In In re Jones, there was a jury trial on the issue of whether a revocable trust was revoked such that the trustee, Jones, or the settlor’s executor, Coyle, had the right to the trust assets. No. 05-16-0081-CV, 2016 Tex. App. LEXIS 6047 (Tex. App.—Dallas June 7, 2016, original proceeding). After rendering judgment in favor of Jones, the trial court granted Coyle’s motion for new trial, stating that (i) the evidence was insufficient to support the jury’s findings, and (ii) Jones introduced legally insufficient evidence of certain specific facts essential to her recovery. Jones filed a petition for writ of mandamus with the court of appeals challenging the new trial order.
The court of appeals granted the mandamus. The court stated the law regarding challenging orders granting new trials, thusly:
A new trial order must satisfy two “facial requirements.” In re Bent, No. 14-1006, 2016 WL 1267580, at *1 (Tex. Apr. 1, 2016) (orig. proceeding). One, the order must state a legally appropriate reason for the new trial. Id. Two, the stated reason must be specific enough to indicate that the trial court did not simply parrot a pro forma template but rather derived the articulated reasons from the case’s particular facts and circumstances. Id. The order must satisfy both requirements, or it is an abuse of discretion correctable by mandamus. See In re United Scaffolding, Inc., 377 S.W.3d 685, 688-89 (Tex. 2012) (orig. proceeding).
The first reason for the new trial order stated that “there is insufficient evidence” to support both of the jury’s findings and gave no further explanation. Citing to the Texas Supreme Court, the court held that “[t]he order must indicate that the trial judge considered the specific facts and circumstances of the case at hand and explain how the evidence (or lack of evidence) undermines the jury’s findings.” The court held that this reason was not sufficiently specific to support a new trial.
The trial court’s second reason was similarly defective. The court reasoned that a new trial was warranted because Jones introduced no evidence of certain specific facts essential to her recovery. The court concluded that it had to grant a new trial to avoid granting Coyle a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The court held: “Although this reason is specific, it is not a legally appropriate reason for ordering a new trial after a jury trial. The defendant’s remedy when a claimant has introduced legally insufficient evidence of an essential element of its claim is generally a take-nothing judgment.” Accordingly, the court granted mandamus relief and ordered the trial court to vacate its new trial order.