July 27, 2020 | By Matthew Kellogg
A client of McCathern Houston Managing Partner Rodney L. Drinnon will now be able to pursue a former customer accountable for six figures in unpaid bills and breach of contract following a recent ruling from the Texas First Court of Appeals declaring that the trial court had dismissed the case in error.
The hard-fought ruling earlier this month is the latest twist in a story that began with a 2008 agreement that Drinnon’s client, the electrical provider Star Electricity d/b/a Startex Power, made with the owners of an office tower, Northpark Office Tower LP. Startex claimed in 2010 that Northpark failed to honor the agreement in 2010 when it ceased paying for electricity. Although Drinnon had obtained summary judgment in his client’s favor on liability, the trial court applied “death penalty sanctions” against him, rendering Startex unable to produce its key expert witness for a deposition and dismissed the case. The trial court did so despite the fact that Drinnon had terminated the deposition of Northpark’s expert because he refused to answer his questions fully and filed a motion for a protective order requiring Northpark’s expert to fully answer his questions before he presented his own expert.
The latest ruling by the Texas First Court of Appeals panel of three judges, however, said that the application of “death penalty sanctions” was improper. Indeed, the appellate court sustained eight (8) out of (9) points of error raised by Drinnon; the only one that wasn’t granted would have reversed and rendered a verdict for StarTex. The ruling is a significant exoneration for Startex and for Drinnon following such a protracted process, and it gives the McCathern client the opportunity to prove damages and collect a substantial judgment.
Rather than commenting on the trial court’s conduct, attorney Rodney Drinnon pointed to the appellate court’s opinion that summed it up appropriately:
“Because the trial court’s order does not comply with the procedural and substantive requirements for imposing such sanctions, we hold that the trial court erred in ordering that the testimony of Madden, Star’s sole expert on liquidated damages, be excluded.”