Texas Mutual Insurance Company v. Howell, No. 13-05-026-CV (TX 8/25/2005), No. 13-05-026-CV.

CourtSupreme Court of Texas
Writing for the CourtCastillo
Decision Date25 August 2005
Docket NumberNo. 13-05-026-CV.

Page 1

No. 13-05-026-CV.
Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi.
Memorandum Opinion Delivered and Filed August 25, 2005.

On Appeal from the 107th District Court of Cameron County, Texas.

Before Justices YAÑEZ, CASTILLO and GARZA.


Memorandum Opinion by Justice CASTILLO.

This interlocutory appeal is brought from an order issued by the Cameron County trial court, granting an anti-suit injunction to preclude appellant, Texas Mutual Insurance Company ("Texas Mutual"), from prosecuting a later-filed declaratory judgment action in Travis County, Texas. In issue is the propriety of the anti-suit injunction. We affirm the order of the trial court.

I. Background

The underlying suit was filed in December 2001 in Cameron County, Texas, by Robert S. Howell, D.C., First Rio Valley Medical, P.A. (collectively "Howell"), and several other healthcare providers. Howell named multiple workers' compensation insurance carriers, including Texas Mutual, as defendants.1 Howell seeks below to certify a class action of healthcare providers located throughout Texas. Howell claims that Texas Mutual and other defendants failed to comply with applicable portions of the Texas Labor Code and accompanying rules by failing to include interest in delinquent payments for services rendered to workers' compensation claimants.

In April 2002, Texas Mutual filed a declaratory judgment action in Travis County, Texas, naming as defendants not only Howell but also additional individuals located in Beaumont, Texas, and the Texas Workers' Compensation Commission ("Commission").2 In its Travis County action, Texas Mutual seeks a declaration as to whether interest is due on such payments, under the applicable statute and Commission rules.

On November 18, 2004, Howell filed an application for a temporary restraining order and temporary injunction in the underlying matter to halt the Travis County litigation.3 Howell alleged the Travis County suit was an attempt by Texas Mutual to circumvent the trial and appellate courts' determinations that venue was proper in Cameron County.4 The temporary injunction hearing was held December 10, 2004. Howell argued that allowing another action to proceed in another jurisdiction would harm the underlying plaintiffs and hinder the Cameron County court's jurisdiction. Texas Mutual countered that the Travis County action was substantively different and involved different parties,5 such that it would not divest the Cameron County court of jurisdiction, and that Howell had never requested that the Travis County proceedings be abated.

The trial court announced at the December 10 hearing that it would grant the injunction, and its order to that effect was entered January 6, 2005, after the parties had the opportunity to confer and provide input as to its form. The trial court's findings include the following:

(1) in this Cameron County action, plaintiffs propose a class action and "seek reimbursement of interest in accordance with Texas Labor Code section 413.019" (see TEX. LAB. CODE ANN. § 413.019 (Vernon 1996));6

(2) "a similar case pending in Beaumont" "has been abated in favor of [the Cameron County case];"7

(3) while this case has been pending, numerous defendant carriers have settled and "numerous non-suits have been filed;"

(4) the case was removed to the United States District Court, and then remanded back to this Court;

(5) plaintiffs have brought causes of action under "multiple theories, including [the declaratory judgment act];"8

(6) "multiple motions to transfer venue and pleas to the jurisdiction" have been denied (by both the trial court and appellate courts) in favor of the Cameron County court's jurisdiction, and the court's rulings on joinder have similarly been affirmed;

(7) Texas Mutual's allegations that "Travis County is the mandatory venue" because this case may involve the determination of a Commission rule under Texas Government Code section 2001.0389 was "previously rejected by this Court and all reviewing courts" and is incorrect, inasmuch as

(a) plaintiffs have not identified a single Commission rule that would impair or threaten their legal right, and

(b) "substantively the same arguments" were previously raised by Texas Mutual and rejected by the trial court, the Thirteenth Court of Appeals, and the Texas Supreme Court;

(8) the declaratory judgment action in Travis County was filed after the venue determination in this matter;

(9) the action for declaratory relief in Travis County seeks declarations pertaining to the total proposed class members, and "poses a threat to [the Cameron County] court's jurisdiction to issue rulings in this case seeking class action status;"

(10) the Cameron County trial court "acquired jurisdiction over the parties and the subject matter of the dispute prior to and to the exclusion of all other courts;"

(11) "the injunction is necessary to protect public policy" and a determination as to whether interest is "statutorily due [to plaintiffs] when payment for services is issued on or after the 60th day from the date a medical bill is received by the carrier;"

(12) "Tex. Lab. Code §413.019 is the crux of the proposed class action;"

(13) the threat of multiple litigation, "entanglements between cases," "the potential for inconsistent rulings and interpretations," and inconsistent obligations of the parties "creates an essential need for this matter to be resolved in this Court" and to do otherwise would be a "waste of judicial resources and against public policy;"

(14) to permit a party disagreeing with the rulings of this court to proceed in another County works against the public policy of finality of a court's rulings;

(15) public policy disfavors simultaneous litigation in two courts, which "would most probably work an irreparable miscarriage of justice" because of the need to litigate each issue "separately in two different forums," and the "potential for conflicting rulings on incidental as well as case determinative issues" and, further, requiring "numerous plaintiffs and numerous defendants to have attendant counsel at two simultaneous trial courts and appellate courts with possible differing results would work an irreparable injury;"

(16) "the declaratory judgment sought by Texas Mutual in Travis County seeks attorneys' fees against the purported class representatives for measures that are essentially defensive in [Cameron County]," reflects "an improper trial strategy designed to deter and discourage the proposed class plaintiffs from proceeding forward with the class action, and is an improper use and abuse of the declaratory judgment statute" and "an abuse of the judicial system;"

(17) in order to determine "whether interest payments are due to the plaintiffs or proposed class members, [the Cameron County] court must necessarily determine rights and obligations of the parties under the Texas Labor Code;"

(18) because of the pleadings and evidence, and "the procedural docket in this case," including the "numerous prior appeals," "there exists the existence of very special circumstances and the potential for an irreparable miscarriage of justice to warrant the issuance of an anti-suit injunction;"

(19) "Texas Mutual does not dispute that its declaratory judgment filed in Travis County would interfere with the judgments and decisions of [the Cameron County] court."

The trial court's order enjoined Texas Mutual and Howell from the prosecution of the Travis County case. Texas Mutual was enjoined from seeking a declaration or determination of any issue currently pending in that case or in the Cameron County case involving the proposed class plaintiffs and from "filing or prosecuting any cause of action that involves the interpretation of the Texas Labor Code with respect to issues of payment of interest to health care providers under the Texas Workers' Compensation Act involving the proposed class plaintiffs."10

II. Issues on Appeal

Texas Mutual brings three issues on appeal: (1) the trial court abused its discretion in granting the temporary injunction where the applicant tendered no evidence establishing its right thereto; (2) the trial court abused its discretion in finding irreparable harm would occur and that no adequate legal remedy exists absent the injunction; and (3) the trial court abused its discretion in entering the order where the prerequisites for a temporary anti-suit injunction were not satisfied.

III. Standard of Review

Issuance of an anti-suit injunction rests within the sound discretion of the trial court. Gannon v. Payne, 706 S.W.2d 304, 305 (Tex. 1986); London Mkt. Insurers v. Am. Home Assurance Co., 95 S.W.3d 702, 704 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 2003, no pet.); Fina Oil & Chem. Co. v. Alonso, 941 S.W.2d 287, 290 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 1996, no writ) (citing Walling v. Metcalfe, 863 S.W.2d 56, 58 (Tex. 1993)).

"A trial court abuses its discretion when it acts arbitrarily and unreasonably, without reference to guiding rules or principles, or misapplies the law to the established facts of the case." Downer v. Aquamarine Operators, Inc., 701 S.W.2d 238, 241-42 (Tex. 1985). The exercise of discretion is within the sole province of the trial court, and an appellate court may not substitute its discretion for that of the trial judge. Johnson v. Fourth Ct. App., 700 S.W.2d 916, 918 (Tex. 1985); City of San Antonio v. Rankin, 905 S.W.2d 427, 430 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 1995, no writ). Rather, an abuse of discretion occurs only when the trial court reaches a decision that is "so arbitrary and unreasonable as to amount to a clear and prejudicial error of law." Johnson, 700 S.W.2d at 917. A court of appeals will affirm the judgment of the trial court if that judgment can be upheld on any reasonable theory supported by the evidence. Ex parte E.E.H., 869...

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