In Nath v. Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine, 2014 Tex. LEXIS 756 (Tex. Aug. 29, 2014) the Court considered one of the largest sanctions awards in Texas history.  In a suit between a physician and other medical providers, the trial court imposed sanctions against the doctor well in excess of $1 million for the filing of groundless pleadings in bad faith and with an improper purpose.

A plastic surgeon employed by Baylor College of Medicine and affiliated with Texas Children’s Hospital asserted claims for defamation, tortious interference, negligent supervision and training, and a declaratory judgment claim that the doctor could or should disclose to his patients that another doctor had been operating on patients despite impaired vision and hepatitis.

More than four years after the suit began, the trial court granted summary judgment and dismissed the physician’s claims against the hospital and Baylor.  The defendants then moved for sanctions.  The trial court awarded $776,607 to the hospital and $644,500 to Baylor in attorney’s fees and sanctions against the physician.

The physician appealed, arguing that the sanctions were excessive and should not have been awarded against him personally.  Finding that he was using the lawsuit to put damaging, irrelevant information into the public domain and thereby extort a more favorable settlement, the Court concluded that his pleadings were filed for an improper purpose and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in sanctioning him personally.

Next, the Court considered whether the amount of the sanctions was excessive.  After reviewing the non–exclusive factors enumerated in Low v. Henry, 221 S.W.3d 609, 620 (Tex. 2007), the Court concluded that the trial court failed to consider “the degree to which the offended person’s own behavior caused the expenses for which recovery is sought.”  Because the defendants did not seek summary judgment on time–barred claims until nearly five years after the allegations were first made, the Court remanded for the trial court to reassess the amount of sanctions awarded.

The four dissenting justices would have respected the trial court’s discretion to determine which Low factors were relevant to ensure that the amount of sanctions assessed were appropriate.  The dissent found the remand especially troubling because the trial judge who presided over the case had lost his bid for reelection and his replacement would not be able to witness firsthand the sanctioned behavior.