Adverse judgment, lots of fallout

2000px-united_states_fallout_shelter_sign-svgHenry S. Miller Commercial Co. lost a trial on a fraud claim but succeeded in a later malpractice claim against its trial counsel. The Fifth Court resolved two issues – (1) postjudgment assignment of malpractice claims as part of a reorganization was acceptable where “Here, HSM asserted its own malpractice claim against the Lawyers in its own name. It pursued its own claim through trial and judgment. Under these circumstances, HSM’s right ‘to bring [its] own cause of action for malpractice is not vitiated’ by the assignment to its judgment creditors” (applying Tate v. Goins, Underkofler, Crawford & Langdon, 24 S.W.3d 627, 629 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2000, pet. denied)); and (2) the trial court erred in dismissing HSM’s claim for gross negligence based on the failure to designate a key responsible third party. Accordingly, because a new trial was required on punitive damages, it was also required on compensatory damages, and thus liability as well. Henry S. Miller Comm’l Co. v. Newsom, Terry & Newsom LLP, No. 05-14-01188-CV (Sept. 14, 2016) (mem. op.)

The first thing we do, let’s pay all the lawyers . . .

movie-theaterSchultz, owner of a chain of movie theaters, did not want to pay Banowsky, a licensed Texas attorney, for helping Schultz find a theater location.  Schultz won summary judgment based on the Texas Real Estate Licensing Act,  primarily because Banowsky admitted that his work did not involve legal services.  The Fifth Court reversed: “[Schultz] argues that Banowsky’s construction of the Act is both unreasonable and favors the individual interest of an attorney over the interest in protecting the public from unlicensed, unscrupulous, or unqualified persons.  But the fact remains that the plain language of the statute exempts attorneys from all requirements of the Act.”  Banowsky v. Schultz, No. 05-14-01624-CV (Feb. 10, 2016) (mem. op.)

Law firm immune from suit by opponent.

Highland Capital sued the Looper Reed law firm, who represented a former employee in litigation with Highland, alleging that the firm committed several torts against Highland during the course of that representation.  The Fifth Court affirmed the dismissal of those claims on immunity grounds: “[T]he actions themselves—acquiring documents from a client that are the subject of litigation against the client, reviewing the documents, copying the documents, retaining custody of the documents, analyzing the documents, making TexasBarToday_TopTen_Badge_Smalldemands on the client’s behalf, advising a client to reject counter-demands, speaking about an opposing party in a negative light, advising a client on a course of action, and even threatening particular consequences such as disclosure of confidential information if demands are not met—are the kinds of actions that are part of the discharge of an attorney’s duties in representing a party in hard-fought litigation.”  Highland Capital Management LP v. Looper Reed & McGraw, PC, No. 05-15-00055-CV  (Jan. 14, 2016) (mem. op.) (applying Cantey Hanger, LLP v. Byrd, 467 S.W.3d 477, 481 (Tex. 2015)).

Side-Switching Attorney Leads to Disqualification and DWOP

After an automobile collision, the Gomez family sued Sol Ly for negligence. Ly was represented by the Herald law firm, which also employed attorney Tim Brandenburg. But while the suit was pending, Brandenburg left Herald to join the law firm of Domingo Garcia, which represented the plaintiffs. Based on the defendant’s oral objection, the trial court granted a mistrial and ordered the defendant to file a motion to disqualify, which was subsequently granted. The plaintiffs failed to obtain substitute counsel, and the case was dismissed for want of prosecution. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The plaintiffs’ pro se motion to reinstate the case following the dismissal challenged only the disqualification, and not the plaintiffs’ failure to appear at the new trial setting. Without a showing that the failure to appear was adequately justified, the Court of Appeals could not conclude that the trial court had abused its discretion in denying the motion to reinstate.

Gomez. v. Sol, No. 05-14-00893-CV

Order to Produce Privileged Document Is Mandamus-Ebola

Almost a year after the Ebola virus and dozens of news crews arrived in Dallas, the Court of Appeals has conditionally granted mandamus to prevent Texas Health Resources’ insurer from being required to produce a privileged note regarding a plaintiff’s Ebola-related claims. Nina Pham, who contracted the disease while working as a nurse at Presbyterian Hospital, has sued THR on a variety of tort claims for the injuries she sustained from the disease. The single document at issue reflects a conversation among the insurer’s claims adjuster, THR’s associate general counsel, and its risk manager. Although the insurer and its claims adjuster were not parties to the lawsuit, the Court nevertheless held that the communications reflected in the document were privileged. Because the note was made in the course of investigating Pham’s claim, and because the insurer represents the employer rather than itself on claims involving the employer’s liability policy, the note reflected a confidential communication within the scope of the attorney-client privilege.

In re Texas Health Resources, No 05-15-00813-CV

On Barratry Remedies

The Court of Appeals has reversed a summary judgment in favor of the attorney defendants in a civil barratry case. The plaintiffs were victims of a pipeline explosion. Their case against the pipeline company eventualy settled, and the lawyers collected their 40% contingency fee. But the plaintiffs learned that they had actually been solicited by a private investigator working for their attorneys, so they sued to rescind the fee agreement and recover their contingency fees. The Court of Appeals agreed that rescission was an available remedy for barratry, and that the attorney defendants had not established their former clients would be unable to make counter-restitution for the benefits they had received from the lawyers.

Neese v. Lyon, No. 05-13-01597-CV

No Causation, No Malpractice

After a jury awarded millions of dollars in damages and the Court of Appeals affirmed, the defendants in that case decided to become plaintiffs by suing their lawyers at Andrews Kurth. The county court at law granted summary judgment for the defendants, and the Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed. In a malpractice case based on an attorney’s conduct in connection with litigation, the plaintiff has to demonstrate that it would have prevailed in the prior case but for the lawyer’s negligence. Concluding that the plaintiffs’ proof on that point was conclusory and speculative, the Court held that there was no evidence in the summary judgment record to establish causation of any injury to the plaintiffs.

Rogers v. Zanetti, No. 05-14-00733-CV

Summary Judgment Affirmed for Former Judge Joe Kendall

The Dallas Court of Appeals has affirmed summary judgment in favor of former state and federal district court judge Joe Kendall and the law firm of Provost & Umphrey. The lawsuit alleged that the plaintiffs had provided Kendall with confidential information for a possible qui tam lawsuit related to the procurement practices of the Dallas and Houston Independent School Districts, and that Kendall and Provost had improperly used that information in filing a successful qui tam lawsuit on behalf of two other clients. Kendall and Provost sought and obtained summary judgment, arguing that no confidential information has been shared, that no duty of loyalty was owed or breached, that there was no evidence of an attorney-client relationship, and that there was no evidence of damages. Among other things, the Court of Appeals held that there was no evidence Kendall had intended to undertake a legal representation of the plaintiffs by meeting with one of them to discuss the “possibility” of a qui tam lawsuit, and that there was no evidence Kendall had actually disclosed any of the plaintiffs’ confidential information in connection with the lawsuit that was actually filed.

Gillis v. Provost & Umphrey Law Firm, LLP, No. 05-13-00892-CV