Quariab v. El-Khalili

Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-20-00979-CV (March 15, 2021)
Chief Justice Burns (Opinion) and Justices Molberg and Goldstein

Questioning its own jurisdiction on appeal, the Dallas Court of Appeals analyzed the power that the Supreme Court of Texas granted to courts to “modify or suspend” deadlines in the many emergency orders the Supreme Court issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Dallas Court held that the emergency orders do not give a trial court the ability to revive its plenary power once it had expired after a final judgment.

Pursuant to a settlement agreement, the trial court dismissed the underlying case. Five months later, the court reinstated the case based on a claimed breach of the settlement, and entered the injunction orders forming the basis of the appeal.
After asking for jurisdictional briefing, the appeals court determined that the COVID-19 orders presuppose a “pre-existing power or authority over the case or the proceedings,” something the trial court lacked after the expiration of its plenary power. There was, simply, nothing for the court to “modify or suspend.” Therefore, the orders reinstating the case and granting the injunction were void. The Court vacated them and dismissed the appeal for want of jurisdiction.