RULING – A Tow Hearing does not bar a subsequent lawsuit for TTBA violations – No Res Judicata

Introduction.

The 5th District Court of Appeals ruled today that the fact that a person requests a tow hearing under § 2308.452 does not bar them from bringing claims for damages against a tow company for the knowing, reckless, or intentional violation of the Texas Towing and Booting Act.

Facts and Holding.

The case of Sisavath v. Oates involved a plaintiff who, after being denied relief at the tow hearing, filed a lawsuit for numerous violations of the Texas Towing and Booting Act (the “Act”).  The plaintiff sought treble damages plus $1,000 in statutory damages under  §2308.404 of the Act and attorney’s fees.  It should be noted here that the attorney’s fees sought were based on a previous version of the Act, not as the Act reads today.

After the justice court awarded plaintiff damages and attorney’s fees, defendant appealed.  The county court at law dismissed the case, incorrectly asserting that the claims brought in the lawsuit under § 2308.404 were the same damages that were asserted in the tow hearing under § 2308.452.

The 5th District Court of Appeals reversed the county court’s decision, citing as grounds § 31.005 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, which states:

“A judgment or determination of fact or law in small claims court or justice of the peace court is not res judicata and does not constitute basis for estoppel in a proceeding in a county court or statutory county court, except that the judgment rendered is binding on the parties thereto as to recovery or denial of recovery.” 

The case has been remanded to county court for rehearing.   A copy of the opinion is available HERE.

Commentary.  

This author believes that the 5th District reached the correct decision on this issue.  This is the same line of reasoning that was submitted to the court in the amicus brief that our firm drafted, and is directly in line with both the Civil Practice and Remedies Code as well as the purpose of the Act.  This ruling solidifies the ability of wrongfully towed vehicle owners to seek both tow hearings and civil lawsuits as remedies for illegal tows, without one precluding the other.

Ryan (that's me) also has a life outside of the law. I love spending time with my beautiful wife and my dog in the Heights, live music, and long walks on the beach.