Texas Supreme Court rules court of appeals has interlocutory jurisdiction for denied MSJ even though plea was denied months earlier

City of Magnolia 4A Economic Development Corporation and City of Magnolia 4B Community Development Corporation v. David Smedley, 16-0718 (Tex. October 27, 2017).

This is a flooding case, however, the issue for the Supreme Court is a litigation procedural one. The Court of Appeals held that it did not have interlocutory jurisdiction over claims which were re-raised in a subsequent motion. However, the  Texas Supreme Court held the intermediary courts have interlocutory jurisdiction separately for each motion filed.

The underlying claims are Smedley sued the City and the economic development corporations and contracted entities alleging that the defendants caused the Smedley Property to flood and retain standing water, causing damages after they facilitated a Chicken Express going onto the lot next to his. The City was dismissed based on its plea to the jurisdiction. However, the EDCs filed their own pleas/Rule 91a motions which were partially denied. The EDCs later filed summary judgment motions, which were likewise denied. When the EDCs attempted to take an interlocutory appeal of the denial of the MSJ, the court of appeals stated the grounds were identical to those raised in the pleas. Therefore the court lacked interlocutory appeal jurisdiction under Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §51.014. The EDCs filed a petition for review which the Supreme Court granted.

The crucial question is whether the twenty-day period to bring an interlocutory appeal ran from the trial court’s denial of the plea/91a motion or the date of denial of the MSJ. See TEX. R. APP. P. 26.1(b) (providing that a timely interlocutory appeal must be filed within twenty days after the challenged order was signed). The court of appeals held the proper trigger date was the denial of the plea. See case summary here. The Texas Supreme Court, citing its own prior precedence, noted that if an amended plea was merely a motion to reconsider, then the twenty-day clock did not reset.  City of Houston v. Estate of Jones, 388 S.W.3d 663 (Tex. 2012).  The Court noted it was compelling that the original plea was a pleadings challenge only and the later motion was an evidence-based motion.  The EDCs asserted that in light of the discovered evidence, there was no evidence as to the claims under the Water Code or Takings Clause, and that there was affirmative evidence the EDCs did not own or control the lot, preventing them from being able to provide injunctive relief.  The Court cautioned that the procedural mechanisms, alone, is not dispositive and a court must analyze the substance of the motions. However, after doing so, the Court held the EDCs MSJ cannot be considered a mere motion for reconsideration of the initial plea. As the MSJ was a distinct motion from the plea, the court of appeals had interlocutory jurisdiction to hear the appeal. It remanded the case back to the court of appeals for analysis.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. This is a per curiam opinion. The docket page with attorney information is found here.