LACHES IN THE CYBER AGE: WHEN THE JUDGE SAYS “GRANTED” BY EMAIL, CAN YOU WAIT FOR A SIGNED ORDER BEFORE PURSUING MANDAMUS?

In re Yamaha Golf-Car Co.
Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-19-00292-CV (April 8, 2019)
Justices Bridges, Osborne, and Carlyle (Opinion, linked here)
In this mandamus proceeding, the Dallas Court of Appeals held that the relator waived its right to pursue mandamus relief by failing to timely challenge a trial court ruling contained in an email to the parties, even though no signed, written order was issued until months later.

The underlying lawsuit involved injuries to a child caused by a golf-car accident. The defendant, Yamaha, moved to designate emergency medical care providers as responsible third parties under Chapter 33. Plaintiffs filed a motion to strike, asserting that Yamaha had failed to meet the pleading and proof requirements of Chapter 74 concerning medical-care providers in emergency situations.

A month after the court held a hearing on that and other motions, the Judge sent an email to the court administrator stating that she needed “the following orders,” and listing the pending motions with an indication as to the court’s ruling on each, including that the motion to strike was “Granted.”  The court administrator forwarded the Judge’s email to all counsel, and requested orders be submitted.

The court did not sign a formal order denying the motion to strike for another seven months. Yamaha filed its mandamus petition one month after that, only three weeks before trial. Without considering the merits of the order striking the designation, the Court of Appeals determined that Yamaha’s mandamus was barred by laches because it had waited eight months after the Judge’s email announcing her decision before seeking mandamus relief. The Court rejected Yamaha’s argument that the Judge’s email was not sufficiently specific, and found that “signing the order was merely a ministerial act.”

So, the next time a court announces a ruling orally, in an email, or in some other informal fashion, think twice about waiting for a signed, written order before pursuing mandamus.

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