Court of Appeals Issues Anti-SLAPP Opinions
Texas’s Anti-SLAPP statute, also known as the Texas Citizens Participation Act (“TCPA”), continues to be a hot topic in the courts of appeal. The Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio recently issued two opinions discussing the TCPA.
Court Holds That Actual Amount of Damages Not Required to Defeat TCPA Motion
In Quintanilla v. West, No. 04-16-00533-CV, 2020 WL 214747 (Tex. App.—San Antonio Jan. 15, 2020, no pet. h.) (mem. op.), the court considered a limited issue on remand from the Supreme Court of Texas: whether the non-movant met his burden to establish by clear and specific evidence a prima facie case for the causation and special damages elements of his claim for slander of title. Id. at *3. The court held that when viewing the pleadings and the evidence “in the light most favorable” to the non-movant, the evidence supported “rational inferences” that the non-movant established a prima facie case that the movant’s liens caused special damages to the non-movant’s interest in land. Id. at *4. The court emphasized that a party responding to a TCPA motion to dismiss is not required to prove the actual amount of damages, but is only required to “adduce evidence supporting a rational inference as to the existence of damages, not their amount or constituent parts.” Id. (citations omitted). The court affirmed the trial court’s denial of the TCPA motion to dismiss and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. Id.
Court Holds That Probate Court Had No Jurisdiction to Grant TCPA Motion
In Johnson v. Johnson, No. 04-19-00500-CV, 2020 WL 214762 (Tex. App.—San Antonio Jan. 15, 2020, no pet. h.) (mem. op.), the Fourth Court of Appeals considered whether one of Bexar County’s statutory probate courts had jurisdiction to grant a TCPA motion to dismiss. In 2017, the decedent’s daughter opened a dependent administration in the probate court. Id. at *1. Two years later, the decedent’s widow filed an original petition in the probate court under the same cause number as the dependent administration, asserting claims for business disparagement and intentional infliction of emotional distress against the decedent’s daughter and mother individually (“the tort case”). Id. In response, the daughter and mother filed a motion to dismiss the tort case under the TCPA, which the probate court granted. Id. at *2.
On appeal, the Fourth Court held that the probate court lacked jurisdiction over the tort case and therefore necessarily lacked jurisdiction over the TCPA motion to dismiss. A probate court has jurisdiction over “matters related to [a] probate proceeding” and may also exercise “pendent and ancillary jurisdiction as necessary to promote judicial efficiency and economy” when a close relationship exists between the non-probate claims and the claims against the estate. Id. at *3 (internal citations omitted). The tort case did not assert claims against the decedent’s estate or the dependent administrator of the estate, but instead asserted claims against the decedent’s daughter and mother individually. Thus, the tort case did not fall within any of the Estate Code’s enumerated “matters related to probate proceeding” or within the probate court’s pendent and ancillary jurisdiction, and was therefore outside the subject matter jurisdiction of the statutory probate court. Id. at *4 (internal citations omitted). “Because ‘[s]ubject matter jurisdiction is essential to a court’s authority to decide a case,” the court held that the probate court lacked jurisdiction to dismiss the tort case under the TCPA. Id. at *4. The court reversed the probate court’s order granting the TCPA motion and rendered judgment dismissing the tort case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Id.