There are two questions here. First: is a judgment rendered after the close of trial final and appealable if it does not expressly dispose of the plaintiff's claims against defendants with whom the plaintiff was negotiating settlement? Second: must a motion to extend post-judgment deadlines under Rule 306a(5) of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure
Plaintiff Christopher Leigh John sued six defendants: Trinity Mother Frances Health System, Tom Cammack, and Trincare Inc. ("the Trinity defendants"); Harrison County Hospital Association, Inc. and Marshall Health Services ("the Marshall defendants"); and Dianna Taylor. John alleged fraud, breach of contract, and tortious interference. The trial court granted partial summary judgment for the Marshall defendants on John's breach-of-contract claims. Shortly before trial, John reached a preliminary settlement with the three Trinity defendants, but no final agreement was made and the Trinity defendants were not dismissed from the case. The other three defendants moved for a continuance because of uncertainty about the effect of the settlement on the trial. The trial court denied the motion, and the case proceeded to trial on John's claims against Taylor and the Marshall defendants. John nonsuited Taylor during the trial, and only his claims against the Marshall defendants were submitted to the jury. After the jury failed to reach a verdict, the trial court at first declared a mistrial, then withdrew that ruling and granted the Marshall defendants' earlier motion for a directed verdict. The Marshall defendants drafted and submitted a judgment, which the trial court signed on September 8. Entitled "Final Judgment", it recited the nonsuit of Taylor and ordered that John take nothing against the Marshall defendants. The judgment awarded costs against John and contained a "Mother Hubbard" clause, that "[a]ll other relief not expressly granted in this judgment is denied." The judgment did not mention the three settling Trinity defendants, and the record does not reflect whether their settlement was finalized.
The judgment was not filed by the clerk until September 13. John did not receive the defendants' proposed draft until several days later, and never received written notice from the clerk that a final judgment had been signed.
On appeal, John argued that the judgment was not final because it did not dispose of the claims against the Trinity defendants. The court of appeals held that because the judgment followed a conventional trial on the merits and contained a "Mother Hubbard" clause, it was presumed final,
We first consider whether the judgment was final. Recently in Lehmann v. Har-Con Corp., we observed that "[t]he presumption that a judgment rendered after a conventional trial on the merits is final and appealable has proved fairly workable for nearly a century...."
We next consider the Rule 306a issue. Rule 306a(1) provides that the periods within which parties may file various post-judgment motions and trial courts may exercise their plenary jurisdiction all run from the date the judgment is signed. Rule 306a(3) requires clerks to notify parties or their attorneys immediately when a judgment is signed. Rule 306a(4) provides the following exception to Rule 306a(1):
If within twenty days after the judgment or other appealable order is signed, a party adversely affected by it or his attorney has neither received the notice required by paragraph (3) of this rule nor acquired actual knowledge of
Rule 306a(5) prescribes the procedure for claiming this exception:
In order to establish the application of paragraph (4) of this rule, the party adversely affected is required to prove in the trial court, on sworn motion and notice, the date on which the party or his attorney first either received a notice of the judgment or acquired actual knowledge of the signing and that this date was more than twenty days after the judgment was signed.
The rules do not set a deadline for filing a motion under Rule 306a(5).
Nevertheless, the court of appeals in this case held that such a motion must be filed within thirty days of the date a party or his attorney first either receives the clerk's notice of a judgment or acquires actual knowledge that the judgment was signed.
Because the trial court here found that John did not have notice of the judgment until September 30, more than twenty days after it was signed, time periods based on the signing of the judgment ran instead from that date. Thus, under Rule 329b(a) the plaintiff had thirty days to file a motion for new trial, and he did so. Because the trial court did not rule on the motion, it was overruled by operation of law on the seventy-fifth day