Downer v. Aquamarine Operators, Inc., No. C-4141

CourtSupreme Court of Texas
Writing for the CourtWALLACE
Citation701 S.W.2d 238
PartiesIda E. DOWNER, Petitioner, v. AQUAMARINE OPERATORS, INC., Respondent.
Decision Date04 December 1985
Docket NumberNo. C-4141

Page 238

701 S.W.2d 238
Ida E. DOWNER, Petitioner,
v.
AQUAMARINE OPERATORS, INC., Respondent.
No. C-4141.
Supreme Court of Texas.
Dec. 4, 1985.
Rehearing Denied Jan. 15, 1986.

Page 239

John O'Quinn, Frank M. Staggs, Jr., O'Quinn & Hagans, Houston, for petitioner.

Terry P. Ayre and Thomas A. Brown, Brown, Sims, Wise & White, Houston, for respondent.

WALLACE, Justice.

This is an appeal from a judgment for damages in a suit brought under the Jones Act and under admiralty law. The trial dealt only with damages because the trial court struck the defendant's answer as a discovery abuse sanction and signed an interlocutory default judgment as to liability. The court of appeals reversed the trial court judgment, holding that the action of

Page 240

that court was an error of law and an abuse of discretion. 689 S.W.2d 472. We reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The issues before us are whether TEX.R.CIV.P. 215a(c), as it existed prior to the amendment effective August 1, 1984, authorized the trial court to strike defendant's answer, and, if so, whether the exercise of that authority constituted an abuse of discretion.

Edward P. Downer was a seaman aboard the vessel Four Point IV. He drowned while attempting to free a line that had fouled the vessel's propeller. Ida E. Downer, his widow, brought this action against Aquamarine Operators, Inc., the owner and operator of the vessel. The case was filed in the 151st District Court of Harris County. Both Downer and Aquamarine are residents of Harris County, Texas.

Downer filed Notice of Intent to Take the Depositions of All Members of The Crew on June 1. The notice identified each crew member, including the captain, Chester P. Dalfrey, by name only. Downer also requested depositions of the immediate supervisor of Chester Dalfrey and the custodian of Edward Downer's personnel file. On June 1, Aquamarine notified Downer that the crew was at sea and would not appear. Aquamarine at that time agreed to produce the requested persons on June 22. On June 21, Aquamarine again notified Downer that the crew was at sea and would not appear. It agreed to produce them on July 5.

Downer filed written Notice of Intent to Take Depositions of the same individuals for July 5. On that date, the requested deponents did not appear, whereupon Downer filed a Motion for Sanctions. A hearing on the Motion for Sanctions was set for August 22. Aquamarine made no appearance at the hearing; the trial court granted the Motion for Sanctions and signed an Order Striking Aquamarine's Answer.

Downer filed a Motion for Interlocutory Default Judgment to which Aquamarine responded. The response contained Aquamarine's reasons for not producing the requested individuals for depositions and its failure to appear at the sanctions hearing.

The reason offered for the first two occasions was that work for the FOUR POINT IV was scarce and, when work was available, it was necessary to send the vessel and crew to sea rather than produce them for depositions. On the third occasion, the vessel was in port at New Iberia, Louisiana, but Coast Guard regulations required a skeleton crew to be kept aboard at all times. Aquamarine's attorney stated that he notified Downer's attorney on July 1 of the necessity to take the depositions in New Iberia. Downer's attorney stated that he first learned that the individuals would not appear as noticed when Aquamarine's attorney called him an hour after the depositions were scheduled to commence. Both agreed that Aquamarine requested that the depositions be taken in New Iberia on July 6. However, Downer's attorney stated that he could not do so because he was preferentially set for trial in Houston starting at 9:00 a.m. on July 6.

The reason given by Aquamarine for not appearing at the sanctions hearing was that Hurricane Alicia had struck La Porte, the residence of Mr. Ayres, Aquamarine's lead counsel, four days previously. Mr. Ayres was involved in cleaning up after the hurricane and mitigating the damages to his home. Also, he had a hearing set in federal court in Beaumont on the following day and was directing all of his available attention to that matter.

To his Motion to Reconsider the Sanctions, Mr. Ayres attached an affidavit from his secretary, which stated that she had called the clerk of the court on July 7, and had advised her that Mr. Ayres had to make a docket call in Angleton on August 22. She understood the clerk to say that the sanctions hearing would be reset for September 6. In response to this motion, Downer's attorney advised the court by letter of his version of the circumstances leading up to the non-appearance on July 5, and the time when he was first advised

Page 241

that the named individuals would not appear. Attached to this letter to the court was a copy of a letter dated July 28, written by Mr. Bales, an associate of Mr. Ayres, which confirmed that the sanctions hearing was set for August 22.

With the above information before it, the trial court overruled Aquamarine's Motion to Reconsider the Sanctions and to reinstate its answer. The court signed an order granting an interlocutory default judgment as to liability. Aquamarine filed a Motion to Set Aside the Default Judgment. The motion contained practically the same information as the Motion to Reconsider Sanctions set out above. The trial court considered this motion and overruled it. On April 16, 1984, the case was preferentially set for trial for June 4, and the trial court refused to consider Aquamarine's Second Motion to Set Aside the...

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4001 practice notes
  • Jenkins v. Entergy Corp., No. 13-05-035-CV.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • March 2, 2006
    ...discretion is whether the trial court acted without reference to any guiding rules and principles. Downer v. Aquamarine Operators, Inc., 701 S.W.2d 238, 241 (Tex.1985). The exercise of discretion is within the sole province of the trial court, and an appellate court may not substitute its d......
  • E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co., Inc. v. Robinson, No. 94-0843
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • July 8, 1996
    ...discretion is whether the trial court acted without reference to any guiding rules or principles. Downer v. Aquamarine Operators, Inc., 701 S.W.2d 238, 241-42 (Tex.1985), cert. denied, 476 U.S. 1159, 106 S.Ct. 2279, 90 L.Ed.2d 721 (1986). The test is not whether, "in the opinion of the revi......
  • In re Palm Harbor Homes, Inc., No. 01-02-00370-CV.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • December 31, 2003
    ...guiding rules or principles. Johnson v. Fourth Court of Appeals, 700 S.W.2d 916, 918 (Tex.1985); Downer v. Aquamarine Operators, Inc., 701 S.W.2d 238, 241-42 (Tex.1985). A trial court's failure to apply the Federal Arbitration Act to the facts of the dispute constitutes an abuse of discreti......
  • Snyder Communications v. Magana, No. 13-02-076-CV.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • November 27, 2002
    ...an abuse of discretion simply because a trial court determines an issue differently than we would. Downer v. Aquamarine Operators, Inc., 701 S.W.2d 238, 242 (Tex. 1985); Vinson, 880 S.W.2d at 823. We will find that a trial court abuses its discretion only if its decision is arbitrary, unrea......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3999 cases
  • Jenkins v. Entergy Corp., No. 13-05-035-CV.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • March 2, 2006
    ...discretion is whether the trial court acted without reference to any guiding rules and principles. Downer v. Aquamarine Operators, Inc., 701 S.W.2d 238, 241 (Tex.1985). The exercise of discretion is within the sole province of the trial court, and an appellate court may not substitute its d......
  • E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co., Inc. v. Robinson, No. 94-0843
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • July 8, 1996
    ...discretion is whether the trial court acted without reference to any guiding rules or principles. Downer v. Aquamarine Operators, Inc., 701 S.W.2d 238, 241-42 (Tex.1985), cert. denied, 476 U.S. 1159, 106 S.Ct. 2279, 90 L.Ed.2d 721 (1986). The test is not whether, "in the opinion of the revi......
  • In re Palm Harbor Homes, Inc., No. 01-02-00370-CV.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • December 31, 2003
    ...guiding rules or principles. Johnson v. Fourth Court of Appeals, 700 S.W.2d 916, 918 (Tex.1985); Downer v. Aquamarine Operators, Inc., 701 S.W.2d 238, 241-42 (Tex.1985). A trial court's failure to apply the Federal Arbitration Act to the facts of the dispute constitutes an abuse of discreti......
  • Snyder Communications v. Magana, No. 13-02-076-CV.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • November 27, 2002
    ...an abuse of discretion simply because a trial court determines an issue differently than we would. Downer v. Aquamarine Operators, Inc., 701 S.W.2d 238, 242 (Tex. 1985); Vinson, 880 S.W.2d at 823. We will find that a trial court abuses its discretion only if its decision is arbitrary, unrea......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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