In this week’s Litigation Roundup, we have a multimillion-dollar civil jury verdict, a criminal jury verdict and four new lawsuits.
The plaintiffs in the new litigation include a chef, a law firm, blank-check investors and major media outlets across the country. The defendants include a state agency, a restaurant group, parties of a high-profile SPAC transaction and a real estate developer.
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CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
Dallas Wicks Phillips Lawyers Win Millions on West Coast
California-based aerospace parts manufacturer Weber Metals will face the first hurdle in trying to preserve a recent $44 million jury verdict that it won against its insurer, Ace American Insurance Co.
A Los Angeles federal judge on Aug. 4 set a hearing to hear Ace’s motion for judgment as a matter of law. The hearing will take place Aug. 15 in the chambers of U.S. District Judge Gary Klausner.
The July 29 verdict followed a weeklong trial that stemmed from an insurance claim by Weber after a catastrophic failure of its 33,000-ton forging press in September 2018. A plaintiff trial team led by partners Erika Bright and Noah Nadler of Wick Phillips’ Dallas office convinced the jury to award their client the full amount in damages that Weber sought under its insurance policy.
The Weber trial team also included Dallas Wick Phillips associate Lauren Leider. Local counsel included Philip Cook and Brian Wright of the Cook Law Firm.
The trial team for Ace included Michael Foran, Amy Stein, Dianne Meconis and Eric Shukis of Foran Glennon Palandech Ponzi & Rudloff.
The cause number is 2:21-cv-05995-RGK-AS.
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
Munck Wilson Sues Landlord for Racketeering
Munck Wilson Mandala has sued its landlord, Dallas real estate developer Mark Jordan, his wife and several associates on fraud and racketeering claims involving the law firm’s corporate lease at Banner Place, where Munck Wilson has been a longtime anchor tenant.
Munck Wilson alleges Jordan defrauded the technology-focused law firm and other tenants into becoming part owners of the commercial office building to reduce operating expenses and make upgrades to the office. Instead, the lawsuit alleges, Jordan used his management company, Sooner, to inflate operating expenses and pocket the excess for himself and his co-conspirators.
No one has appeared for the defendants yet. The cause number is 3:22-cv-01657-M and has been assigned to U.S. Chief District Judge Barbara Lynn.
Jury Finds Tax Preparers Guilty of Tax Fraud
A San Angelo federal judge on Aug. 1 scheduled November sentencing dates for three tax preparers found guilty by a jury on July 29 of filing $18 million in fraudulent tax returns.
Hugo Cesar Granados, 60, of Columbia Tax Service and his children, Blanca L. Granados and Hugo Alberto Granados, face 14 to 17 years in prison. A fourth defendant, Columbia Tax Service employee Saul Garcia-Soto, faces up to three years after striking a plea deal with the federal government a few weeks before trial.
At trial, prosecutors presented evidence that the elder Granados and his co-conspirators falsified their clients’ individual income tax returns in order to inflate the clients’ tax refunds which, in turn, lined the defendants’ pockets. Testimony at trial revealed that Columbia Tax Service claimed more than $900,000 in income in 2015 and more than $1.3 million in income in 2016. Jury heard evidence from 10 taxpayer clients, including two women who admitted that they did not operate daycare centers as claimed on their returns; instead, they cared for family members for free.
The prosecutors on the government’s trial team included assistant U.S. attorneys Jeffrey Haag, Ann Haag, Amy Burch and Paulina Jacobo.
The defense team included San Angelo lawyer Charles W. King for the elder Granados, Aaron Eckman of Eckman Bidwell in Midland for Blanca Granados and Abilene lawyers Jacob Blizzard and Marshall Magincalda Jr. of Blizzard & Zimmerman for the junior Hugo Granados. Garcia-Soto’s lawyer is Joe Hernandez of Hernandez & Associates Law Firm in San Angelo.
The cause number is 6:21-cr-00015-H-BU and is assigned to U.S. District Judge James Wesley Hendrix.
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
Securities Fraud Suit Filed in Aftermath of Alta Mesa-Silver Run-Kingfisher SPAC Deal
Orbis Global Equity Fund and a number of affiliated investors in Silver Run Acquisition Corp. II and Alta Mesa Resources filed a lawsuit Aug. 3 against the two companies; Silver Run’s sponsor, Riverstone Holdings; and a number of affiliates and individual executives and board members.
The plaintiffs allege the defendants made false claims about Alta Mesa’s oil reserves and projected earnings after Silver Run, a special purpose acquisition company, announced in 2018 it was merging with Alta Mesa and Kingfisher Midstream. The Orbis plaintiffs claim they lost millions of dollars following the aftermath of the merger, which included a federal investigation and bankruptcy filing in which its share price fell by more than 99 percent.
Irving lawyer Jules Peter Slim of the Slim Law Firm represents the plaintiffs. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Charles Eskridge in the Houston division. The cause number is 4:22-cv-02590.
Houston Chef Behind Ruggles Restaurant Sues Bellagreen Successor
Houston chef Bruce Molten has sued the current owners of his popular Ruggles restaurants for trademark infringement and breach of contract, claiming that they violated the 2018 settlement of a prior lawsuit by using the Ruggles Green trademark to divert traffic to their new website, bellagreen.com.
The website rebranded to Bellagreen in 2016 after Molten’s business partners forced the sale of the restaurants to defendant Hargett Hunter Capital Partners and its affiliates. Around that time, it came out that Texas Parks & Wildlife was investigating Molten for running an illegal seafood operation. The investigation revealed an illegal network was in operation in which Molten, who studied under Wolfgang Puck, purchased and sold illegal fish off-menu at his Ruggles Green and Ruggles Black restaurants.
Molten hired Houston attorney Karen Bryant Tripp in his new lawsuit. He also filed a claim with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. No one has appeared for the defense yet.
The cause number is 4:22-cv-02578 and has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Alfred Bennett.
Haynes and Boone Seeks Uvalde Shooting Info for Major Media Outlets
On Aug. 1, Austin Lawyers at Haynes and Boone sued the Texas Department of Public Safety on behalf of 16 major media companies — including ABC News, CBS News, Dow Jones, Gannett, CNN, The New York Times Co., NBC News and Pro Publica — that have filed requests under the Texas Public Information Act regarding the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
The lawsuit, filed by partner Laura Lee Prather and associate Reid Pillifant, asks Travis County District Judge Maria Cantú Hexsel to issue a writ of mandamus to compel DPS to produce the requested public records.
According to the lawsuit, the media plaintiffs have submitted numerous public information requests, but DPS has declined to release any information or released incomplete information on claims that the requested information is exempt from disclosure. The plaintiffs argue that the state agency has not supported that claim and has already publicly disclosed some of the information in testimony before the Texas Senate committee.
“While DPS has publicly blamed the response of local law enforcement, DPS has said little about the action (or inaction) of the 91 DPS officers who also responded to the scene,” the lawsuit says. “The inaccuracies and obfuscation from DPS have only prolonged the frustration of victims and their families and the community at large, all of whom continue to cry out for transparency regarding the events of that day.
“The Uvalde community and citizens of Texas deserve answers and the opportunity to heal from this horrific tragedy,” the lawsuit continues. “It is impossible to heal the community and resuscitate its trust in law enforcement or public officials while the facts of that fateful day continue to be hidden, protected from scrutiny and accountability.”
Prather leads Haynes and Boone’s media law practice group, and Pillifant, who received his law degree last year from the University of Texas School of Law, previously worked as a reporter and editor. In recent years, he had gigs at Slate as a politics editor and Politico as an executive editor before switching to the law.
The cause number is D-1-GN-22-003502 in Travis County’s 53rd district court.