In re Bent

Justice Brown (Opinion)

Stacey and Mark Bent sued USAA for breach of contract and statutory bad faith in handling their homeowners’ insurance claims arising from Hurricane Ike in 2008. A jury found USAA had not breached its contract but had misrepresented the scope of coverage under the policy. Unsatisfied with the amount of damages awarded, the Bents filed a motion for new trial, which the trial court granted.

USAA sought mandamus in the court of appeals on the grounds the trial court’s order did not satisfy the Texas Supreme Court’s requirements of a facially valid reason for new trial supported by the record, as articulated in the Columbia, United Scaffolding, and Toyota cases. The court of appeals granted mandamus and directed the trial court to enter judgment on the jury’s verdict.

The Bents then requested mandamus relief in the Texas Supreme Court. Both parties sought guidance on the scope of the “merits review” established in Toyota. After a detailed review of the developing jurisprudence on appellate review of new-trial orders, the Court concluded three of the trial court’s articulated reasons for granting a new trial were facially invalid, and therefore did not “pass judgment on the court of appeals’ review of the record.” The Supreme Court agreed one issue—USAA’s alleged violation of a motion in limine—was a facially valid reason to grant a new trial. But after reviewing the record, the Court held the court of appeals correctly determined USAA did not violate the order, so a new trial could not be granted on that ground.

So, the Supreme Court held the court of appeals properly granted mandamus to reinstate the verdict, but anyone hoping for guidance from the Court on how a court of appeals should conduct a Toyota “merits review” of a facially valid reason for a new trial will have to wait for another opportunity.