Designating an Unknown Person as a Responsible Third Party

In re Chitkara

Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-24-00482-CV (June 12, 2024)
Justices Pedersen III, Smith (Opinion, linked here), and Garcia 

If a defendant wants to designate an unknown person as a responsible third party, Civil Practice & Remedies Code § 33.004(j) prescribes unique requirements—distinct from those governing designation of known persons— that must be closely followed.

Chitkara sued Ortiz and his employer, Hellas Construction, when Ortiz abruptly pulled in front of Chitkara on the Dallas North Tollway, causing a collision. Ortiz and Hellas alleged in their answer that “the occurrence in question was the result of a person not a party to the suit.” They subsequently sought to designate this “John Doe” as a responsible third party under CPRC Chapter 33. The trial court granted that request, but the Dallas Court of Appeals disagreed on mandamus, directing that the order be vacated.

Section 33.004(j) provides the “exclusive” procedure and delineates the specific requirements for a defendant to designate an “unknown person” as a responsible third party:
  • The defendant must allege in the answer “that an unknown person committed a criminal act that was a cause of the loss or injury that is the subject of the lawsuit” and must plead “facts sufficient for the court to determine that there is a reasonable probability that the act of the unknown person was criminal";
  • The defendant must state in its answer “all identifying characteristics of the unknown person, known at the time of the answer”; and
  • The pleading containing these required allegations must be filed “not later than 60 days after the filing of the defendant’s original answer.”
Although Ortiz and Hellas vaguely alleged that “the occurrence in question was the result of a person not a party to the suit,” they did not allege criminal conduct or facts sufficient to show criminal conduct. Nor did they allege “all identifying characteristics of the unknown person.” The trial court therefore abused its discretion by granting the motion to designate. The Court of Appeals also rejected defendants’ argument that they should be allowed to replead to add the required allegations, saying that would undermine the “explicit timing requirement” of § 33.004(j).
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