rights. It is not satisfied by a mere showing that appeal would involve more expense or delay than obtaining a writ of mandamus. See Walker, 827 S.W.2d at 842; Hooks v. Fourth Court of Appeals, 808 S.W.2d 56, 60 (Tex.1991); Bell Helicopter, 787 S.W.2d at 955; Iley, 311 S.W.2d at 652. 4 Thus, in most circumstances an appeal will provide an adequate remedy. See Fulton v. Finch, 162 Tex. 351, 346 S.W.2d 823, 829 (1961).

Although this Court has not considered the specific issue of whether appeal is an adequate remedy to address the denial of a special appearance, we have considered the issue in the context of pleas to the jurisdiction, by which objections to a court's subject matter jurisdiction are raised. We have held that appeal is an adequate remedy to address a trial court's denial of a plea to the jurisdiction, and therefore a writ of mandamus will not issue to correct it. See Bell Helicopter, 787 S.W.2d at 955 (denying leave to file petition for writ of mandamus where relators claimed that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction); see also Pope, 445 S.W.2d at 954 (stating that appellate courts do not have jurisdiction to issue writs of mandamus to correct incidental rulings of a trial court when there is an adequate remedy by appeal, including orders sustaining or overruling pleas to the jurisdiction). CHL points to the inconvenience and loss of time and other "nonpecuniary" resources that it will suffer by having to go through an entire trial before it can obtain review of the trial court's order on appeal. However, such factors do not distinguish an erroneous refusal to dismiss a cause for lack of personal jurisdiction from an erroneous refusal to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Moreover, as noted above, such factors alone can never justify mandamus relief.

CHL points to our decision in United Mexican States v. Ashley, 556 S.W.2d 784 (Tex.1977), as support for its claim that mandamus review of special appearances is appropriate. However, Ashley involved the issue of sovereign immunity, 5 implicating comity and foreign affairs concerns not present in the usual special appearance. 6 Moreover the Court in Ashley did not expressly consider the adequacy of Mexico's remedy by way of appeal. 7 Thus its precedential value regarding this issue is limited.

Our holding that a challenge to personal jurisdiction may ordinarily be adequately reviewed on appeal is in line with the majority of court of appeals opinions that have considered the issue. See Hoechst Aktienggesellschaft v. Kirk, 859 S.W.2d 651, 653 (Tex.App.--Eastland 1993, orig. proceeding); National Indus. Sand Ass'n v. Gibson, 855 S.W.2d 790, 791 (Tex.App.--El Paso 1993, orig. proceeding); Brown v. Herman, 852 S.W.2d 91, 92 (Tex.App.--Austin 1993, orig. proceeding); N.H. Helicopters, Inc. v. Brown, 841 S.W.2d 424, 426 (Tex.App.--Dallas 1992, orig. proceeding); see also White v. Blake, 859 S.W.2d 551, 561 (Tex.App.--Tyler 1993, orig. proceeding) (stating the general rule that because of the availability of an adequate remedy by appeal, mandamus is not available to address the denial of a special appearance, but recognizing an exception for child support and custody cases). The two contrary court of appeals decisions are distinguishable. In both Hutchings v. Biery, 723 S.W.2d 347, 350 (Tex.App.--San Antonio 1987, orig. proceeding), and Laykin v. McFall, 830 S.W.2d 266, 267-68 (Tex.App.--Amarillo 1992, orig. proceeding), the courts relied on Ashley in holding that mandamus is appropriate to address the denial of a special appearance. Moreover, Hutchings was a child custody case, and we have held that the remedy by appeal is frequently inadequate to protect the rights of children and parents in family law situations. See Proffer v. Yates, 734 S.W.2d 671, 673 (Tex.1987); see also Hoechst Aktienggesellschaft, 859 S.W.2d at 653; N.H. Helicopters, 841 S.W.2d at 426 n. 1.

CHL contends that it is the due process rights implicated by a special appearance that render appeal an inadequate remedy. It argues that in the context of personal jurisdiction, due process "protects the defendant against the burdens of litigating in a distant or inconvenient forum," World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 291-92, 100 S.Ct. 559, 564, 62 L.Ed.2d 490 (1980), 8 and "ensures that a defendant will not be haled into a...

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