First Things First: Due Order of Hearings for Special Appearances

Jayco Hawaii, Inc. v. Viva Railings, LLC
Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-20-00528-CV (August 25, 2021)
Chief Justice Burns and Justices Molberg and Goldstein (Opinion, linked here)
Most lawyers know and carefully observe the “due-order-of-pleadings” requirement for a special appearance. That is, under Rule 121a(1), a special appearance must be filed “prior to a motion to transfer venue or any other plea, pleading or motion.” Otherwise, the challenge to personal jurisdiction is waived. But Rule 120a(2) embodies a “due-order-of-hearings” requirement, as well, directing that a special appearance “shall be heard and determined before a motion to transfer venue or any other plea or pleading may be heard.” Failure to follow that “due-order” requirement can be fatal to any determination taken out of turn, before the special appearance is resolved.

        Jayco initiated an arbitration in Dallas County pursuant to an arbitration agreement that specified venue in that locale. Viva prevailed in the arbitration and filed suit in a Dallas County District Court to confirm the award. Jayco responded with a special appearance, arguing it was not subject to personal jurisdiction in Texas, and set a hearing on that special appearance. But Viva obtained an earlier setting on its motion to confirm the arbitration award, at which the court granted the motion to confirm and entered judgment for Viva. The Dallas Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, however, because “[t]he rules of civil procedure give a trial court no discretion to hear a plea or pleading, including a motion to confirm an arbitration award, before hearing and determining a special appearance.” Viva argued that Jayco had waived any objection to personal jurisdiction by, among other things, contractually agreeing to a Dallas County venue for the arbitration. But, the appeals court said, “Whether a party has waived its challenge to personal jurisdiction is an issue to be decided by the trial court in connection with that party’s special appearance.” Because the trial court had not conducted a hearing on the special appearance or ruled on it, the Court of Appeals had “no authority to determine the merits of Viva’s waiver arguments” in the first instance. The Court declined Viva’s invitation to construe the order confirming the arbitration award as implicitly overruling Jayco’s special appearance, because Jayco was given no notice that its special appearance would be addressed at the confirmation hearing, “thus depriving Jayco [of] the opportunity to put forth evidence in support of its special appearance.”

        In other words, first things first: No hearing on the special appearance, no discretion to jump ahead and rule on the merits.

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