… And That’s Final!

Patel v. Nations Renovations, LLC
Supreme Court of Texas, No. 21-0643 (February 10, 2023)
Per Curiam Opinion (linked here)
Another cautionary tale regarding the finality of judgments from the Supreme Court of Texas: Don’t hesitate if finality is in doubt.

Nations sought to confirm an arbitration award against Huntley Construction. Before the trial court rendered judgment confirming that award, Nations added Patel and others as defendants, alleging they were alter egos of Huntley. Soon after, the trial court entered judgment confirming the arbitration award, using language proposed by Nations. That judgment provided “[i] that Nations have all writs and processes to aid in execution of this judgment[,] ... [ii] that all relief not granted herein is denied[,] ... [and] that this is [iii] a final judgment and [iv] appealable.” Months later, Nations asked the trial court to “clarify” that judgment, to state that it was interlocutory rather than final. The trial court did so, but promptly certified for appeal the question whether it had jurisdiction to modify the judgment.

After the court of appeals declined to act, the Supreme Court—treating the PFR as a mandamus petition—ruled the trial court did not have jurisdiction to modify the judgment months after its issuance. The judgment was final, not interlocutory, and Nations had waited too long to ask the trial court to modify the judgment. The Court reiterated that no particular “magic words” are required to make a judgment final. But, taken together, the recitations in the judgment here “form a clear indication of finality,” even though none of them standing alone would be sufficient to do so. Further, although the claims against the new defendants Nations added after arbitration had not been resolved when the trial court issued the judgment, “the reviewing court cannot review the record” to assess whether a judgment is in fact final if, as here, that judgment is final on its face. “If the order contains a ‘clear and unequivocal’ finality phrase disposing of the entire case, the order is final, and the failure to actually dispose of all claims and parties renders the order erroneous but not interlocutory.” If the parties do not timely seek to modify or appeal such an “erroneous” final judgment, they’re stuck with it.

Finally, the Supreme Court rejected Nations’s suggestion that the judgment could be final as to some parties and interlocutory as to others. “Chaos would follow from such a rule,” the Court said, declaring that a “judgment is either final or it is not.”
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