Trial court failed to try all claims during bench trial so judgment is not final and court of appeals lacks jurisdiction says Amarillo Court of Appeals

Rebecca Terrell and Chandrashekhar Thanedar v. Pampa Independent School District, 07-14-00014-CV (Tex. App. – Amarillo, October 29, 2015).

This is a Texas Open Meetings Act (“TOMA”) case where the Amarillo Court of Appeals held the judgement for the school district at the trial court was not yet final since the trial court did not try all of the claims at the bench trial like it should have.

This is the second court of appeals opinion (and possibly not the last) regarding the non-renewal of Terrell’s employment contract as a first grade teacher with the Pampa Independent School District (“PISD”). Terrell and her husband essentially alleged the PISD violated TOMA when it terminated her employment. The first opinion found at 345 S.W.3d 641 reversed the trial court’s order granting the PISD’s summary judgment motion and remanding back to the trial court. The remand was based on a fact issue of whether the PISD was entitled to the good faith exception for attempts to timely post a TOMA agenda notice on the internet. The parties held a trial to the bench, however, the court limited the entire trial to the attempted internet posting and did not allow Terrell to present any evidence of other TOMA violations. The trial court held for PISD on the merits and Terrell appealed.

The live pleadings claim that PISD violated TOMA by: (1) failing to post meetings on its internet website; (2) failing to post physical notice on the bulletin board in its Central Administrative Office; (3) not having notices posted for the statutorily required period of 72 hours before meetings; (4) not specifying the place of meetings in its notices; (5) not following the proper process to close the March 26, 2009 meeting; and (6) having notices signed by a person not designated or authorized to sign the notices.  While the original appeals opinion held a fact question existed as to the internet posting, the court held that ruling was dispositive of the appeal and not a limitation on Terrell’s claims. Nothing in the opinion affirmed the trial court’s granting of the MSJ on the other five claims. As a result, the judgment issued on remand did not address all claims by all parties and was, therefore, not final for purposes of appeal. The court of appeals dismissed the appeal, but essentially ruled the case is still active at the trial court.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel: Justice Campbell, Justice Hancock and Justice Pirtle. Memorandum Opinion by Justice Hancock. The attorneys listed for the PISD are Andrea Gulley and W. Wade Arnold.  The Plaintiffs were each pro se.