In re United Scaffolding, Inc., No. 09-0403 (Tex. Jan. 22, 2010)(per curiam)
IN RE UNITED SCAFFOLDING, INC.; from Jefferson County;
9th district (09-09-00098-CV, 287 SW3d 274, 04-16-09)
Pursuant to Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 52.8(c), without hearing oral argument, the Court conditionally
grants the petition for writ of mandamus.
Per Curiam Opinion
View Electronic Briefs in 09-0403 IN RE UNITED SCAFFOLDING, INC.
In re United Scaffolding, Inc., No. 09-0403 (Tex. 2010)(per curiam)
In this original proceeding we consider whether the trial court abused its discretion by disregarding a
jury verdict and granting a new trial when the reason it gave for doing so was “in the interest of justice
and fairness.” Based on our decision in In re Columbia Medical Center of Las Colinas, 290 S.W.3d
204 (Tex. 2009), we hold that it did and conditionally grant relief in part.
James and Lisa Levine sued United Scaffolding, Inc. for damages because of injuries James suffered
when he fell from scaffolding built by United. Following a jury trial, and based on the verdict, the trial
court signed a judgment in favor of the Levines. The Levines filed a motion for new trial. They asserted
that (1) the jury findings of no damages for physical pain and suffering, mental anguish, physical
impairment, past medical care, and loss of earning capacity were against the great weight and
preponderance of the evidence; (2) the damages awarded were manifestly too small; and (3) the trial
court should grant a new trial in the interest of fairness and justice. The trial court granted the Levines’
motion. It stated in its order that “[a]fter considering Plaintiffs[’] . . . Motion for New trial, the court
GRANTS the motion and orders [a] new trial in the interest of justice and fairness.”
Asserting that the trial court abused its discretion in disregarding the jury verdict, United petitioned
the court of appeals for writ of mandamus. A divided court denied relief. 287 S.W.3d 274. United now
seeks mandamus relief here. It argues that the trial court abused its discretion by granting the Levines’
motion when (1) the only reason given for granting the motion was “in the interest of justice and
fairness,” and (2) the jury verdict was supported by sufficient evidence.
After the court of appeals issued its opinion, we held that a trial court acts arbitrarily and abuses its
discretion if it disregards a jury verdict and grants a new trial, but does not specifically set out its
reasons. In re Columbia Med. Ctr. of Las Colinas, 290 S.W.3d 204, 212-13 (Tex. 2009). We also held
that (1) stating the new trial is granted “in the interests of justice and fairness” is not a sufficiently
specific reason, and (2) a relator challenging such an order does not have an adequate remedy by
appeal. Id. at 206, 209-10, 213.
The Levines assert that this case is distinguishable from Columbia because the trial court in this
case specifically considered and adopted the motion for new trial and the motion clearly identified the
specific grounds warranting a new trial. We disagree that the trial court’s order is as clear as the
Levines argue it is. The order generally granted the motion, then specified one reason for granting it: in
the interest of justice and fairness.
The Levines also make arguments advanced by the dissent in Columbia: (1) mandamus is not the
proper vehicle to implement the change of requiring trial judges to specify reasons for granting a new
trial, and (2) the benefits of a prompt retrial outweigh the detriments of interlocutory appellate review. Id.
at 215-16, 219-20 (O’Neill, J., dissenting). Those arguments were addressed and rejected in
Columbia. Id. at 209-10, 214. We reject them again today for the reasons expressed in Columbia.
The Levines argue that the trial judge did not abuse his discretion because he followed the
applicable law in effect at the time he issued the order granting a new trial. However, an erroneous
legal conclusion is an abuse of discretion, even if it may not have been clearly erroneous when made.
See id. at 213; Huie v. DeShazo, 922 S.W.2d 920, 927-28 (Tex. 1996) (rejecting a party’s claim that a
trial court could not have abused its discretion in resolving an issue of first impression because an
“erroneous legal conclusion, even in an unsettled area of law, is an abuse of discretion”).
Accordingly, based on our decision in Columbia, we hold that the trial court abused its discretion by
failing to give a specific reason for granting the new trial, and that United does not have an adequate
United also asserts that the trial court abused its discretion by granting the new trial motion because
the grounds in the motion were based on jury findings and the jury’s verdict was supported by sufficient
evidence. But we do not presume the trial court granted the new trial on grounds asserted in the
motion. See Columbia, 290 S.W.3d at 213. Because we do not know the reason the trial court granted
the new trial, we will not grant relief other than directing the trial court to specify its reasons for granting
the new trial.
Without hearing oral argument, we conditionally grant, in part, United’s petition for writ of mandamus.
See Tex. R. App. P. 52.8(c). We direct the trial court to specify its reasons for disregarding the jury
verdict and ordering a new trial. We deny United’s petition seeking mandamus directing the trial court
to set aside its order granting a new trial. We are confident the trial court will comply, and the writ will
issue only if it fails to do so.
OPINION DELIVERED: January 15, 2010