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Texas Appeals Court Overturns Conspiracy Claim Against Grandmother in Custody Case

The dispute in a Texas custody case is usually between the child’s parents.  In some cases, however, other parties may become involved.  In one recent case, the father’s parents got so involved, they intervened in the custody case and the mother filed claims against them.

In 2015, the trial court appointed the mother and father joint managing conservators of their daughter.  The father was given the exclusive right to determine her primary residence.  The daughter primarily lived with her father’s parents and went to school in Santa Fe.  The mother lived in Houston.

The mother moved to modify the order after learning the father had been arrested.  She sought the exclusive right to designate the daughter’s primary residence and requested that the father be denied access or have his visits supervised.

The father’s parents intervened, asking to be named the sole managing conservators with the exclusive right to establish primary residence and to make all educational decisions.  They asked for the mother and father to be named possessory conservators and for the mother’s possession and access to be supervised.

The appeals court noted that the matter got contentious.  The mother ultimately added civil tort claims against the father and his parents, including civil conspiracy, abuse of process, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.  She alleged they had engaged in unlawful actions to keep the daughter away and alienate her from the mother.

The jury found a substantial change in circumstances and that it was in the daughter’s best interest for the father to be named her sole managing conservator.  The grandfather had passed away at the time of trial, so the mother did not proceed with her claims against him.  The jury found in favor of the mother on the civil conspiracy claim against the grandmother and awarded her damages totaling $500,000.  The jury did not find either party committed abuse of process.

The trial court signed an order naming the father sole managing conservator and the mother possessory conservator.  The order also incorporated the jury’s findings of liability and damages.  The father and grandmother appealed.  They argued the mother had not presented any evidence supporting the elements of conspiracy and the evidence was insufficient to support the civil conspiracy claim.

Civil conspiracy requires at least two people with an objective to be accomplished have a meeting of the minds on the objective or a course of action.  There must be an overt act in furtherance of the objective and resulting damages.

Conspiracy is a derivative tort, meaning there must be some other underlying tort for which at least one of the defendants is liable.  Here, the mother did not present her intentional infliction of emotional distress claim to the jury, so the only possible underlying tort that was presented was abuse of process.  The jury did not find abuse of process.  Thus, there was no underlying tort to support the conspiracy claim.

The court reversed the part of the order finding the grandmother engaged in civil conspiracy and awarding the mother damages from the grandmother.

The grandparents here were involved because the child had been living with them.  It is not surprising that they would want their role to be formally recognized by the court, especially when the mother did not live nearby and was seeking custody.  The appeals court opinion does not provide details of the factual circumstances surrounding the mother’s allegations that the grandparents and father tried to alienate the child from her, so it is unclear if there was underlying tortious action that could have supported the conspiracy claim.  If the mother had succeeded in her abuse of process or another tort claim, the conspiracy claim may also have succeeded.

If you are dealing with a custody issue, you need a skilled Texas custody attorney to help you.  Call McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200.  We also handle cases involving Texas grandparents’ rights.

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Child Custody Dispute Between Mother and Grandmother in Texas