Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-21-00754-CV (February 15, 2022)
Justices Molberg, Goldstein (Opinion, linked here), and Smith
Generally, Texas law allows an appeal only from final judgments and from interlocutory orders made appealable by statute. But an exception exists for interlocutory orders in a probate proceeding if an order disposes of all parties and issues for which a particular part of a probate proceeding was brought—sometimes described as allowing “multiple” final judgments in probate. To determine whether the probate exception applies, a court may consider whether the matter disposed of in the interlocutory order could properly be severed.
John Roach filed an ancillary proceeding in a probate case against Patricia Roach and Patricia Roach Tacker alleging breach of fiduciary duty, breach of a family partnership agreement, and negligence. John also sought a declaration that the Patricias, along with the decedent’s attorney, manipulated the decedent into modifying two codicils while the decedent was cognitively impaired. The Patricias filed a motion for summary judgment alleging John’s challenge to the codicils was barred by the two-year statute of limitations applicable to will contests. The trial court granted the motion, and John appealed.
The Court of Appeals applied the severability analysis and held it lacked jurisdiction over the interlocutory order dismissing John’s declaratory judgment action. Among other things, to be severable, a claim cannot be “so interwoven” with the remaining claims “that they involve the same facts and issues.” Because the alleged scheme between the Patricias and the decedent’s attorney at the heart of the declaratory action was also significant to the remaining claims for breach of fiduciary duty, breach of the partnership agreement, and negligence, the Court concluded the declaratory action was not subject to severance and the interlocutory order dismissing the single claim was not appealable.
The Court of Appeals suggested it disagreed with In re Estate of Florence, 307 S.W.3d 887, 889 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2010, no pet.), a “somewhat factually similar case.” The Dallas Court explained that Florence only briefly addressed jurisdiction over the interlocutory order in a footnote without providing meaningful analysis.