A juror gets Covid, delaying the punitive damages phase of a wrongful death trial that has already rendered a $375 million actual damages verdict. A denied PPP loan turns into litigation. Alleged gossip at a La Madeleine results in a pro se lawsuit. Elon Musk gets sued again. And more.
This week’s roundup includes a proceeding delay, a final judgment and five new lawsuits. Bonus material: new counsel information for a previous lawsuit included in the Litigation Roundup.
Punitive Phase of Charter Trial Delayed
Deliberations in the punitive damages phase of a suit against Charter Communications Inc. over the 2019 murder of a customer were delayed Monday because a juror has Covid-19.
A six-member jury last week found Charter, which does business as Spectrum, 90 percent responsible for the death of Betty Thomas, who was killed by a Charter field technician who visited her home for a service call on Dec. 11, 2019, then returned the next day to kill and rob her. Jurors awarded $375 million in actual damages to Thomas’s family and were to re-convene Monday to consider punitive damages. That plan was put on hold when one juror reported having tested positive for Covid. The one alternate juror who sat through a three-week trial in Dallas County Court of Law with the six deliberating jurors had already been dismissed when Judge Juan Renteria learned of the Covid case.
Thomas’s four adult children contended that Charter was negligent in, among other things, not checking the employment history of Roy Holden, the technician who confessed to the murder and is serving a life sentence in a Texas state prison; not adequately training supervisors to recognize psychological instability in field employees; and letting Holden keep making service calls after he acknowledged less than two weeks before the murder that marital and financial troubles were deeply upsetting him.
The cause number is CC-20-01579-E.
La Madeleine’s Coffee ‘is Not Even French Roast’
Dallas resident Perfecto Rodriguez II on June 21 filed a pro se defamation lawsuit against La Madeline co-worker Judith Slagle, claiming she made slanderous statements about Rodriguez in an effort to get him fired from his job.
Rodriguez seeks to get Slagle fired for spreading the rumors, including that he committed sexual assault in a former job. He also seeks to recover $11.00 in lost wages and ends his lawsuit with vows to contact the Better Business Bureau and health department.
“The big problem with the La Madeleines [sic] is that they lack morale if not, they are a ‘moral junkyard’ and most definitely fall into “‘negligent hiring,’” Rodriguez wrote. “La Madeleine is not a good place to eat at. Processed foods are what they serve. Their coffee is not even French Roast. They are dishonest when it comes to pricing for what they sell.”
The case is DC-22-06378 and has landed in Dallas County District Judge Martin Hoffman’s court.
Pizza Hut Scores a Franchise Win
On June 17, U.S. District Judge Robert Schroeder handed Pizza Hut a $6.6 million win in a battle involving the Plano-based pizza empire’s franchise agreements in Philadelphia.
Pizza Hut filed the lawsuit in 2019 against multiple franchisees, alleging that the Philadelphia franchise agreements were terminated based on multiple breaches by the defendants. They lodged counterclaims seeking tens of millions. Pizza Hut sought payment for unpaid fees and indemnity fees, as well as injunctive relief because it alleged the franchisees continued to use Pizza Hut’s trademarks and trade dress.
Judge Shroeder’s final judgment follows a weeklong bench trial this spring in Texarkana. Pizza Hut was represented by a team from Haynes and Boone, including partners Deb Coldwell and Jason Jordan and associates Sally Dahlstrom, Alicia Pitts and Wilson Miller. Local counsel was Geoffrey Patton Culbertson and Kelly Tidwell of Patton Tidwell & Culbertson.
The defense was represented by Lynn Pinker Hurst & Schwegmann, including partners Michael Hurst, Mary Goodrich Nix, and Sara Chellete and associates Farsheed Fozouni and Daniela Vera Holmes. Local counsel was Jennifer Haltom Doan and Cole Riddell of Haltom & Doan.
The case is 5:21-cv-00089-RWS.
Denied PPP Loan Coverage Turns into Litigation
On June 21, McAllen-based fracking sand logistics company Arepet Express sued the federal government for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s alleged failure to fully forgive a $1.36 million loan issued to Arapet under the Payment Protection Program.
Despite following “each and every regulation in effect at the time of its loan application,” Arapet wrote in its lawsuit, the SBA is requiring the plaintiff to pay back more than $539,000 of the PPP loan plus interest. According to the lawsuit, the SBA reasoned that Arapet was ineligible for part of the loan was because the loan calculation included payments to independent contractors.
Courtney Gahm-Oldham, a member of Frost Brown Todd’s Houston office, is Arapet’s lead attorney. The case has landed in the McAllen division of the Southern District of Texas and has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Randy Crane. The cause number is 7:22-cv-00195.
Elon Musk Sued Again in Texas
Dallas lawyer Joe Kendall has filed another derivative lawsuit on behalf of a Tesla stockholder against Tesla CEO Elon Musk and members of the company’s board alleging that the company has “created a toxic workplace culture grounded in racist and sexist abuse and discrimination against its own employees.”
The June 22 lawsuit, filed by Alvin Janklow, follows a similar one filed the week before. Like its predecessor suit, this new one has also been assigned to Judge Lee Yeakel in the Austin division of the Western District of Texas. No lawyer has made an appearance for Musk or the other Tesla defendants in either lawsuit.
The new cause number is 1:22-cv-00611-LY.
Trade Secrets Battle Brewing in Behavioral Therapy World
On June 21, Addison-based Monarch Behavioral Therapy (d/b/a Behavior Innovations) sued Irving-based competitor ASD Therapy Solutions (d/b/a Apara Autism Center) and three former employees of Behavior Innovations’ Houston facility on allegations that they violated trade secrets by using confidential information at their new workplace. Both facilities provide behavioral therapy to clients on the autism spectrum.
Three days later, Harris County District Judge Elliott Thornton granted a temporary restraining order that bans individual defendants Nicole Ercan, Kisena Anderson and Brittni Hagan from using, divulging or disclosing Behavioral Innovations’ confidential and trade secret information. The judge has set a temporary injunction hearing for July 7.
The plaintiff’s lawyers are Anthony Barbieri, Ali Hinckley and John Janicek of Kessler Collins in Dallas. The defendants’ lawyers are Quentin Smith, E. Phileda Tennant and Briana Falcon of Vinson & Elkins in Houston. The cause number is 2022-37050.
Meta Sued Again for Social Media Teen Addiction
Dallas grandmother Stephanie Carter has sued Meta Platforms and its network of social media brands on behalf of her 17-year-old granddaughter, F.M., on allegations that Meta/Facebook and Instagram “prioritize profit over safety” by engaging in harmful business practices that keep young users on the platforms as much as possible.
The lawsuit is one of many cropping up after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before Congress on the topic. A 19-year-old filed a similar lawsuit in Houston federal court earlier this month. Meta, Facebook, Instagram and the other entities have retained Houston attorney Collin Cox of Gibson Dunn to defend them in that lawsuit. Houston attorney Kyle Herbert of the Herbert Law Firm has also joined the suit on behalf of the plaintiff since its June 3 filing.
Carter’s lawsuit says her granddaughter suffers from social media addiction, anxiety, body dysmorphia, depression, suicidal ideation, headaches, fatigue and sleep issues. No one has appeared for the Meta defendants in this suit yet. Herbert is also representing Carter, along with his colleagues Andrew Smith and Rachel Berkley.
The cause number is 3:22-cv-01343-E and has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Ada Brown.
Editor’s Note: Bruce Tomaso contributed to this report.