American Heritage Capital, LP v. Gonzalez

In American Heritage Capital, LP v. Gonzalez, 436 S.W.3d 865 (Tex. App.--Dallas 2014, no pet.), the Court determined that a pending request for attorneys' fees and sanctions under Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code chapter 27 prevented a dismissal order from being a final judgment. In that case, American Heritage Capital (AHC) sued Alan and Dinah Gonzalez for defamation and tortious interference with prospective business relationships. Id. at 868. Dinah and Alan did not file answers; instead they filed motions to dismiss under chapter 27. Id. at 870. In their motions, Dinah and Alan sought not only dismissal of the action but also court costs, attorneys' fees, expenses, and sanctions. Id. On January 30, 2012, the trial court granted AHC's partial nonsuit and dismissed AHC's claims against Dinah. Id. After hearing Alan's motion to dismiss on March 5, the trial court signed an order on March 6 reciting that Alan's motion to dismiss "is hereby granted and this action is dismissed against Defendant, Alan Gonzalez, with prejudice to its refiling." Id. The order, however, did not dispose of Alan's request for costs, fees, and sanctions, and in the last paragraph the court set a hearing on March 9 "to determine the damages and costs to be awarded Defendant, Alan Gonzalez, pursuant to 27.009 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code." Id. The word "final" did not appear anywhere in the order, nor did it state that it disposed of all claims and all parties. Id. Furthermore, the parties continued to litigate the case for more than thirty days after the signing of the order without the filing of a deadline-extending motion under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 329b, and on March 26 the trial court signed an order setting the case for trial in October 2012. See id. On April 14, 2012, the court signed a judgment awarding Alan attorneys' fees and sanctions. Id. at 869. The Court concluded that the statements posted on various websites about a mortgage company were not defamatory. One statement was "The guy that was supposed to handle closing could barely speak english ." The Court concluded that this statement (1) was a nonactionable statement of opinion because it could not be objectively verified and (2) did not rise to the level of being defamatory because it was not egregious enough to impeach the company's honesty, tarnish its reputation, or expose it to ridicule or financial injury. Id. at 875. Another statement was "At one point they asked for an explanation of $200 out of a $30,000 deposit to make sure we were not 'borrowing money' for closing. It was my sons birthday money for god's sakes!!!!" We concluded that this was a statement of subjective opinion and not defamatory. Id. at 876. Finally, the Court concluded that the statement that employees "were incompetent" was a nonactionable opinion and the statement that a company required additional "things" after promising a quick closing was implicit criticism and was not egregious enough to be defamatory. Id.