MacDonald Devin, PC v. Rice

Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-14-00938-CV (October 27, 2015)

Justices Francis (Opinion), Lang, and Evans

Attorneys’ fee awards are appropriate relief under a motion to compel, even if there has been no “offensive conduct.” Attorneys from MacDonald Devin, PC appealed the award of $4500 in attorneys’ fees entered against them arising out of a discovery dispute and motion to compel, arguing they did not engage in any sanctionable or “offensive” conduct. But the Dallas Court of Appeals clarified the award was an “award of expenses on a motion to compel under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 215.1(d) and not a traditional discovery sanction.” Under Rule 215.1(d), if a motion to compel is granted, the court “shall” award to the prevailing party the “reasonable expenses incurred in obtaining the order,” unless the court finds the opposition to the motion was substantially justified or that other circumstances make an award of expenses unjust. Appellants’ focus on whether their conduct was “offensive” rather than whether it was “substantially justified,” was therefore off base. Moreover, the Court found that, given Appellants had asserted trade secret privileges to a majority of the discovery requests and those objections were withdrawn or overruled, Appellants had not shown their opposition to discovery was substantially justified. The Court therefore affirmed the trial court award.