In this week’s roundup, we have a final judgment, a take-nothing jury verdict, another Covid-19 delay of the punitive damages phase of a high-dollar wrongful death trial, an eight-figure attorneys’ fees award, a summary judgment and two new lawsuits.
Some winners of resolved litigation include AT&T, LA Fitness and a group of emergency room doctors. Plaintiffs in new litigation include a multinational food services company and a student at Texas Christian University.
LA Fitness Defeats Landlords in Rent Dispute
Dallas County District Judge Eric Moyé on June 27 rendered a take-nothing final judgment in LA Fitness’s favor involving a dispute with various North Texas landlords over rent owed during the period gyms were closed at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It follows a bench trial between LA Fitness and the landlord plaintiffs this spring. In his final judgment, Judge Moyé ruled that LA Fitness owed no rent to its landlords between March 17, 2020, and May 31, 2020, and that the plaintiffs take nothing. In addition, Judge Moyé awarded money to LA Fitness and attorneys’ fees.
LA Fitness was represented by Greg Curry and Reed Randel of Holland & Knight. The plaintiff landlords were represented by Jacob Sparks of Spencer Fane and Craig Ganz and Katherine Anderson Sanchez of Ballard Spahr.
The cause number is DC-20-18444 in Dallas County’s 14th District Court.
Punis Phase Delayed Again in Charter trial
For the second time, the punitive damages phase of a wrongful death trial against Charter Communications was delayed due to a juror contracting Covid-19. Jurors were scheduled to re-convene Thursday morning to consider awarding additional damages to the family of 83-year-old customer Betty Thomas, who was murdered in 2019 by an off-duty Charter cable technician.
Jurors were originally slated to begin punitive damages testimony June 27, but proceedings got delayed to this week when a juror contracted Covid after the alternate juror was dismissed.
A six-member jury found June 23 that Charter, which does business as Spectrum, 90 percent responsible for Thomas’ death after a Charter technician visited her home for a service call on Dec. 11, 2019, then returned the following day to kill and rob her. The jury awarded Thomas’ family $375 million in actual damages.
The cause number is CC-20-01579-E in Dallas County Court at Law No. 5.
Norton Rose Fulbright Scores Summary Judgment for AT&T
A Houston federal judge has dismissed a wrongful-firing lawsuit brought by a former employee claiming Southwestern Bell, a subsidiary of AT&T, released her because of a medical condition.
U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes of the Southern District of Texas ruled that Beverly Hawkins lacked evidence showing that the Dallas-based company fired her because she had a bad shoulder or because she took medical leave to recover from shoulder surgery.
Lawyers for AT&T argued that the company terminated Hawkins’s employment because of customer complaints.
In a July 1 order granting AT&T’s summary judgment motion, Judge Hughes said the evidence showed that AT&T provided Hawkins with reasonable accommodations regarding her shoulder injury.
Norton Rose Fulbright partners Shauna Johnson Clark and Kimberly Cheeseman led the defense team for AT&T. Hawkins was represented by Helen Mary Daniel and Kathryn Young Williams of Daniel, Williams & Associates in Houston.
The cause number is 4:15-cv-00498.
A Fight Brews Over Faulty PPE
Food services company Sysco on June 27 sued personal protective equipment provider Remcoda and parent company IBrands in Houston federal court for fraud and breach of contract over faulty disposable gloves.
The lawsuit says Sysco purchased 687,402 cases of the defendants’ Bluzen Nitrile Gloves for $78.4 million to distribute to its customers. Although the nitrile rubber gloves were purported to be puncture and chemical resistant and inspected for quality by the defendants before delivery, Sysco alleges in its lawsuit that it began receiving complaints from clients about the gloves ripping after reselling 100,000 of the cases. Sysco incurred another $20,843 in testing of the gloves, which revealed they were made of vinyl.
Christopher Watt, Julie Hardin and Caitlin Chambers of Reed Smith represent Sysco. No attorneys have appeared for the defense yet.
The cause number is 4:22-cv-02075 and has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison.
Porter Hedges and Kelly Hart Score Trade Secrets Defense Win
On June 27, a Fort Worth federal jury handed a defense verdict to Johnson City-based Tech Con Trenching, CTS Manufacturing and owner David Conlon in a trade secrets dispute that began when a family-operated competitor, Trench Tech International, sued after some of its employees left to work for the defendants and allegedly stole trade secrets in the process.
After two hours of deliberation, the jury also cleared the defendants of the plaintiffs’ breach of fiduciary duty, conspiracy and tortious interference claims.
The defendants were represented by Houston lawyers Jonathan Pierce, Stephanie Holcombe, Jamie Godsey, Elliott Deese and Christopher Wawro of Porter Hedges and Fort Worth lawyer Dee Kelly, Jr. of Kelly Hart & Hallman. The plaintiffs were represented by Arlington lawyers Kelly Curnutt, Logan Simmons and Stephen Kotara of Curnutt & Hafer.
The cause number is 4:19-cv-00201-O and the trial took place in U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor’s court.
A Hazing Incident Turns Litigious
Dallas personal injury firm Crain Brogdon on June 27 sued Texas Christian University, Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, and four officers and leaders in Lambda Chi’s local chapter on behalf of TCU student Joseph Radanovich, who became a paraplegic from a hazing incident that resulted in a rollover accident.
According to the lawsuit, Radanovich was a freshman pledge of Lamba Chi in November 2020 when he and a group of pledge brothers were ordered to drive 320 miles to Lubbock to steal signs and other football game paraphernalia at Texas Tech University. The roadtrip immediately followed 24 hours of fraternity-mandated sleep deprivation and resulted in one of Radanovich’s pledge brothers falling asleep at the wheel. The lawsuit claims that the car rolled several times after the driver lost control and Radanovich was ejected 45 feet before landing near a tree. Now paralyzed from the waist down, Radanovich has already incurred roughly $1 million in medical bills and, during his lifetime, are expected to exceed $15 million, the lawsuit says.
Quentin Brogdon, Radanovich’s lead attorney, said in an email Wednesday that every defendant except one of the individual fraternity members has been served with the lawsuit, but none had responded.
“Texas Christian University encourages its students to participate in fraternities and sororities, but turns a blind eye to the fraternities’ and sororities’ dangerous hazing activities,” he said. “Given the choice and the information, no parent would willingly entrust their most valuable possessions — their children — to a university and a fraternity that would encourage, enable and empower the dangerous hazing of the children.”
Brogdon’s law partner, Robert Crain, is also involved in the suit. The cause number is 096-334327-22 in Tarrant County district court.
CLARK COUNTY, NEVADA
Judge Throws ER Docs More Dough in Attorneys’ Fees Judgment
A Las Vegas judge on June 28 approved $11.5 million in attorneys’ fees for Ahmhad, Zavitsanos & Mensing for their work in a recent trial against UnitedHealthcare regarding the reimbursement of emergency room doctors. The ruling, which Judge Nancy Allf delivered during a hearing, also included an additional $700,000 in expenses.
The ruling balloons a previous jury verdict to more than $72 million in favor of AZA’s client, physician staffing firm TeamHealth. After an encore courtroom session to determine punitive damages, the jury grew their verdict in December to $60 million.
The AZA team representing TeamHealth at trial included John Zavitsanos, Kevin Leyendecker, Joseph Ahmad, Jane Robinson, Michael Killingsworth and Louis Liao.
The cause number is A-19-792978-B in Dept. XXVII of Clark County district court.
Editor’s Note: Mark Curriden contributed to this report.