A Dispatch From the Surprisingly Litigious World of Theater Poster Collecting

Readers may recall the recent dust-up over a collection of movie posters held by an auction house. In a new case, the disputed collection consists of Broadway theater window cards, which a Texas resident had shipped to an Internet reseller in Vermont. The owner filed suit in Dallas, alleging the reseller had breached the parties’ oral contract by failing to pay him for the cards sold, failing to return the unsold cards to him, and failing to safeguard the cards. The defendants filed a special appearance, which the trial court granted and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Although the primary defendant had made payment to the plaintiff in Texas, an agreement to make payments in the forum state does not weigh heavily in the “calculus of [minimum] contacts.” Although there were multiple conflicts in the parties’ accounts of their dealings, the Court of Appeals deferred to the trial court’s resolution of the factual discrepancies, and the remaining, undisputed facts did not demonstrate purposeful availment of Texas as a forum for the transactions at issue.

Klug v. Wickert, No. 05-14-00080-CV

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Court Reverses Trial Court, Finding No Personal Jurisdiction Over Third-Party Defendant

In this case involving corporate infighting, the defendant filed a third-party claim against Troy Brown.  Mr. Brown filed a special appearance asserting that the court did not have personal jurisdiction, which the trial court denied.  Mr. Brown appealed.

The Court of Appeals reversed, determining that Brown did not have minimum contacts with Texas such that he was subject to personal jurisdiction here.  The Court specifically found that several emails Brown sent to people in Texas did not “constitute a contact demonstrating purposeful availment.”

Brown v. Pennington

Signs Point to No Jurisdiction

Sign Effects Sign Company (the redundancy is sic) obtained a $22,000 default judgment in Ohia against SignWarehouse.com. Six years later, SESC sought to domesticate that judgment in Texas. SignWarehouse argued that the Ohio judgment was invalid because the company was not subject to personal jurisdiction in that state. The trial court and the Dallas Court of Appeals agreed. Relying on Michiana Easy Livin’ Country, Inc. v. Holten, 168 S.W.3d 777 (Tex. 2005), the Court of Appeals held that simply shipping purchased good to another state was insufficient to establish minimum contacts for specific personal jurisdiction, particularly where the parties’ contract specified that venue for any dispute was to be in Grayson County.

Sign Effects Sign Co., LLC v. SignWarehouse.com, No. 05-12-01301-CV

Maybe Next Time Try Paris, Texas?

Connie Sigel used a website to book an apartment in Paris (the one in France) for a seven-night vacation. During that stay, an intruder with keys to both the apartment and its safe stole most of Sigel’s possessions. Sigel sued the booking agency on multiple contract and tort claims. The trial court denied My Vacation Europe’s special appearance, but the Dallas Court of Appeals reversed and rendered. The Court held that Sigel’s act of accessing MVE’s website and renting an apartment while she was located in Dallas did not constitute a purposeful availment of Texas by MVE, and there was no evidence that MVE specifically targeted Texas residents for its services. The Court of Appeals also held that there could be no specific jurisdiction in Texas because the claims all arose from a burglary that occurred in France, meaning that the relationship between Texas and the operative facts of the litigation was too tenuous to support jurisdiction.

My Vacation Europe, Inc. v. Sigel, No. 05-14-00435-CV

Update: Threepeat. The dream is alive.

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Court Derails DART’s Attempt to Dismiss Lawsuit Based on Sovereign Immunity

In 2000, the union representing DART’s employees sued DART, alleging that it was improperly denying its employees’ grievances and requests for appeals.  As a result, the parties entered into a settlement agreement providing that DART was required to modify the employee grievance procedures in its employment manual.

Years later, in 2010, a dispute arose between DART and a former employee (who had been terminated) over DART’s grievance procedures.  The union ultimately sued DART, alleging that it had breached the prior settlement agreement.  DART filed a plea to the jurisdiction, asserting sovereign immunity, which the trial court denied.  On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision, noting that when “a governmental entity agrees to settle a lawsuit in which it has waived governmental immunity, it cannot claim immunity from suit for breach of the settlement agreement.”  Because DART had waived immunity in the 2000 lawsuit and the union was claiming it had breached that agreement, DART could not claim immunity from the suit.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit v. Amalgamated Transit Union Local No. 1338

No Personal Jurisdiction in Intra-Family Squabble

The appellant (brother to appellee) claimed the probate court lacked personal jurisdiction over him.  Appellee asserted that the appellant’s individual assistance to the parties’ quadriplegic mother in a probate matter in 2008 (the appellant’s only contact with Texas) required the court to exercise jurisdiction over her brother.  The Court held, however, that at the time he assisted his mother in the prior lawsuit, the appellant was not serving as trustee of the Trust at issue in the present lawsuit, and thus his contact with the state was in a separate, individual capacity.

Stauffer v. Nicholson

 

Waiving the Fiduciary Shield

The Court of Appeals has issued a lengthy opinion affirming the denial of a special appearance. The appeal arises out of an apparently contentious case involving claims and counterclaims for breach of contract, fraud, and defamation. Defendant Sebastian Lombardo — an Italian citizen who lives in Belgium and works in France — challenged personal jurisdiction by invoking the fiduciary shield doctrine, which protects officers of corporations from being personally haled into court in Texas due to their contacts as representatives of the corporation. Unfortunately for Lombardo, his argument in the trial court had presented that issue as a matter of general personal jurisdiction, and the trial court had found him to be subject to specific personal jurisdiction. Having failed to present the fiduciary shield doctrine as a bar to the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction, the issue was also waived on appeal. The opinion goes on to affirm the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence supporting the trial court’s findings of jurisdictional facts, as well as its application of the law to those facts, and therefore affirmed denial of the special appearance.

Lombardo v. Bhattacharyya, No. 05-13-01583-CV

AAA Immunity

Len Rao filed suit against his former employer, David Weekley Homes. Weekley moved to abate the lawsuit and initiated an arbitration proceeding with the AAA. The trial court denied the motion to compel arbitration, and the Court of Appeals — after first granting an emergency motion to stay the proceedings — ultimately affirmed the denial of arbitration. After the case moved back to the trial court, however, Rao added new claims against the AAA, which responded with a plea to the jurisdiction based on the doctrine of arbitral immunity. The trial court granted the plea, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Arbitral immunity, the Court held, extends not only to arbitrators themselves, but also to the association that administers their proceedings.

Rao v. Am. Arbitration Ass’n., No. 05-13-00462-CV

No Governmental Immunity for Unsecured Whiteboard

Last November, the Texas Supreme Court reversed and remanded for further consideration in a case where the Dallas Court of Appeals had concluded that the plaintiff had sufficiently pleaded a waiver of sovereign immunity through the use of tangible property. The Supreme Court held that the plaintiff had not alleged a “use” of property for a whiteboard that fell on his head, because Dallas Metrocare had only made the board available for use by patients. On remand, the Court of Appeals had to consider the alternative question of whether the plaintiff’s claims alleged injury through a “condition” of property. The Court concluded that he had pleaded such a claim, based on the allegation that the whiteboard was in an unsafe condition because it was not properly secured. The case was therefore remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

Dallas Metrocare Servs. v. Juarez, No. 05-11-01144-CV