Chambers v. O'Quinn (Tex.App.- Houston [1st Dist.] Oct. 1, 2009)(Taft)
(arbitration of attorney-client disputes, attorney malpractice)(right to arbitrate not waived, conflicting provisions
re applicability of TAA and FAA in arbitration agreement)
AFFIRM TRIAL COURT JUDGMENT: Opinion by Justice Tim Taft (retired)
Before Justices Taft, Keyes and Hanks
01-04-01029-CV Bob Chambers, et al. v. John M. O'Quinn, individually d/b/a O'Quinn & Laminack, and John
M. O'Quinn, P.C.
Appeal from 61st District Court of Harris County
Trial Court Judge: Hon. John Donovan
OPINION ON REMAND FROM THE TEXAS SUPREME COURT
This suit was brought by former clients, Bob Chambers and 182 others (“appellants”), against John O’Quinn,
John M. O’Quinn, P.C., and John M. O’Quinn D/B/A O’Quinn & Laminack (“appellees”), for legal malpractice.
Appellants appeal from the trial court’s orders dismissing their suit for want of prosecution and overruling their
motion for reinstatement and new trial. In two points of error, appellants argue that the trial court erred in: (1)
compelling arbitration under the terms of a compulsory arbitration clause in the attorney-client contract
executed between themselves and appellees, and (2) dismissing the case for want of prosecution. We affirm.
On November 23, 1999, appellants sued appellees for legal malpractice in connection with appellants’
representation and settlement of their toxic tort claims. Appellees responded with a motion to compel arbitration
under the terms of a compulsory arbitration clause contained in a contingency fee agreement executed
between the parties. On April 14, 2000, the trial court granted appellees’ motion to compel arbitration.
On December 20, 2001, appellants petitioned for writ of mandamus in this Court, complaining of the order
compelling arbitration. We issued an opinion on January 7, 2002, denying appellants’ petition for writ of
mandamus because it was unverified. See In re Chambers, No. 01-01-01216-CV, 2002 WL 24567 (Tex. App.—
Houston [1st Dist.] Jan. 7, 2002, orig. proceeding) (not designated for publication). On January 10, 2002,
appellants filed a petition for writ of mandamus in the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, asking that court to order
the trial court to withdraw its order compelling arbitration. In re Chambers, cause number
14-02-00020-CV in the Fourteenth Court of Appeals.
The Fourteenth Court of Appeals issued an opinion on February 7, 2002, denying appellants’ petition for writ of mandamus. On
March 18, 2002, appellants filed another petition for writ of mandamus in the Texas Supreme Court, which was also denied. In
re Chambers, cause number 02-0154 in the Texas Supreme Court.
On January 15, 2004, the trial court signed an order decreeing that “unless a final arbitration hearing on
[appellants’] claims has commenced before the American Arbitration Association on or before July 9, 2004,
[appellants’] claims shall be DISMISSED FOR WANT OF PROSECUTION.” On July 21, 2004, the trial court
signed an order dismissing appellants’ suit for want of prosecution because no final arbitration hearing had
commenced by July 9, 2004. On August 5, 2004, appellants filed a motion for reinstatement or new trial. After a
hearing on August 20, 2004, the trial court denied appellants’ motion for reinstatement or new trial. On
September 22, 2004, appellants appealed.
While the appeal was pending, the parties proceeded to arbitration, with the arbitrator ultimately ruling in
the appellees’ favor. Appellees filed a motion for summary judgment in those proceedings. The arbitrator
granted appellees’ summary-judgment motion and entered an award that appellants take nothing on their
claims. Appellants filed a new lawsuit to vacate the arbitration award. Cause number 2005-17972 was originally
filed in the 113th District Court, HarrisCounty, Texas, but was transferred to the 61st District Court, Harris
The same trial court that had dismissed appellants’ suit for want of prosecution, the 61st District Court, held a hearing on
appellants’ application for vacatur. The trial court signed a final judgment on June 10, 2005, denying appellants’ request to
vacate the arbitration award and confirming the arbitration award. Appellants filed another appeal among the same parties in this
Court from the trial court’s June 10 final judgment. Appellants’ second appeal is cause number 01-05-00635-CV. Appellants
moved to consolidate their first appeal with their second appeal. In an order dated June 28,2005, we denied appellants’ request
to consolidate the appeals.
This Court issued two separate memorandum opinions (1) affirming the judgment of the trial court
confirming the arbitration award, Chambers, 2006 Tex. App. LEXIS 9006, at *19, 2006 WL 2974318, at *6, and
(2) dismissing the appeal of the order compelling arbitration on jurisdictional grounds, 2006 WL 2853893, at *2
(not designated for publication).
In dismissing the appellants’ first appeal, we concluded that mandamus was the proper remedy to review
the trial court’s order compelling arbitration. 2006 WL 2853893, at *2. We concluded further that because
appellants had already sought and been refused mandamus relief by this Court and the Fourteenth Court of
Appeals, we lacked appellate jurisdiction and were bound by these previous rulings denying mandamus. Id. at
*2. The Texas Supreme Court granted appellants’ petition for review and reversed, remanding the case for us
to conduct a “review on the merits.” Chambers v. O’Quinn, 242 S.W.3d 30, 32 (Tex. 2007). The mandate
instructed that the case was being remanded “for further proceedings consistent with [the supreme court’s]
We based our disposition on three holdings. See 2006 WL 2853893, at *2, 4. While not expressly
addressing the last of our three holdings, the supreme court held that we had erred in concluding that we
“lacked appellate jurisdiction,” and it reversed our judgment and remanded the case for us to review the appeal
“on the merits.” Chambers, 242 S.W.3d 30 at 32. We thus construe the supreme court’s mandate as requiring
this Court to consider, on remand, all of appellants’ challenges under their issues presented one and two.
Standard of Review
In determining whether to compel arbitration, the trial court must decide the following: (1) whether a valid,
enforceable arbitration agreement exists, and (2) if so, whether the claims asserted fall within the scope of that
agreement. Dallas Cardiology Assoc., P.A. v. Mallick, 978 S.W.2d 209, 212 (Tex. App.—Texarkana 1998, pet.
denied). If the answers to both prongs are affirmative, the trial court has no discretion but to compel arbitration
and stay its proceedings pending arbitration. Id. The party seeking arbitration has the initial burden to establish
his right to the remedy under the first prong; that is, to establish that a valid arbitration agreement exists. Id.
Once the existence of an arbitration agreement has been established, a presumption attaches favoring
arbitration. Id. At this point, the burden shifts to the opposing party to establish some ground for the revocation
of the arbitration agreement. Such grounds include fraud, waiver, unconscionability, or that the dispute falls
outside the scope of the agreement. Id. The trial court must resolve any doubt about these issues in favor of
Appellate courts use a “no evidence” standard for review of the trial court’s factual determinations. See
Pony Express Courier Corp. v. Morris, 921 S.W.2d 817, 820 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 1996, no writ). Under that
standard, we consider only the evidence that supports the fact finding, while disregarding the evidence to the
contrary. Hearthshire Braeswood Plaza Ltd. P’ship v. Bill Kelly Co., 849 S.W.2d 380, 384 (Tex. App.—Houston
[14th Dist.] 1993, writ denied). If there is any evidence of probative force to support the finding, the trial court’s
finding must be upheld. See id. However, when the trial court decides a matter involving both factual
determinations and legal conclusions, we employ the abuse of discretion standard to review. See Pony Express
Courier Corp., 921 S.W.2d at 820. Under the abuse of discretion standard, we defer to the trial court’s factual
determinations while reviewing legal conclusions de novo. Id. Pure legal conclusions or matters not involving
extrinsic evidence, are subject to de novo review under the abuse of discretion standard. See id. at 820 n. 2;
see also Fridl v. Cook, 908 S.W.2d 507, 511 (Tex. App.—El Paso 1995, writ dism’d w.o.j.). Order Compelling
Appellants argue in their first point of error that the trial court erred by granting appellees’ motion to
compel arbitration because the compulsory arbitration clause in each agreement was void. Each contract,
executed between O’Quinn and each individual appellant, contained the following language:
10. Any and all disputes, controversies, claims or demands arising out of or relating to this Agreement or any
provision hereof, the providing of services by Attorneys to Client, or in any way relating to the relationship
between Attorneys and Client, whether in contract, tort or otherwise, at law or in equity, for damages or any
other relief, shall be resolved by binding arbitration pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act in accordance with
the Commercial Arbitration Rules then in effect with the American Arbitration Association. Any such arbitration
proceeding shall be conducted in Harris County, Texas. This arbitration provision shall be enforceable in either
federal or state court in Harris County, Texas pursuant to the substantive federal laws established by the
Federal Arbitration Act. Any party to any award rendered in such arbitration proceeding may seek a judgment
upon the award and that judgment may be entered by any federal or state court in Harris County, Texas having
The contracts also contained the following heading in capital letters at the top of the first page, “This
contract is subject to arbitration under the Texas general arbitration statute.”
A. “Personal Injury”
A written agreement to arbitrate is valid and enforceable if an arbitration agreement exists and the claim
asserted is within the scope of the agreement. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 171.001 (Vernon 2005).
However, an exception exists for personal injury claims which requires that each party to a claim, on the advice
of counsel, agree to arbitration in writing. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 170.002(a)(3),(c)(1) (Vernon
2005). The agreement must be signed by each party and each party’s attorney. Id. § 170.002(c)(2). Appellants
urge that the instant suit is akin to a personal injury claim and that the execution of a written agreement to
arbitrate should have been subject to the safeguards in section 170.002(a)(3).
Appellants assert that, unlike ordinary commercial contractual relationships, the fiduciary nature of the
attorney-client relationship dictates against an attorney’s ability to impose an arbitration condition on a client. In
the instant case, appellants sued O’Quinn for breach of fiduciary duties and legal malpractice. Our sister courts
are split on the issue of whether a legal malpractice suit is a claim for personal injury. See Taylor v. Wilson, 180
S.W.3d 627, 630 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2005, pet. denied). The majority of courts have held that
legal malpractice claims are not claims for personal injury. Id. (holding legal malpractice claim is not claim for
personal injury); Miller v. Brewer, 118 S.W.3d 896, 899 (Tex. App.—Amarillo 2003, no pet.) (same); In re
Hartigan, 107 S.W.3d 684, 690 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 2003, pet. denied) (same). But see In re Godt, 28 S.W.
3d 732, 739 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 2000, no pet.) (holding legal malpractice claim falls within personal
injury exception and is included within scope of Texas Arbitration Act).
Appellants request that we hold that in a legal malpractice case the test for deciding whether section
171.002 applies is whether the underlying case involves personal injury. We decline to do so. Instead, we
adopt the reasoning of Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Taylor, upholding the majority view that legal
malpractice claims are not claims for personal injury, and, therefore, arbitration agreements are enforceable in
the context of a legal malpractice suit. See Taylor, 180 S.W.3d at 630 (holding legal malpractice claim is not
claim for personal injury).
The Taylor court examined the legislative history of the personal injury provision in the Texas Arbitration
Act and found “no room for doubt in the legislature’s intent to restrict the meaning of the personal injury
exception of the Texas Arbitration Act to physical personal injury.” Id. at 631. The court also noted that the
plaintiff’s underlying claim was for economic losses rather than personal injury. Id. at 630. In the instant case,
although appellants’ underlying claim was for personal injury, appellants’ malpractice claim is not, by virtue of
this fact, transformed into a claim for personal injury. Rather, appellants’ legal malpractice claim remains a
claim of economic injury. Thus, appellants’ malpractice claim is not excluded from arbitration.
B. Failure to disclose material facts, seek advice of counsel
Appellants also assert that the arbitration provisions are unenforceable because the O’Quinn firm failed to
disclose the arbitration agreement and failed to adequately explain material facts and issues relating to
arbitration. Additionally, appellants claim that none of them were advised to seek, or did seek, independent
counsel with respect to arbitration and that public policy dictates that such safeguards be implemented with
respect to compulsory arbitration agreements executed within an attorney-client relationship. Id.
In support of their argument, appellants rely on the dissenting opinion of Chief Justice Phil Hardberger in
Henry v. Gonzalez, 18 S.W.3d 684 (Tex.—San Antonio 2000, pet. dism’d). In Henry, former clients brought suit
against their former attorneys alleging legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty, amongst other claims.
Henry, 18 S.W.3d at 687. The clients also sought a declaratory judgment that an arbitration clause in the
contract they executed with their former attorney was unenforceable and void. Id. The court determined that a
valid arbitration agreement existed, and rejected the clients’ arguments that they were fraudulently induced to
sign the contract. Id. at 692. In his dissent, Hardberger reasoned that the “fundamental fiduciary nature of the
attorney-client relationship dictates against an attorney’s ability to impose an arbitration condition on a client.”
Id. at 693. Hardberger opined, “Clients are often in vulnerable positions, requiring them to bestow a large
amount of trust in their attorneys . . . Applying general contractual principles to an arbitration provision in the
attorney-client context ignores the practical reality that in most instances the attorney and his or her client are
not engaged in an arm’s length transaction during their initial negotiations.” Id. Hardberger concluded that
attorneys generally have a greater advantage over their clients in an arbitration setting. Id. Appellants argue,
as did Hardberger, that emerging national trends require attorneys to observe and satisfy safeguard
requirements in order to enforce an arbitration agreement inserted into an attorney-client contingent fee
We decline to extend Justice Hardberger’s reasoning to this case. Whether to impose conditions upon the
enforceability of arbitration provisions between attorney and client is a matter for the legislature, not the courts.
As previously noted, the legislature has imposed certain conditions with respect to personal injury claims,
requiring that agreements to arbitrate such claims be in writing and entered into on the advice of counsel. Tex.
Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 171.002(c) (Vernon 2005). The legislature’s failure to impose such conditions
on attorney-client contracts, while expressly recognizing them in other contexts, indicates that the legislature
did not intend to impose such conditions. See Fireman’s Fund County Mut. Ins. Co. v. Hidi, 13 S.W.3d 767, 769
(Tex. 2000) (holding “[w]hen the Legislature has employed a term in one section of a statute and excluded it in
another, we presume that the Legislature had a reason for excluding it.”)
C. Waiver of Right to Jury Trial
Appellants also argue that the agreement impermissibly waives their right to a jury trial.
The San Antonio Court of Appeals previously rejected this argument in Gonzalez. There, the court stated
that “well established caselaw favors mandatory arbitration and holds that arbitration does not deny parties
their right to a jury trial, as a matter of law.” Gonzalez, 18 S.W.3d 684, 691 (citing Jack B. Anglin Co., Inc. v.
Tipps, 842 S.W.2d 266, 268 (Tex. 1992)). Moreover, a difference exists between a jury trial waiver and an
agreement to arbitrate disputes. Arbitration is an agreement to resolve disputes out of court in the first
instance, not an agreement to waive a particular constitutional right available within the judicial process. D.
Wilson Const. Co., Inc. v. McAllen Indep. Sch. Dist., 848 S.W.2d 226, 231 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 1992, writ
dism’d w.o.j.). When a party contractually agrees to arbitrate a dispute, it waives its rights to recourse in the
Because arbitration does not deny parties their right to a jury trial as a matter of law, we reject appellants’
D. The Federal Arbitration Act
Appellants next assert that appellees are not entitled to arbitration because federal, rather than Texas law,
controls under the terms of the contract.
Texas law holds that the Federal Arbitration Act is not applicable to an attorney-client contract that does not relate to interstate
commerce. In re Godt, 28 S.W.3d at 737. Thus, appellants argue it is upon O’Quinn as the promoter of arbitration to prove that
this agreement involves interstate commerce.
Specifically, appellants state that the agreement “does not contain any language providing that Texas law
may govern the arbitration agreement or that arbitration shall be enforceable under the Texas Arbitration Act.”
Provision 10 of the contract states that “any and all disputes . . . arising out of or relating to this Agreement
. . . shall be resolved by binding arbitration pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act[.]” The contract also
provides, “This arbitration provision shall be enforceable in either federal or state court in Harris County, Texas
pursuant to the substantive federal laws established by the Federal Arbitration Act.” Appellees acknowledge
that the contract references the Federal Arbitration Act, but they suggest that these references to federal law
must be harmonized with the notice at the top of the first page of the contract, which states in capital letters,
“This contract is subject to arbitration under the Texas general arbitration statute.”
The San Antonio Court of Appeals was confronted with a similar set of facts in Henry. Henry, 18 S.W.3d at
688. There, provision 10 of the attorney-client contract stated that the “Agreement shall be construed under
and in accordance with the laws of the State of Texas . . . .” Id. However, provision 11 provided that all disputes
“shall be resolved by binding arbitration pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act . . . .” Id. The contract also
contained a clause that appeared in all capital letters above the signature lines stating, “This contract is subject
to arbitration under the Texas General Arbitration Statute.” Id. Thus, the contract in Henry was internally
inconsistent as to whether the FAA or the TAA governed. Id.
In concluding the dispute was governed by the TAA, the court referred to basic principles of contract
interpretation. Id. In interpreting a contract, courts examine the entire agreement in an effort to harmonize and
give effect to all provisions of the contract so that none will be meaningless. Id. (citing Bush v. Brunswick Corp.,
783 S.W.2d 724, 728 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 1989, writ denied)). If the provisions of the contract appear to
conflict, they should be harmonized, if possible, to reflect the intentions of the parties. Id. (citing Ogden v.
Dickinson State Bank, 662 S.W.2d 330, 332 (Tex. 1983); Bush, 783 S.W.2d at 728). Courts cannot strike down
any portion of a contract unless there is an irreconcilable conflict. Id. (citing Ogden, 662 S.W.2d at 332).
After applying the above-referenced principles and determining that the two provisions in the contract were
in irreconcilable conflict, the Henry court held that the TAA controlled the dispute. Id. The court noted that,
although the contract stated that the FAA controlled, performance of the contract did not relate to interstate
commerce and that the FAA is implicated in transactions relating to interstate commerce. Id. (citing Cantella &
Co., Inc. v. Goodwin, 924 S.W.2d 943, 944 (Tex. 1996)). Therefore, the court struck down the provision relating
to the FAA and concluded that the dispute was governed by the TAA. Id. The court reached its conclusion, in
part, because the contract’s prominent bold type stated that any arbitration would be governed by the TAA, all
parties involved in the suit were Texas residents, the contract was signed in Texas, the contract was to be
performed in Texas only, and the dispute did not relate in any way to interstate commerce. Id.
Similarly, the contract in the instant case (1) does not relate to interstate commerce, and (2) was executed
between Texas residents in Texas, to be performed in Texas. Therefore, we hold that the TAA controls this
dispute. See also In re Godt, 28 S.W.3d at 737 (holding that, where there existed a similar conflict, the TAA
controlled where there was no evidence demonstrating that attorney-client agreement related to interstate
E. Texas Disciplinary Rule of Conduct 1.08(g)
Appellants next argue that O’Quinn attempted to limit his liability in violation of Rule 1.08(g) of the Texas
Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct. See Tex. R. Disciplinary P. 1.08(g), reprinted in Tex. Gov’t. Code
Ann., tit. 2, subtit. G (Vernon 2005). Rule 1.08(g) expressly forbids an attorney from entering into an
agreement with a client that prospectively limits the attorney’s liability to the client unless (1) the agreement is
permitted by law and (2) the client is independently represented in making the agreement. Keck, Mahin & Cate
v. Nat’l Union Fire Ins. Co., 20 S.W.3d 692, 699 (Tex. 2000).
Appellants claim that O’Quinn has, through arbitration, sought to limit appellee’s liability to appellants for
the precise claims asserted in this litigation. Furthermore, by asking for separate arbitration in its motions, the
O’Quinn Firm clearly sought to burden, and did burden, appellants with “arbitration costs” that made arbitration
Arbitration is a means of dispute resolution and does not constitute a limitation on a party’s liability. See
McGuire, Cornwell & Blakey v. Grider, 765 F.Supp. 1048, 1051 (D. Col. 1991) (holding that attorney arbitration
clauses “do not prospectively limit lawyer liability to the client. Rather, they merely shift determination of the
malpractice claim to a different forum.”) As appellees correctly note, appellants asserted in arbitration the
identical causes of action they assert in the instant litigation and sought the same categories and amounts of
damages. Thus, appellee’s liability is not limited as a practical matter. Moreover, the San Antonio Court of
Appeals has held that a similar arbitration clause did not violate Disciplinary Rule 1.08(g), noting “the
arbitration clause merely prescribes the procedure for resolving any disputes between attorney and client.” In
re Hartigan, 107 S.W.3d 684, 689 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 2003, no pet.). The same description aptly applies,
and thus the same result obtains here.
Consequently, we hold that the arbitration clause in the instant case does not limit the liability to which
appellees would otherwise be exposed, and therefore it does not violate Disciplinary Rule 1.08(g).
Appellants claim that appellees waived their right to arbitrate. In support of their argument, appellants cite
Sedillo v. Campbell, 5 S.W.3d 824, 826 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 1999, no pet.), for the principle that a
party may impliedly waive arbitration by “engaging in some combination of filing an answer, setting up a
counterclaim, pursuing extensive discovery, moving for a continuance and failing to timely request arbitration.”
Sedillo, 5 S.W.3d at 827. Stated differently, a court may find that a party has waived its right to arbitration if
such party substantially invokes the judicial process to the opposing party’s detriment. Id.
Appellants suggest that this case compares favorably with the defendant’s actions constituting waiver in
Sedillo. Id. There, the defendant:
(1) answered the subject lawsuit and immediately filed a bankruptcy petition that was dismissed “based on
(2) “filed numerous pleadings and motions in the court below without first seeking arbitration”;
(3) filed a Response to Motion for Summary Judgment;
(4) filed a jury demand and paid the jury fee; and
(5) did not file its motion to stay proceedings in favor of arbitration until eleven months after plaintiff filed
Id. at 826–27.
In comparing O’Quinn’s actions with Sedillo’s, appellant notes that O’Quinn filed an answer in the trial court
and sought, before attempting to invoke arbitration, both a Rule 11 Agreement extending the time for
answering and a sixty-day abatement of appellant’s suit under the Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Moreover, O’
Quinn did not file a motion to stay proceedings in favor of arbitration until six months after suit had been filed.
Appellant notes further that O’Quinn filed a companion suit against appellants’ attorneys, took depositions, and
sought abatement in the companion case.
Because public policy favors arbitration, there is a strong presumption against waiver, and any doubt
about whether a party waived contractual arbitration rights must be resolved in favor of arbitration. Id. at 826–
27; In re Oakwood Mobile Homes, 987 S.W.2d 571, 573–74 (Tex. 1999); Valero Energy Corp. v. Teco Pipeline
Co., 2 S.W.3d 576, 590 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 1999, no pet.). After comparing Sedillo to O’Quinn’s
actions in the instant case, we determine that no waiver occurred. A party invokes the judicial process only to
the extent that it “litigates a specific claim it subsequently seeks to arbitrate.” Sedillo, 5 S.W.3d at 827 (quoting
Subway Equip. Leasing Corp. v. Forte, 169 F.3d 324, 328 (5th Cir. 1999)). O’Quinn filed for arbitration within a
reasonable time of answering appellants’ case and the fact that O’Quinn filed suit against appellants’ attorneys
does not amount to litigation of this specific claim. Therefore, O’Quinn did not “substantially invoke” the judicial
process, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in holding that no waiver occurred. See In re Bruce
Terminex Co., 988 S.W.2d 702, 705–06 (Tex. 1998) (holding no waiver even though party (1) did not file an
application for arbitration within two years of suit being filed; (2) did not act to institute arbitration for more than
17 months after the trial court compelled arbitration; and (3) served discovery in the lawsuit that would not have
been allowed in arbitration); see also Pennzoil Oil Co. v. Arnold Oil Co., 30 S.W.3d 494 (Tex. App.—San
Antonio 2000, no pet.) (holding no waiver even though party, before requesting arbitration: (1) moved for
change in venue; (2) served interrogatories and two sets of document requests; (3) participated in six
depositions; (4) participated in docket control conference; (5) requested a jury; (6) requested an extension of
trial date; (7) proposed protective order regarding discovery; (8) moved to compel discovery; and (9) moved for
G. Texas Government Code section 82.065(a)
Finally, appellants assert that the agreement, along with the arbitration clause, is void because it was not
executed in conformance with section 82.065 of the Texas Government Code, which provides, “[a] contingent
fee contract for legal services must be in writing and signed by the attorney and client.” Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. §
82.065(a) (Vernon 2005). Appellants note that O’Quinn did not sign the agreements, although the clients did.
Appellant’s argument that the contract is void due to the absence of O’Quinn’s signature is unavailing. In
Enochs v. Brown, 872 S.W.2d 312, 318 (Tex. App.—Austin 1994, no writ), the Austin Court of Appeals
examined the legal effect of a contingent fee agreement fully performed but not signed by the attorney. The
court looked to the legislative purpose behind section 82.065 and determined that the statute was designed to
prevent fraud. Id. The court determined that the statute accomplishes its purpose of guarding against fraud in
contingent fee contracts and complies with the statute of frauds by requiring the party enforcing the contract to
produce a written contract signed by the party to be charged. Id.
We agree with the reasoning in Enochs. Consequently, because O’Quinn was the party enforcing the
contingent fee agreement against appellants and because appellants, the clients, signed the agreements in the
instant case, we hold that section 82.065(a)’s purpose has been fulfilled, and that the contract is not void.
For all the aforementioned reasons, we hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining
that a valid, enforceable arbitration agreement existed and that the claims asserted fell within the scope of that
agreement. Mallick, 978 S.W.2d at 212. Thus, the trial court had no discretion but to compel arbitration. We
overrule appellants’ first point of error.
Dismissal for Want of Prosecution
Appellants argue in their second point of error that the trial court erred in dismissing their suit for want of
prosecution and request that the trial court’s dismissal be reversed.
The trial court signed an order on July 21, 2004, dismissing appellants’ suit for want of prosecution
because no final arbitration hearing had commenced by July 9, 2004, as ordered. As an initial matter,
appellants claim that the trial court’s order threatening dismissal unless arbitration was commenced by July 9,
2004 was not a notice of trial or “dispositive” setting and that the court could not dismiss until giving additional
notice of potential dismissal with a hearing on a date certain. Appellants further claim that they were confused
as to precisely what actions had to be taken to avoid dismissal. Finally, appellants claim that they received no
notice of the trial court’s order informing them that “unless a final hearing on Plaintiff’s claims has commenced
before the American Arbitration Association on or before July 9, 2004, Plaintiff’s claims shall be DISMISSED
FOR WANT OF PROSECUTION.”
Even assuming that appellants received no notice of the trial court’s intention to dismiss their suit for want
of prosecution, we hold that any such error was harmless because appellants were given an opportunity to be
heard on their motion to reinstate, filed after the dismissal for want of prosecution. See Franklin v. Sherman
Indep. Sch. Dist., 53 S.W.3d 398, 403 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2001, pet. denied).
Appellants filed a “Motion for Reinstatement and/or New Trial,” which contained arguments identical to
those presented on appeal. After a full hearing on August 20, 2004, the trial court denied appellants’ motion. If
a party receives the same hearing before the trial court that it would have had before the dismissal was signed,
no harmful error is committed. Id. at 403. Jimenez v. Transwestern Property Company, 999 S.W.2d 125, 129
(Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 1999, no pet.), also shows that any error did not harm the appellants. In that
case, the appellant was not given notice of the trial court’s intent to dismiss for want of prosecution but was
given a hearing on the motion to reinstate. Id. at 129. The court held that the hearing on appellant’s motion to
reinstate “satisfied the due process rights applicable to the dismissal of his case.” Id. Therefore, assuming
without deciding that the trial court erred in dismissing appellants’ case, we hold that such error was harmless.
We overrule appellants’ second point of error.
We affirm the judgment of the trial court.