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Did I ask too much? More than a lot?

Texas Supreme Court Amends Rule Regarding Claims for Relief

In 1991, the Irish rock band, U2, released an album containing the song “One”. In 2010, Rolling Stone placed the song at number 36 on its list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time".


A particularly striking verse from the song begins by inquiring


"Did I ask too much? More than a lot?"

 

Plaintiffs have been tasked for many years with these same questions. In late December, the Texas Supreme Court gave its final approval to an Amended Rule 47 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure which took effect January 1, 2021 and provides:


RULE 47. CLAIMS FOR RELIEF


An original pleading which sets forth a claim for relief, whether an original petition, counterclaim, cross-claim, or third party claim, shall contain:


(a) a short statement of the cause of action sufficient to give fair notice of the claim

involved;

(b) a statement that the damages sought are within the jurisdictional limits of the

court;

(c) except in suits governed by the Family Code, a statement that the party seeks:

(1) only monetary relief of $250,000 or less, excluding interest, statutory or punitive

damages and penalties, and attorney fees and costs; or

(2) monetary relief of $250,000 or less and non-monetary relief; or

(3) monetary relief over $250,000 but not more than $1,000,000; or

(4) monetary relief over $1,000,000; or

(5) only non-monetary relief; and

(d) a demand for judgment for all the other relief to which the party deems himself entitled.


Relief in the alternative or of several different types may be demanded; provided, further, that upon special exception the court shall require the pleader to amend so as to specify the maximum amount claimed. A party that fails to comply with (c) may not conduct discovery until the party’s pleading is amended to comply.


Goals of Rule 47:

  • To inform the Defendant of the amount of recovery being sought by the Plaintiff.

  • To establish the discovery control plan level for the case based on the amount of relief sought.

The dollar thresholds increased on January 1 with the rule amendment.


However, the question remains,


Does this Rule actually limit a Plaintiff’s ability to recover more than the amount stated in his/her pleadings?


In July 2020, the Dallas Court of Appeals in the case of Murphy v. Arcos, reduced a Jury Verdict of $1,070,500 to $200,000 to conform with Plaintiff’s live pleadings at the time Final Judgment was entered.


At the time the trial court entered its Final Judgment, Plaintiff’s live pleading stated that Plaintiff sought the recovery of damages of “over $100,000, but not more than $200,000”. Plaintiff subsequently filed a Motion for Leave to Amend Petition to allow for the recovery of $1,200,000 to conform with the jury’s verdict, which the trial court granted and entered an Amended Final Judgment. However, in July 2020, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court’s actions were too late as the original Final Judgment had already been signed thereby preventing the trial court from granting the Motion for Leave to Amend Petition and resulting in error in the entry of an Amended Final Judgment.



However, in a rare about face, on December 11, 2020, the Dallas Court of Appeals, following an en banc rehearing, withdrew its opinion and judgment of July 17, 2020, and entered a new opinion holding that the Motion for Leave to Amend Petition was not too late as the trial court’s Amended Final Judgment actually vacated the original Final Judgment entered. Therefore, because the Motion for Leave to Amend Petition was filed before the entry of the Amended Final Judgment, it was not error for the trial court to grant the Motion for Leave and Plaintiff was not limited to a recovery of only $200,000.


So, the end result appears to be that a Plaintiff can set forth in her pleading that she is not seeking more than $200,000 in damages, but if the Jury awards her more than her stated claim for relief, she can simply ask the trial court for leave to amend before a Final Judgment is entered.


But defense counsel may be wise to pay attention the final paragraph of Rule 47: upon special exception the court shall require the pleader to amend so as to specify the maximum amount claimed.


By requiring the Plaintiff to specify the maximum amount claimed, a plain reading of Rule 47 would suggest that the rule does contemplate some limitation of the amount a Plaintiff can recover at trial. If the Plaintiff’s pleadings are not in proper order at the time of trial, the pleading error could also leave a Plaintiff pondering the answer to the questions posed by the song verse from “One”:


“You gave me nothing, now it’s all I got.”


Our apologies to fans of U2, and in particular, Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr., for potentially ruining one of the greatest 500 songs of all time.

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