• Texas Supreme Court Allows Merit-Based Reviews of Orders Granting New Trial
  • November 8, 2013 | Authors: Kathleen Hopkins Alsina; Jane R. Goldsmith
  • Law Firms: Phelps Dunbar LLP - Houston Office ; Phelps Dunbar LLP - Baton Rouge Office
  • On August 30, 2013, the Texas Supreme Court decided a significant case regarding whether an appellate court may conduct a merits-based review of a trial court’s order granting a new trial after a jury verdict.    This is the third in a trilogy of cases introducing a significant change to Texas post-trial procedure.

    In the past, Texas law did not allow an appeal or a petition for writ of mandamus following the grant of a motion for new trial, even if the trial court gave no reason for overturning the jury verdict. The trial court had complete discretion to grant a new trial, for any reason or no reason, and there was no meaningful avenue of review of that decision by an appellate court.
     However, in two cases in 2009 and 2012, the Texas Supreme Court changed that rule and held than an order granting a new trial could be appealed by petition for writ of mandamus. The Court also specifically required that the trial court state a reasonably specific and legally sound reason why it set aside the jury verdict.   In re Columbia Med.Ctr. of Las Colinas, Subsidiary, L.P., 20 S.W.3d 204 (Tex. 2009); In re United Scaffolding, Inc., 377 S.W.3d 685 (Tex. 2012).

    In In re Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., ---S.W.3d---, 56 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 1007, 2013 WL 4608381 (August 30, 2013), the Court considered an issue left open by In re Columbia and In re United. The issue before the Court was whether the appellate court may delve into the trial court record to evaluate the reasons a trial court gives for granting a new trial.

    The Court held that appellate courts may review the full trial court record in a mandamus review. The court noted that to deny merits-based review would mean that a trial court could set aside a verdict for reasons that are not supported by the record, making the requirement that the trial court state valid reasons for the order a mere formality. The Court also noted that federal courts regularly conduct merits-based review of new trial orders.

    The Court re-emphasized its “faith in the integrity of our trial bench,” and in a concurring opinion, two justices emphasized that trial courts must continue to have significant discretion in granting a new trial. Nevertheless, this decision severely limits the power of a Texas trial court to “undo” a jury’s verdict after trial.