Opinions, May 19, 2015

The Fourteenth Court of Appeals released two memorandum opinions today, in Hall v. Hall, No. 14-12-00655-CV (Tex.App.–Houston [14th Dist.] May 19, 2015) and in In re Merrikh, No. 14-14-0024-CV (Tex.App.–Houston [14th Dist.] May 19, 2015), the latter of which is actually a replacement opinion from the prior opinion entered on March 17, 2015 and which I blogged about here. Because the Merrikh replacement opinion has only minor changes to the recitation of facts (specifically, the evidence the trial court relied upon in estimating the husband’s income), I won’t revisit it in detail.

In Hall v. Hall, the parties married in 2005 and separated in 2010. They had one child. Trial on the issue of possession and access to the child began in December 2011. Not only were both parties represented by counsel, but the father is a practicing attorney. After two days of testimony, the associate judge called the parties’ attorneys into chambers and strongly suggested that the parties come to an agreement and recommended certain terms. In an ominously terse footnote, the Court of Appeals stated, “We make no comment on the propriety of the associate judge’s alleged actions in this case.” The parties then discussed specific terms and signed a hand-written document called “Judge’s Ruling” which was signed by the associate judge the next day at the prove-up hearing. Under oath, both parties stated they were in agreement with the Judge’s Ruling. The Judge’s Ruling dealt with possession and access of the child, child support and the fees of the amicus attorney.

The father then filed a motion for new trial alleging he was deprived of his right to trial and objected to several terms of the Judge’s Ruling. That same day, he filed a request for findings of fact and conclusions of law. He also filed a motion to restart the trial. The trial court signed a divorce decree and eventually denied his motion for new trial orally.

In four of his eight issues on appeal, the father challenged the trial court’s granting of summary judgment which is somewhat mystifying as there was no summary judgment entered or even requested. Apparently, the father is referring to the associate judge interrupting the trial to recommend terms of a settlement as a summary judgment, but there appears to be little, if any, support for this being considered a summary judgment. Because the father failed to preserve error, his first six issues were overruled.

In his seventh issue, the father argued the trial court’s ruling was presumed harmful because it failed to file findings of fact and conclusions of law. But because the father failed to point to any place in the record where disputed evidence on the parties’ marital estate was presented, no findings and conclusions were required and the issue was overruled.

In his eighth issue, the father’s challenge to the amicus’s fees was overruled because he made no timely complaint to the trial court on this issue.

All told, an interesting case.


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