In re DeMattia

Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-21-00460-CV (April 12, 2022)
Justices Schenck, Nowell (Opinion, linked here), and Garcia

Mark DeMattia co-owned Restoration Specialists, LLC and served as its managing member. In 2018, he sold the company. But a few days before the closing, he allegedly copied or deleted certain files. Under its new owners, Restoration later sued DeMattia, alleging breach of fiduciary duty and misappropriation of trade secrets.

DeMattia, in turn, demanded that Restoration indemnify him and advance his defense costs, pursuant to Restoration’s corporate regulations. The Texas Business Organizations Code allows LLCs to indemnify and advance defense costs, through their organizing documents, to both current and former officials and governing persons. After Restoration denied his demand for advancement, DeMattia counterclaimed and moved for summary judgment. Restoration responded that the advancement provision in the company regulations, by its terms, did not apply to former managers like DeMattia. The trial court denied DeMattia’s motion.
DeMattia sought mandamus relief in the Dallas Court of Appeals. Applying contract interpretation principles, the Court held that the advancement provision in Restoration’s corporate regulations did cover former managers like DeMattia, so the trial court erred by denying DeMattia’s motion for summary judgment. The Court also rejected Restoration’s argument that DeMattia’s “unclean hands”—his alleged misappropriation and breach of fiduciary duty—barred advancement as a matter of public policy. The Court explained that every lawsuit involves allegations of wrongdoing, so denying advancement based mere allegations of unclean hands would render the right to advancement a nullity.
Finally, the Court held DeMattia did not have an adequate remedy by appeal, a requirement for mandamus relief. The right to advancement can be satisfied only during proceedings in the trial court, so proceeding to trial without advancement, when a party is entitled to advancement, would defeat the right to advancement. Therefore, the Court ordered the trial court to vacate its denial of summary judgment and issue an order granting DeMattia’s motion.