Justices hand attorney another win in malpractice case

By Charmaine Little | Dec 5, 2018

HOUSTON – On Nov. 27, the Court of Appeals for the 1st District of Texas affirmed a summary judgment in favor of a lawyer who was sued by her former client over allegations of fraud, negligence, breach of contract and more.

The Appeals Court sided with Diane St. Yves and the Law Office of Diane St. Yves in its opinion and upheld the 247th District Court of Harris County's summary judgment ruling in her favor and dismissed Lancaster's counterclaims.

"In four issues, (David) Lancaster contends that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of St. Yves on the ground that his claims are barred by res judicata and in failing to vacate a 'void' protective order and certain 'void' criminal convictions," Justice Terry Jennings wrote. "We affirm."

St. Yves represented Lancaster in divorce proceedings and in two criminal contempt proceedings beginning in December 2011. After much back-and-forth, St. Yves sued Lancaster in 2014 for unpaid attorney’s fees, alleging he owed her more than $27,000. 

Lancaster filed counterclaims against St. Yves over allegations of fraud, negligence, gross negligence, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA), seeking more than $1 million. St. Yves filed a motion for summary judgment on each of the charges stating the evidence proved her affirmative defense of res judicata (the idea that a cause of action can’t be relitigated after receiving a final judgment), which a lower court granted. 

While Lancaster raised many issues in his appeal, the Appeals Court agreed with the lower court and granted St. Yves her motion for summary judgment on all counts. The Appeals Court had already sided with St. Yves earlier stages of this lawsuit, the SE Texas Record previously reported.

In two of his concerns, Lancaster said the trial court should not have granted St. Yves her motion for summary judgment because of the res judicata argument since the a lower court’s decision on one of her cases concerning intervention was already ruled on in 2014 as “void” and she was unable to “show a valid final judgment,” according to the opinion. 

The court pointed out that as St. Yves requested to withdraw as Lancaster’s counsel because in 2014 of the allegedly unpaid attorney fees, the lower court only signed Lancaster’s petition for a bill of review, but never addressed St. Yves attorney’s fees issue.

“Because there remained a claim outstanding, the trial court’s July 23, 2014, bill-of-review order was interlocutory and not a final judgment,” the Appeals Court stated. 

The Appeals Court added that St. Yves was able to prove the lower court’s order on intervention, along with her award of the unpaid attorney’s fees.

Jennings noted Lancaster failed to challenge in his appeal that those involved in the previous or current lawsuit are the same, or even that his counterclaims against St. Yves were better fitting for her intervention proceeding. Considering this, the Appeals Court determined St. Yves did in fact properly show her res judicata defense.

Concerning the void protective order, the Appeals Court also sided with St. Yves and said Lancaster failed to give the court any due evaluation, discussion or even backing for his complaints that the lower court made a mistake when it decided not to vacate the “void” protective order and specific criminal convictions. 

“Failure to cite applicable authority or provide substantive analysis waives an issue on appeal,” the appeals court pointed out. 

Chief Justice Sherry Radack and Jane Bland concurred on the opinion.

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