Danica Milios Leads Team Representing Charles Hughes in Appellate Case Concerning Library Naming Dispute

December 19, 2023 | Client Results

On December 8, 2023, Jackson Walker, teaming up with Smith Clark Pennington PLLC, prevailed in Austin’s Third Court of Appeals in a case concerning important questions related to state statutes of limitations and contract principles.

The case, Charles Hughes v. Tom Green County, originated as a three-way dispute over the Estate of Duwain Hughes among Charles Hughes, Tom Green County, and Southern Methodist University. Following the passing of Duwain E. Hughes in 1965, SMU inherited certain mineral rights to establish an endowed chair in the English Department. In addition, Mr. Hughes bequeathed his home and its furnishings to Tom Green County to be used as a branch library bearing his name and the residue of his estate to the Tom Green County Library for upkeep of the structure and purchase of new books.

The dispute commenced in 1991 when the SMU Board of Trustees sought to release a restriction on the amount of funds the university could access after proceeds from the mineral interests exceeded $1.5 million, the highest level of funding permitted by university regulations. Tom Green County intervened, arguing that the mineral interests reverted to the County, while Mr. Hughes’ nephew, Charles Hughes, intervened on behalf of himself of Mr. Hughes’ other heirs at law seeking title to the mineral interests. Charles Hughes and the County agreed to settle their claims against SMU in return for equal shares of $1 million and Duwain’s name on the County library, if the County Commissioners determined the SMU settlement amount was substantial enough. The County’s share of the $1 million settlement was the largest single donation it had ever received at that point. The County Commissioners approved the settlement.

Seventeen years later, the County finally built the county library, but a commissioners court voted at an open meeting in 2011 to name the library after Steve and Pollyanna Stephens, who were behind a $16 million fundraising campaign for the new library building. Charles Hughes subsequently sued the County for breach of a settlement agreement. Over the next 10 years, Charles Hughes and the County argued in state district and appellate courts over whether the suit is barred by limitations, whether the naming provision is illusory or indefinite, and whether Charles Hughes’ claim for injunctive relief under the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA) was erroneously dismissed by the district court. Despite the repeated challenges by the County, the team for Charles Hughes ultimately prevailed each time (including at the Texas Supreme Court).

In its decision issued on December 8, 2023, Austin’s Third Court of Appeals agreed with Charles Hughes’s arguments regarding the state statutes of limitations and TOMA claim. The Court, however, declined to address the question of whether the naming provision is illusory or indefinite, writing: “In the light of the fact that we must remand a portion of the case to the trial court based on our conclusion below that the district court improperly dismissed Hughes’s TOMA claim, we decline to exercise our discretion to review the additional grounds raised in the County’s motion and remand those grounds to the trial court for its consideration in the first instance.”

Jackson Walker and Smith Clark Pennington PLLC continue to assist Charles Hughes in fighting for his uncle’s legacy to be honored by Tom Green County as agreed to 30 years ago.

Austin senior counsel Danica Milios served as lead appellate counsel for Charles Hughes with assistance from Austin associate Cody Lee Vaughn. Trial counsel David Smith and Jill Pennington from Smith Clark Pennington PLLC and Bobby Bland from Bobby Bland Law, PLLC were co-counsel in the appeal.

The case is Charles Hughes v. Tom Green County, No. 03-22-00405-CV, in the Texas Third District Court of Appeals at Austin, on appeal from the 51st District Court of Tom Green County. For more information about the dispute, see articles by Texas Lawyer and San Angelo Live.

Meet Our Team

Danica Milios Danica L. Milios has over 20 years of appellate experience. Danica has represented clients before the United States Supreme Court, the United States Courts of Appeals for the Fifth, Eighth, and Ninth Circuits, the Texas Supreme Court, and many of the State’s intermediate courts of appeals. She spent 17 years at the Texas Attorney General’s Office, where she began her career as a trial lawyer before ultimately moving to an appellate practice in the Office of the Solicitor General. There, Danica served three years as Deputy Solicitor General.
Cody Vaughn Cody Lee Vaughn is an associate in the Trial & Appellate Litigation practice of Jackson Walker’s Austin office. Prior to Jackson Walker, Cody served as a judicial law clerk at the Supreme Court of Texas. He also practiced for two years prior, including a pro bono argument in the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. In 2024, Cody was recognized among the Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch for Commercial Litigation.

About Our Trial & Appellate Experience

Jackson Walker’s trial group is one of the largest in the Southwest, comprising about 30% of the firm’s approximately 500 attorneys. A formidable opponent in the courtroom, our diverse experience covers a broad range of industry sectors and specialty practice areas, and takes us into courthouses across the state and nearly every Texas county. Our trial practice also spans the U.S., as we have litigated cases in all 50 states.

The Appellate team brings decades of appellate practice experience, gained in state and federal courts nationwide, to every client matter we work on. Working closely with trial counsel, our Appellate team provides strategic legal analysis and issue identification in order to craft and preserve the most persuasive legal arguments at every stage of litigation. Our Appellate team currently has or recently successfully handled complex, high-stakes, and varied appeals pending in the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Fifth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits, and in the U.S. Supreme Court.

To explore the firm’s experience representing clients in contract disputes, visit the Trial & Appellate Litigation practice page.

In This Story

Danica L. Milios
Senior Counsel, Austin

Cody Vaughn
Associate, Austin