In Texas state court, is a TRO application an answer?

answerbuttonAmerijet sued Zero Gravity in Texas state court, seeking emergency relief about the handling of certain aircraft engines subject to their contract.  Zero Gravity responded with its own request for emergency relief. After some initial rulings by the state court, Zero Gravity removed to federal court.  Amerijet then filed a notice of dismissal under Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(1)(A)(i). The matter proceeded in federal court, however, based on its jurisdiction over the TRO bond and a counterclaim for declaratory relief, as the parties tried to settle.  Their dealings culminated in the district court enjoining further litigation by Amerijet in Florida federal court, which then led to an appeal about the district court’s power over the case in light of the dismissal notice.  Amerijet Int’l, Inc. v. Zero Gravity Corp., No. 14-20521 (May 15, 2015).

Observing that a Rule 41 notice takes effect automatically if the defendant has not answered or moved for summary judgment, the Fifth Circuit found that Zero Gravity’s pre-removal filing “barely” qualified as an answer under Texas law, which meant that the notice no longer had automatic effect.  Even though the filing was styled as a TRO application (and accompanying motion to dissolve) and was not called an “answer,” the Court noted that it asserted defenses, a counterclaim for declaratory relief, and facts in support and thus met the “minimal characteristics of an answer” under Texas law  (The question whether a defendant’s pre-removal counterclaim waives the right to remove did not appear to be before the Court.)   Accordingly, the district court was not bound to dismiss the matter, and it did not abuse its discretion in enjoining parallel federal litigation under the first-to-file rule.

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