Company entitled to jury trial in suit filed by City says 13th Court of Appeals.

THEATRE COUNCIL PRODUCTIONS, LTD. v. CITY OF HARLINGEN, 3-12-00167-CV (Tex. App. – Corpus Christi, August 22, 2013).

This is a commercial dispute where the City of Harlingen sued Theater Council Productions (“TCP”) after several Broadway musicals did not go on as planned at the Harlingen Municipal Auditorium. This case will probably only be of interest to litigators since the basis of the appeal deals with trial procedure. However, it involves a city’s commercial operations so is included in the summary list.

The City sued TCP for breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, and conversion and TCP answered. The City requested a non-jury trial in a pre-trial order. TCP objected to removing the case from the jury docket.  The court proceeded with a bench trial and TCP announced ready the day of trial. The trial court ruled in favor of the City and ordered TCP to pay $58,996.88, plus post-judgment interest and court costs, as well as attorney’s fees. TCP appealed arguing it relied upon Harlingen’s jury demand contained within its pleadings, the City’s payment of the jury fee and it did not waive the ability to object on appeal.

Under TEX. R. CIV. P. 220 an opposing party may rely on another party’s jury demand, when a demand is made and a fee is paid. It is an abuse of discretion to remove the case from the jury docket over objections. In this case, the City requested a jury, paid a fee, but the trial court removed it from the jury docket 18 days before trial and did not give TCP reasonable time under Rule 216 to request its own jury setting. Additionally, the 13th Court of Appeals held the error was definitely harmful since several fact questions were presented to the trier of fact (judge) which were directly linked to the success of the various causes of action.  The court reversed and remanded for a full jury trial.

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