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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:The appellant, Alma Nicholson, brought suit for personal injuries and property damages against the appellee, Rodney Tashiro. Tashiro stipulated to liability but contested the damages sought. At trial, the jury awarded Nicholson $625.57 in damages. The trial court denied Nicholson’s recovery of court costs. HOLDING:Reversed and rendered. Nicholson contends that the trial court erred in finding that she was not a prevailing party. In response, Tashiro argues that he was the prevailing party because the jury awarded Nicholson less than the settlement amount that he offered. However, the amount of damages awarded is irrelevant when determining the prevailing party. The issue is whether Nicholson succeeded on the merits of the case. The record, in this case, shows Tashiro stipulated to liability and stipulated that Nicholson “was not negligent.” Additionally, the jury found Tashiro caused Nicholson’s damages. Nicholson, therefore, succeeded on the merits of the case. The record shows that the trial judge relied on the fact that Nicholson failed to accept the settlement amount, an amount larger than the jury award, as the basis for finding good cause to deny recovery of court costs. However, a judge is not allowed to penalize a party for refusal to enter into settlement negotiations. By denying her recovery of court costs on this basis, the trial court unreasonably penalized Nicholson for exercising her right to a jury trial. No guiding principles exist which would allow the trial judge to do so, and Nicholson’s rights were clearly disregarded. Determining good cause on a case-by-case basis, see Rogers, 686 S.W.2d at 601, the court concludes, in this case, that the trial court abused its discretion when it refused Nicholson’s recovery of court costs. The trial court failed to state a good cause for denying her recovery of court costs. OPINION:Nelda V. Rodriguez, J.; Valdez, Rodriguez and Garza, JJ.

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