In this edition of Litigation Roundup, a Fifth Circuit judge urges the court to join the 21st Century, a Houston college sues a business partner in a recruiting spat and a one-time candidate for president of Mexico goes to prison.
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Harris County District Court
Both Sides Cry Breach in College Recruiting Suit
Houston Baptist University, which now operates as Houston Christian University, is in a breach of contract battle with the American Association of Christian Counselors and its president, Tim Clinton, over a soured deal to recruit students to the university.
HCU alleges AACC breached the contract the parties entered in December 2016 under which AACC agreed to promote the university to increase name recognition, exposure and enrollment. Additionally, AACC was to develop courses for a new mental health center at the university, according to the lawsuit.
Despite the obligations, HCU alleges the association “failed to deliver on the expressed scope of the contracts,” including a specific obligation to refer 133 new students for enrollment.
“After nine AACC sponsored events throughout 2017 and 2018, only one potential student application was received by [HCU],” the suit alleges.
HCU filed suit March 3 and AACC filed an answer and breach of contract counterclaims March 14. AACC alleges that after the university purported to terminate the agreement between them in March 2019, it has failed to pay the minimum annual license fee it owes AACC.
Each side is seeking damages in excess of $1 million.
The case has been assigned to Harris County District Court Judge Kristen Brauchle Hawkins.
American Association of Christian Counselors is represented by C. Vance Christopher and David A. Polsinelli of Crain Caton & James.
Houston Christian University is represented by W. Jackson Wisdom, James M. Cleary Jr. and Raul H. Suazo of Martin Disiere Jefferson & Wisdom.
The case number is 2023-13862.
Southern District of Texas
Ex-Governor of Tamaulipas Gets 9 Years
The former governor of Tamaulipas, Mexico, has received a prison sentence for accepting more than $3.5 million in bribes that he used to purchase property in the United States.
U.S. District Judge Rolando Olvera sentenced Tomas Yarrington Ruvalcaba on Wednesday to nine years in prison. Yarrington, a one-time candidate for president of Mexico, had entered a guilty plea last March, and was required to forfeit to the government a condominium he owned in Port Isabel.
Yarrington served as governor from 1999 until 2005, when he ran for president. The government alleged that as governor he accepted bribes from companies and individuals in Mexico in exchange for government contracts and had intermediaries use that money purchase property in the United States.
He was indicted in May 2013 but wasn’t captured until April 2017, while he was traveling in Italy under an assumed name with a fake passport. After contesting extradition, he was brought to the United States in April 2018.
Chris Flood of Flood & Flood, who represented Yarrington, noted that all claims that the governor was involved with organized crime were dropped prior to sentencing.
“It took time, but this is a positive outcome for the governor,” Flood said.
John Muschenheim and Karen Betancourt prosecuted the case for the government.
The case number is 1:12-cr-00435.
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board
Houston IP Firm Secures Victory Against BMW, Again
Heim Payne & Chorush have successfully defended the validity of multiple patents held by client Arigna Technology that cover circuit design and components. The patents are for an improved current amplifier that allows automotive manufacturers to implement higher voltage electrical systems for use in hybrid cars.
A three-judge panel of the PTAB issued its final ruling in favor of Arigna March 9.
Last year, the firm represented Arigna in a separate proceeding against BMW before the PTAB and beat back attempts to invalidate claims in a different patent.
Arigna Technology is represented by Mike Heim and Chris Limbacher of Heim Payne & Chorush.
BMW is represented by the law firm Finnegan Henderson Farabow Garrett & Dunner.
The case number is IPR2021-01531.
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
Concurrence: ‘Well Past Time for This Circuit to Be Dragged Screaming Into the 21st Century’
In a March 16 ruling, a three-judge panel determined now-retired U.S. District Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore was wrong to let a disabled public-school student — who was twice sexually assaulted on campus by a student with known violent tendencies — proceed with her claims against Fort Bend school officials.
Judge Don R. Willett wrote for the panel that the Fifth Circuit has yet to adopt the “state-created danger” exception under 42 U.S.C. section 1983 that waives immunity for suits against the government.
“Nor do we think it prudent to adopt a never-recognized theory of § 1983 liability in the absence of rigorous briefing that grapples painstakingly with how such a cause of action, however widely accepted in other circuits, works in terms of its practical contours and application, details on which our sister circuits disagree,” he wrote.
Judge Jacques L. Wiener Jr. wrote in a concurrence that while he concurs in the ruling, he disagrees with the court’s refusal to join the nine other circuits that have adopted the state-created danger cause of action.
“I am convinced that it is well past time for this circuit to be dragged screaming into the 21st century by joining all of the other circuits that have now recognized the state-created danger cause of action,” he wrote. “I acknowledge that we can only do so by taking this case en banc. The extreme and uncontested facts of this case present an excellent opportunity for us to do so.”
Judge Wiener lamented that as a senior judge he cannot call for an en banc poll or vote in one should another judge call for it.
“I therefore write this dissent in the hope that one of my active colleagues will call for an en banc poll in an effort to have this circuit join the other nine that have previously recognized the state-created danger cause of action,” he wrote.
Chief Judge Priscilla Richman also served on the panel.
The plaintiff is represented by Steven Sanfelippo and Michael Cunningham of Cunningham Swaim and Joseph Alexander Jr. of Alexander Firm.
The school officials are represented by Clay Grover, Jonathan Brush and Alexa Gould of Rogers Morris & Grover.
The case number is 21-20553.