Texas Fourteenth Court of Appeals Chief Justice Kem Thompson Frost | txcourts.gov
HOUSTON (SE Texas Record) — A Texas appeals court has affirmed a lower court's judgment in favor of a Houston criminal attorney in a Super Bowl ticket dispute, saying the appellants failed to prove "no-evidence ground" in the case.
"The appellants have not shown that the summary-judgment evidence raises a genuine fact issue as to whether no proper service of process was effected on them or as to whether they diligently pursued all available and adequate legal remedies, such as a new trial," the Texas 14th Court of Appeals ruled in its 19-page opinion issued May 7.
"The appellants have not shown that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment based on the no-evidence ground challenging the third equitable-bill-of-review element - lack of fault or negligence on the appellants' part."
Appeals court Chief Justice Kem Thompson Frost wrote the opinion in which justices Kevin Jewell and Charles A. Spain Concurred.
Baldemar "Val" Zuniga, a 15-year criminal defense attorney with the Zuniga Law Firm, filed suit against Vernon Kent Maree and Front Row Parking, Inc., also based in Houston, following a dispute over the sale of 2013 Super Bowl tickets at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, according to the background portion of the appeals court's decision.
Maree and Front Row Parking appealed a Harris County Civil Court decision to grant summary judgment in Zuniga's favor of an equitable bill of review against a judgment rendered after they failed to appear at trial.
The judgment was rendered after an attorney, Troy Pradia, provided suggestions to Maree but whom Maree alleged was engaged to represent him or Front Row Parking to "file an answer on their behalf in any proceeding, including the Zuniga lawsuit," the appeals court's opinion said.
Pradia, who said he was acting as attorneys for Maree and Front Row Parking, filed the original answer to Zuniga suit's lawsuit but Maree and Front Row Parking says Padia never informed them that he had done so.
"About four months later, the trial court granted Pradia's motion to withdraw as counsel for the Maree parties, with no new counsel taking Pradia’s place," the opinion said. "The Maree parties assert that they never received notice of the motion to withdraw, and that even if they had received notice, the motion did not mention the trial setting or inform them of the trial date."
Zuniga's counsel did appear for trial in June 2014 and asked the court for a judgment by default, for which the court issued a hearing date the following month.
Maree and Front Row Parking allege they never received notice of the hearing date and the civil court issued final judgment in Zuniga's favor on July 28, 2014. Maree and Front Row Parking maintain they didn't know there was a final judgment in place until Zuniga began post-judgment collection efforts.
In June 2015, Maree and Front Row Parking filed an equitable-bill-of-review asking the civil court to set aside its judgment, saying they did have "meritorious defenses to the Zuniga lawsuit," the appeals court decision said.
Zuniga countered, saying, in part, that there was no evidence of meritorious defenses that Maree and Front Row Parking had not been prevented from launching such a defense or that there is absence of fault or negligence on the part of the Maree parties.
The civil court granted Zuniga's summary-judgment motion without specifying grounds and dismissed the Maree parties' bill-of-review suit. The Maree parties appealed, alleging an exception in this case.
"In sum, the Maree parties have not shown that the trial court erred in granting summary-judgment based on the no-evidence ground that there is no evidence of an absence of fault or negligence on the part of either of the Maree parties," the appeals court said. "Therefore, we affirm the trial court's judgment."