In re Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse of McAllen, Inc – Case Brief Summary (Texas)

In In re Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse of McAllen, Inc., 167 S.W.3d 827 (Tex. 2005), Burlington sought mandamus relief seeking to vacate a trial court's orders permitting execution of a judgment on the basis that the judgment was not final. 167 S.W.3d at 828.

In the underlying suit, Evangelina Garcia sued Burlington for injuries she sustained while shopping, seeking to recover both actual and exemplary damages. Id.

When Burlington failed to file an answer, the trial court rendered a default judgment in favor of Garcia. Id. The judgment included a finding that Burlington was negligent and awarded Garcia $ 183,000 plus post-judgment interest. Id.

The judgment further provided, "all other relief not expressly granted is hereby denied." Id.

The judgment was signed on March 25, 2002. Id. Burlington filed a motion for new trial which the trial court initially granted on August 12, 2002. Id. at 828-29.

Garcia argued that the order granting the new trial was void because the trial court's plenary power expired on July 10, 2002. Id. at 829.

"On August 21, 2002, the trial court entered a docket notation indicating that the new trial was cancelled due to a lack of jurisdiction; however, the trial court did not sign a written order to that effect." Id.

In September of 2002, Garcia attempted to enforce the judgment through execution. Id. In order to avoid execution, Burlington placed $ 191,523.24 in the registry of the court and filed a motion to quash execution, arguing the trial court's judgment was interlocutory. Id.

The trial court denied the motion to quash and ordered the monies in the registry to be released to Garcia's attorney. Id. Burlington then sought mandamus relief. Id.

The Texas Supreme Court held that the trial court's default judgment was interlocutory. Id. The court asserted "a default judgment that fails to dispose of all claims can be final only if 'intent to finally dispose of the case' is 'unequivocally expressed in the words of the order itself.'" Id. at 830.

The court noted that the default judgment in Burlington's case failed to dispose of all claims. Id. Although it awarded damages on the claim of negligence, it failed to dispose of Garcia's claim for exemplary damages based on gross negligence. Id.

"Because the judgment did not dispose of all claims, it could not be final unless its words 'unequivocally express' an 'intent to finally dispose of the case.'" Id.

The Texas Supreme Court concluded that the default judgment in question lacked an unequivocal expression of finality. Id.

The court noted the judgment did not state it was a final judgment. Id. Although the judgment awarded costs and provided that Garcia was entitled to enforce the judgment through abstract, execution and any other process necessary, the court held those factors were not dispositive. Id.

The court concluded the judgment did not purport to dispose of all parties and all claims, and it did not actually dispose of Garcia's claim for punitive damages. Id.