Texas Supreme Court Adopts “Sham Affidavit” Rule

In a 9-0 opinion issued today, the Texas Supreme Court adopted the so-called “sham affidavit rule” for summary judgment proceedings in Texas courts. This rule, which has long been applied in federal courts, allows judges to disregard an affidavit offered in opposition to a motion for summary judgment when the affidavit conflicts with the affiant’s prior sworn testimony and “does not provide a sufficient explanation for the conflict.” Practitioners and litigants in Texas courts should be aware of this rule when filing or responding to a motion for summary judgment or preparing for a deposition.

In the case, Lujan v. Navistar, Inc., Albert Lujan sued Navistar, Inc. claiming mechanical problems with trucks he purchased for his flower delivery business. After years of litigation, Navistar moved for summary judgment, arguing that Lujan did not have standing to sue in his individual capacity because the trucks did not belong to him, but rather that Lujan had transferred the trucks to a corporation he controlled along with the rest of the business’s assets. In response, Lujan filed an affidavit it which he testified that he had never transferred the trucks to the corporation. However, the trial court disregarded the affidavit and entered summary judgment for Navistar, finding that the affidavit conflicted with earlier statements by his lawyer and earlier deposition testimony in which he admitted that the corporation filed tax returns claiming the trucks as its assets.

Lujan appealed, and the 14th Court of Appeals affirmed in a 2-1 decision. In a majority opinion written by Justice Ken Wise, joined by Justice Justice Martha Hill Jamison, the 14th Court of Appeals adopted the sham affidavit doctrine, which had previously been adopted by some other courts, and held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in striking Lujan’s affidavit because it conflicted with his prior testimony without adequate explanation. Justice Sharon McCally dissented, writing that the sham affidavit doctrine was directly contrary to a prior Texas Supreme Court case, Randall v. Dallas Power & Light Co., which held that “‘a deposition does not have controlling effect over an affidavit in determining whether a motion for summary judgment should be granted,'” and that the doctrine is not supported by the rules.

After Lujan appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, Justice Jimmy Blacklock, writing for a unanimous Court, recognized that Texas courts of appeals had adopted the federal doctrine and held that it was supported by the language of Rule 166a requiring the creation of a “genuine” issue of fact to defeat a motion for summary judgment. The Court reasoned that the doctrine gave effect to the court’s authority to distinguish genuine fact issues under the rules. The Court did not overrule Randall v. Dallas Power & Light Co., but instead simply held that Randall had not considered the sham affidavit doctrine.

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