Saturday, May 3, 2008

Anti-Suit Injunction Upheld on Appeal

Henry v. McMichael (Tex.App.- Houston [1st Dist.] Apr. 24, 2008)(Justice Hanks)
(dominant jurisdiction, temporary injunction appeal)
AFFIRM TC JUDGMENT: Opinion by Justice Hanks
Panel: Before Justices Taft, Hanks and Higley01-07-00622-CV
Case style: David Henry v. James McMichael and Elizabeth Ann Koehler Co-Independent Executors of The Estate of W.T. McMichael and Catherine McMichael
Appeal from County Court at Law No 1 & Probate Court of Brazoria County
Trial Court Judge: Hon. Jerri Lee Mills

Anti-Suit Injunction

In his second issue, Henry argues that the trial court erred in granting the anti-suit injunction because neither the McMichaels’ application nor the evidence submitted in support of the application established the requisite elements of a temporary injunction under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure: a probable right to recovery, irreparable harm, and no adequate remedy at law. We disagree.

When a party files suit in a court of competent jurisdiction, that court is entitled to proceed to judgment and may protect its jurisdiction by enjoining the parties from proceeding in a suit subsequently filed in another court of this state. Perry v. Del Rio, 66 S.W.3d 239, 252 (Tex. 2001); Gannon, 706 S.W.2d at 305. Further, Texas courts are empowered to enjoin parties from going forward with litigation in another county. See Christensen v. Integrity Ins. Co., 719 S.W.2d 161, 163 (Tex. 1986). Although courts of this state have that power, however, the principle of comity requires that courts exercise this equitable power sparingly and only in very special circumstances. See Golden Rule Ins. Co. v. Harper, 925 S.W.2d 649, 651 (Tex. 1996); Christensen, 719 S.W.2d at 163.

The Texas Supreme Court has observed that an anti-suit injunction is appropriate to:

(1) address a threat to the court’s jurisdiction,
(2) prevent the evasion of important public policy,
(3) prevent a multiplicity of suits, or
(4) protect a party from vexatious or harassing litigation.

Gonzalez v. Reliant Energy, Inc., 159 S.W.3d 615, 623 (Tex. 2005). The party seeking the injunction must show that “a clear equity demands” the injunction because of one of those four circumstances. Id. Under the third category, a single parallel proceeding in another forum does not constitute a multiplicity of suits and cannot, by itself, justify the issuance of an anti-suit injunction. Golden Rule, 925 S.W.2d at 651–52. Before an anti-suit injunction can properly issue, the requesting party must demonstrate that “very special circumstances” exist such that an injunction is necessary to prevent an “irreparable miscarriage of justice.” See id. at 651.

Henry, relying on the holding in Manufacturers’ Hanover Trust Company v. KingdomInvestors Corporation, 819 S.W.2d 607 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 1991, nowrit), argues that a party seeking an anti-suit injunction is also required under TexasRule of Civil Procedure 680 to establish a probable right of recovery in the underlyinglawsuit, irreparable harm, and that no adequate remedy at law exists. His reliance onthis case for such a requirement is misplaced. Manufacturers Hanover Trust wasdecided before the Texas Supreme Court’s Gonzalez opinion, which does not requirea showing of these elements for an anti-suit injunction issued under the trial court’sequitable powers. See Gonzalez, 159 S.W.3d. at 623.

This case merits an anti-suit injunction for the first reason—the need to protect the Brazoria County court from the threat posed by the Harris County case to its jurisdiction. Because the Brazoria County action was the first filed and there has been no finding of estoppel, the Brazoria County court has dominant jurisdiction over the Harris County court. Thus, as found by the Brazoria County court in its order, if the injunction did not issue, the McMichaels could be irreparably harmed by the pending dispositive motions in the Harris County action. Without the injunction, Henry would proceed with the pending summary judgment hearing and trial on the merits in the Harris County action, thereby depriving the Brazoria County court of its jurisdiction to hear the case and depriving the McMichaels of their choice of forum without an effective remedy for this error. See Gonzalez, 159 S.W.3d. at 623.

Likewise, clear equity justifies an anti-suit injunction in this case. The fact that the McMicheals have correctly argued and established that the Harris County court does not have dominant jurisdiction and has not brought about a stay or abatement of the Harris County action. That action remains pending, and, absent an injunction, Henry could continue to pursue both state court actions, only one of which has dominant jurisdiction, requiring the McMichaels to defend both actions and pursue appeals in both, if necessary. To allow the Harris County action to proceed under these circumstances would be contrary to the longstanding public “policy of the courts and the legislature of this state to avoid a multiplicity of lawsuits.” See id.

Accordingly, we hold that the trial court did not err in granting the McMichaels’ temporary injunction, and we overrule issue two.

No comments: