Villafani v. Trejo, No. 06-0501.

CourtSupreme Court of Texas
Writing for the CourtWainwright
Citation251 S.W.3d 466
PartiesJuan Mario VILLAFANI, M.D., Petitioner, v. Adela TREJO, Respondent.
Decision Date18 April 2008
Docket NumberNo. 06-0501.
251 S.W.3d 466
Juan Mario VILLAFANI, M.D., Petitioner,
v.
Adela TREJO, Respondent.
No. 06-0501.
Supreme Court of Texas.
Argued April 10, 2007.
Delivered April 18, 2008.

[251 S.W.3d 467]

Ronald G. Hole, Ida Cecilia Garza, Hole & Alvarez, P.C., McAllen, for Petitioner.

Robert Edward Brzezinski, Clarence V. Lyons, Lyons & Rhodes, San Antonio, for Respondent.

Justice WAINWRIGHT delivered the opinion of the Court.


After the plaintiff in this medical malpractice action nonsuited her claims, the defendant appealed the trial court's denial of his motion for sanctions pursuant to the Medical Liability Insurance Improvement Act (MLIIA).1 A divided court of appeals dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. ___ S.W.3d ___, ___. We consider whether the trial court's denial of the sanctions motion was appealable after the plaintiff's nonsuit. We conclude that it was, and therefore the appeal was within the court of appeals' jurisdiction. We reverse and remand to the court of appeals for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. Facts and Procedural Background

On June 24, 2002, Adela Trejo filed a medical malpractice suit against two physicians, Dr. Juan Mario Villafani and Dr. Ruben Lopez, the medical center, and others involved in an abdominal surgery. Trejo filed timely expert reports as required by section 13.01(d) of the MLIIA. See TEX.REV.CIV. STAT. art. 4590i § 13.01(d). On February 10, 2004, Villafani filed a motion for sanctions and dismissal, claiming that the expert report did not satisfy statutory requirements. See id. § 13.01(e). The trial court denied Villafani's motion. On April 30, 2004, Trejo filed a notice of nonsuit without prejudice as to Villafani. The trial court severed Trejo's claims against Villafani and dismissed the claims without prejudice, rendering a final judgment as to Villafani. Villafani appealed the trial court's denial of his motion for sanctions and dismissal. The court of appeals dismissed Villafani's appeal for lack of jurisdiction. ___ S.W.3d ___, ___. Villafani petitioned this Court for review. We review the court of appeals' determination of its jurisdiction de novo. McAllen Med. Ctr., Inc. v. Cortez, 66 S.W.3d 227, 231 (Tex.2001).

II. Law and Analysis
A. The Medical Liability Insurance Improvement Act

In the MLIIA, the Legislature modified the liability laws for health care claims to address what the Legislature described as a medical "crisis [that] has had a material adverse effect on the delivery of medical and health care in Texas." Act of May 30, 1977, 65th Leg., R.S., ch. 817, § 1.02(a)(6), 1977 Tex. Gen. Laws 2039, 2040 (former TEX.REV.CIV. STAT. art. 4590i, § 1.02(a)(6)); see also Act of June 2, 2003, 78th Leg., R. S., ch. 204, § 10. 11, 2003 Tex. Gen. Laws

251 S.W.3d 468

847, 884 (reiterating the Legislature's concern about the gravity of an ongoing "medical malpractice insurance crisis" caused in part by an increased number of health care liability claims since 1995); Diversicare Gen. Partner, Inc. v. Rubio, 185 S.W.3d 842, 846 (Tex.2005).

Part of the modifications requires plaintiffs to timely file an expert report that includes a fair summary of the expert's opinions on the applicable standards of care, the manner in which the care rendered by the defendant physician or health care provider failed to meet those standards, and the causal relationship between that failure and the injury, harm, or damages claimed. TEX.REV.CIV. STAT. art. 4590i § 13.01(d), (r)(6); see also Am. Transitional Care Ctrs. of Tex., Inc. v. Palacios, 46 S.W.3d 873, 877 (Tex.2001). The statute requires a plaintiff to provide this expert report within 180 days of filing a claim or, if not provided, to voluntarily nonsuit the claim against the defendant. TEX.REV.CIV. STAT. art. 4590i § 13.01(d). If the plaintiff fails to provide an adequate expert report or to voluntarily nonsuit the claim, the statute allows a defendant to move for sanctions against the plaintiff, including: (1) an award of attorney's fees against the plaintiff; (2) forfeiture of any applicable cost bond necessary to pay that award; and (3) dismissal of the case with prejudice. Id. § 13.01(e).

B. Appeal of the Interlocutory Order

Before the trial court dismissed Trejo's claims against Villafani, the order denying Villafani's motion for sanctions and dismissal was interlocutory. Under the current version of the MLIIA and the Civil Practice and Remedies Code, a claimant may take an interlocutory appeal of a trial court's grant or denial of these sanctions. See TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM.CODE §§ 51.014(a)(9), (10), 74.351(b). Such an interlocutory appeal was not available under the version of the MLIIA applicable to this case. See Act of June 2, 2003, 78th Leg., R.S., ch. 204, § 1.03, 2003 Tex. Gen. Laws 847, 849 (adding interlocutory appeal of grants and denials of motions for sanctions under section 74.351 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code).

Here, the trial court's denial of Villafani's motion for sanctions and dismissal and Trejo's nonsuit collectively disposed of all the claims between the two parties. See Univ. of Tex. Med. Branch at Galveston v. Blackmon, 195 S.W.3d 98, 101 (Tex.2006) (filing of nonsuit has the effect of "rendering the merits of the case moot"). Thus, the trial court's severance and dismissal order on the nonsuit became a final judgment for purposes of appeal. See In re Bennett, 960 S.W.2d 35, 38 (Tex.1997) ("[T]he signing of an order dismissing a case, not the filing of a notice of nonsuit, is the starting point for determining when a trial court's plenary power expires."); see also Davidoff v. GX Tech. Corp., 134 S.W.3d 514, 515 (Tex.App.-Waco 2004, pet. denied) (holding absence of signed order dismissing counterclaims prevented appeal, as there was no final order, despite filing of nonsuit). The trial court's denial of Villafani's motion for sanctions and dismissal was no longer an interlocutory order and was therefore appealable at that point. See McEwen v. Harrison, 162 Tex. 125, 345 S.W.2d 706, 707 (1961) (hearing an appeal of an interlocutory default judgment, which became final after nonsuit of other parties).

C. Effect of the Nonsuit

Trejo argues and the court of appeals concluded that the nonsuit of Trejo's claims against Villafani rendered moot the interlocutory order denying Villafani's motion and deprived the court of appeals of jurisdiction. Under Texas law, parties have an absolute right to nonsuit their own claims for relief at any time during the

251 S.W.3d 469

litigation until they have introduced all evidence other than rebuttal evidence at trial. TEX.R. CIV. P. 162; In re Bennett, 960 S.W.2d at 38. One unique effect of a nonsuit is that it can vitiate certain interlocutory orders, rendering them moot and unappealable. See Blackmon, 195 S.W.3d at 101 (pending appeal of trial court's denial of plea to the...

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125 practice notes
  • Lalonde v. Gosnell, No. 16-0966
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • June 14, 2019
    ...were served properly.79 Murphy v. Gutierrez , 374 S.W.3d 627, 628-29 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2012, pet. denied).80 See Villafani v. Trejo , 251 S.W.3d 466, 469 (Tex. 2008) (an independent claim for attorney's fees is an affirmative claim for relief that survives a nonsuit).1 See also Perry Ho......
  • Bailey v. Smith, NO. 03-17-00703-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • June 28, 2019
    ...district court therefore had power to decide the entirety of the Department's pending claim for attorney's fees. See Villafani v. Trejo , 251 S.W.3d 466, 469 (Tex. 2008) ("[A] plaintiff's nonsuit cannot extinguish a defendant's counterclaim for costs and attorney's fees.").Segregation Baile......
  • State v. Naylor (In re State), No. 11–0114
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • June 19, 2015
    ...Id . We always have jurisdiction to resolve questions of standing and jurisdiction, and we do so via de novo review. Villafani v. Trejo, 251 S.W.3d 466, 467 (Tex.2008) ; Tex. Dep't of Transp. v. City of Sunset Valley, 146 S.W.3d 637, 646 (Tex.2004).466 S.W.3d 788Over the course of this liti......
  • Rogers v. Bagley, NUMBER 13-18-00092-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • June 13, 2019
    ...for sanctions, attorney's fees or other costs, pending at the time of dismissal...." TEX. R. CIV. P. 162 ; see Villafani v. Trejo , 251 S.W.3d 466, 469 (Tex. 2008) ; Fulp v. Miller , 286 S.W.3d 501, 509 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi–Edinburg 2009, no pet.) (holding that a motion to dismiss purs......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
125 cases
  • Lalonde v. Gosnell, No. 16-0966
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • June 14, 2019
    ...were served properly.79 Murphy v. Gutierrez , 374 S.W.3d 627, 628-29 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2012, pet. denied).80 See Villafani v. Trejo , 251 S.W.3d 466, 469 (Tex. 2008) (an independent claim for attorney's fees is an affirmative claim for relief that survives a nonsuit).1 See also Perry Ho......
  • Bailey v. Smith, NO. 03-17-00703-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • June 28, 2019
    ...district court therefore had power to decide the entirety of the Department's pending claim for attorney's fees. See Villafani v. Trejo , 251 S.W.3d 466, 469 (Tex. 2008) ("[A] plaintiff's nonsuit cannot extinguish a defendant's counterclaim for costs and attorney's fees.").Segregation Baile......
  • State v. Naylor (In re State), No. 11–0114
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • June 19, 2015
    ...Id . We always have jurisdiction to resolve questions of standing and jurisdiction, and we do so via de novo review. Villafani v. Trejo, 251 S.W.3d 466, 467 (Tex.2008) ; Tex. Dep't of Transp. v. City of Sunset Valley, 146 S.W.3d 637, 646 (Tex.2004).466 S.W.3d 788Over the course of this liti......
  • Rogers v. Bagley, NUMBER 13-18-00092-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • June 13, 2019
    ...for sanctions, attorney's fees or other costs, pending at the time of dismissal...." TEX. R. CIV. P. 162 ; see Villafani v. Trejo , 251 S.W.3d 466, 469 (Tex. 2008) ; Fulp v. Miller , 286 S.W.3d 501, 509 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi–Edinburg 2009, no pet.) (holding that a motion to dismiss purs......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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