Texas Supreme Court Grants Mandamus Relief, Vacates New Trial Order

Deborah Hankinson, Brett Kutnick, and Jennifer Stagen won a mandamus victory in the Texas Supreme Court for client Dean Davenport in a dispute originally brought by his former attorneys in 2012.  The attorneys claimed that under a contingency fee agreement they were owed a percentage of Davenport’s company, Water Exploration Co. Ltd., in addition to the monetary fee paid to them.

At the conclusion of a multi-week trial, a Bexar County jury determined that Davenport’s contingency fee agreement did not include giving the attorneys a share in the company.  The jury also found in Davenport’s favor on his affirmative defenses of estoppel and waiver.  The trial court, however, set aside the verdict, granting the attorneys’ request for a new trial.  In making the ruling, the court stated that the evidence was legally and factually insufficient to support the jury’s findings on Davenport’s affirmative defenses and that the agreement provided that fees would be paid out of the ownership in any business recovered.

In its ruling, the Texas Supreme Court held that the trial court abused its discretion in ordering a new trial.  The Supreme Court therefore granted mandamus relief and ordered the trial court to vacate its new trial order and render judgment on the verdict.  According to the June 16, 2017, story “Texas High Court Nixes New Trial in $42M Attys’s Fee Row” by the national legal news service Law360, the Court stated that it “did not believe the new trial order was ‘issued for valid reasons’” and that the attorney-client agreement was unambiguous in stating that the attorneys were only entitled to a monetary recovery for their services.  In re Davenport, No. 15‑0882, ___ S.W.3d ___, 2017 WL 2623070 (Tex. June 16, 2017) (orig. proceeding).