In In re USAA, ---S.W.3d ---, No. 01-17-00048-CV, 2017 WL 2545075 (June 13, 2017), the Houston Court of Appeals recently reminded us that it means what it says in its opinions, and its rulings on questions of law will continue to bind the parties in later proceedings.  After a carrier won a judgment that it did not breach its contract and prevailed on most of the extra-contractual claims against it, the trial court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for new trial in 2013. After a three-year mandamus battle going up to the Supreme Court of Texas, the order granting new trial was vacated in 2016. We reported on that proceeding here: newsroom-news-TIN-20160429-item1.html.  After the case was remanded to the trial court for compliance with the supreme court’s directive, the plaintiffs again moved for new trial, and the trial court once again granted the motion, on three grounds which were the same as those stated (and rejected by the appellate courts) in the original new trial order.

On a new writ of mandamus, the court of appeals applied the “law of the case” doctrine  and compared the 2016 new trial order with its previous analysis of the original 2013 new trial order.  The court concluded that each reason given for granting new trial in the 2016 order was contrary to the existing law of the case, as explained in the court of appeals’ 2014 mandamus opinion. The court rejected the argument that “law of the case” doctrine did not apply because the original 2013 new trial order and the 2016 new trial order were not identical – in essence, holding that re-wording an order already held invalid cannot escape the law of the case.

Editor’s Note: USAA was represented by Levon Hovnatanian and Robert Owen in the court of appeals and in the Supreme Court of Texas.  Martin, Disiere, Jefferson, & Wisdom congratulates them on their victory and appreciates the continued opportunity to represent USAA.

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