Is a Hospital Lien Dispute Subject to Texas Anti-Slapp - Personal Injury Attorneys Get Guidance from the Tyler COA in 2019.

The Tyler COA is on the board early in 2019 with an interesting opinion that could have ripple effects on hospital lien disputes. ETX Successor Tyler f/k/a East Texas Medical Center v. Terrie Pridgeon, as Guardian of the Person and Estate of Jason C. Dubos, NO. 12-18-00083-CV, 2019 WL 623603 (Tyler COA 2019) provides some insight.

Defendant hospital filed a Texas Anti-Slapp against the plaintiff’s declaratory judgment claim concerning (a) the limitations on the hospital’s lien under Tex. Prop. Code §55.004(d)(1) and; (b) what is the reasonable amounts owed under the statute.  While I do not practice in personal injury law, I assume this dispute must occur fairly regularly in the personal injury context.

First, the Tyler COA determined the hospital filing a lien falls within the Right of Free Speech under the Texas Anti-Slapp.  The Tyler COA did not reach the issue of whether the lien also would trigger protection under the Right of Petition.

Second, the Tyler COA held that both the personal injury exemption (§27.010(c)) and commercial speech exemption (§27.010(b)) applied to exclude plaintiff’s claim from the ambit of the Texas Anti-Slapp.  Because the hospital lien is designed to attach to judgments or settlement of a personal injury action it fell within the personal injury exemption.  Further, because the lien related to medical services provided by the hospital to the underlying injured party it fell within the commercial speech exemption.

Third, the Tyler COA took the somewhat unusual step of addressing whether the plaintiff met her burden concerning the declaratory judgment claim.  Even though the Tyler COA could have stopped its analysis after holding that two exemptions apply, it went on to conclude plaintiff established the elements of a justiciable controversy that will be resolved by the declaration sought.  Interestingly, the Tyler COA did not adopt the hospital’s position that the plaintiff had to establish the amount of the lien that is recoverable (arguably a difficult proposition that early in the dispute) but only that the declaration sought would resolve the controversy.

(As a side note, if the Texas Supreme Court takes the issue up, by addressing whether plaintiff met her elements prevents a delay in sending the case back to the Tyler COA if the TSC disagreed with the exemption analysis).

Lastly, the Tyler COA also rejected the affirmative defenses brought by the hospital because quasi-estoppel and estoppel by contract do address whether a justiciable controversy is resolved by the declaratory judgment claim.

(Another side note – the Tyler COA did point out that the hospital did not argue that the declaration sought would not resolve the controversy.  If the hospital argued that the dispute was already ripened there may have been a different outcome, but that is a debate for another day).

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How Long Does it Take to Wind Through the Texas Anti-Slapp Appeal Process? The Starside Case Odyssey.

Adams v. Starside Custom Builders, LLC (547 S.W.3d 890) will be the Fifth (and last) TSC opinion of 2018 that I’ll cover (in a later blog post).  But from a timing perspective it provides a case study on how the Texas Anti-Slapp can extend the life of a dispute.

The lawsuit began on March 20, 2015, was met quickly with a Texas Anti-Slapp motion, which was denied by operation of law (because the trial court did not timely rule) on September 14, 2015.  After a timely filed appeal and briefing, the Dallas COA entered an opinion on June 28, 2016.  The TSC accepted the petition for review and rendered an opinion on April 20, 2018.

In other words, the Texas Anti-Slapp motion created a 15 month span until the Dallas COA ruled, and a 3 year span from filing of the lawsuit until the TSC ruled. That’s 3 years and one month.

And the Starside battle continues as the Dallas COA recently issued an opinion December 7, 2018, in response to the TSC’s opinion.  I’ll leave the excitement of how it came down (at least so far) for your reading pleasure.


Happy Texas-Anti-Slapp Holidays - Thirteen Opinions Issued in December 2018!

Happy Holidays from the Texas Courts of Appeals, as thirteen decisions were issued touching on Anti-Slapp issues, including one from the Texas Supreme Court, S & S Emergency Training Sols., Inc. v. Elliott, 17-0628, 2018 WL 6711322 (Tex. Dec. 21, 2018).

 This should give you an idea of how prolific Anti-Slapp fights are becoming in Texas.

Watch for more posts on S&S and other opinions issued in December.

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