Beware the TRAP: The Deadline to Appeal after Filing a Post-Judgment Motion

Nur Ali v. Spectra Bank
Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-21-01113-CV (April 6, 2022)
Chief Justice Burns, Justice Molberg (Opinion, linked here), and Justice Goldstein

A to Z Wholesale Wine & Spirits, LLC, v. Spectra Bank
Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-21-01149-CV (April 6, 2022)
Chief Justice Burns, Justice Molberg, and Justice Goldstein (Opinion, linked here)
In substantially identical opinions in two related cases, the Dallas Court of Appeals made appellants painfully aware of an anomaly in the Texas rules. Under TRAP 26.1, a notice of appeal ordinarily must be filed “30 days after the [trial court] judgment is signed.” But if an appellant timely files a qualifying motion, such as a motion for new trial, TRAP 26.1(a) extends the deadline for the notice of appeal to “90 days after the judgment is signed”—but not to 30 days after the motion is overruled or denied, as one might expect and as is prescribed by the corresponding federal rule governing notices of appeal, FRAP 4(a)(4). This anomaly can prove especially treacherous where, as in these two cases, the post-judgment motion in the trial court is overruled by operation of law.

In both Ali and A to Z the appellant timely filed a motion for new trial. In each case, the motion was overruled by operation of law 75 days after the judgment was signed, pursuant to TRCP 329b(c). Instead of filing a notice of appeal within the next 15 days—that is, within 90 days after the judgment was signed—the appellants waited until 30 days after the motions were overruled, making the notices 15 days late under TRAP 26.1(a). That still gave each appellant a last-gasp, post-deadline opportunity to seek an extension under TRAP 26.3, provided they could show their delay in filing “was not deliberate or intentional, but was the result of inadvertence, mistake, or mischance.” Trying to meet that standard, each appellant argued the delay was justified to allow for “disposition of the entire case below,” i.e., for the trial court’s plenary jurisdiction to expire under TRCP 329b(e). The Court of Appeals didn’t buy it, saying it had “repeatedly held that delay caused by waiting for the trial court to rule on a post-judgment motion or for the trial court’s plenary power to expire is unreasonable as it reflects an awareness of the deadline for filing a notice of appeal but a conscious decision to ignore it.” In other words, a “deliberate [and] intentional” decision, exactly the opposite of “inadvertance, mistake, or mischance.” In each case, therefore, the Court denied the appellant’s motion to extend time to file a notice of appeal and dismissed for want of jurisdiction.
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