No farrago, in Morocco.

casablanca2The Fifth Circuit reversed a ruling that declined to enforce a Moroccan judgment in the case of Dejoria v. Maghreb Petroleum Exploration, S.A., No. 14-51022 (Sept. 30, 2015).  Acknowledging that the Moroccan court system has been criticized for a lack of independence from that country’s king, the Court concluded that “we cannot agree that the Moroccan judicial system lacks sufficient independence such that fair litigation in Morocco is impossible,” and that the defendant had not shown that “Morocco would not recognize an otherwise enforceable foreign judgment only because the judgment was rendered in Texas.”  The Court distinguished other cases involving Iranian “revolutionary courts” and the Liberian court system during that country’s civil war, saying they “exemplify how a foreign judicial system can be so fundamentally flawed as to offend basic notions of fairness.”

No appeal of remand order

containersUnderwood Cotton sued Clark Freight Lines, seeking a declaratory judgment about alleged overcharges on invoices for shipping containers.  Clark removed the case on the basis of complete preemption, and counterclaimed for payment of the invoices.  The district court dismissed the counterclaim and remanded, finding that federal jurisdiction had not been established over the declaratory judgment or the “converse breach of contract action” brought by Clark.  The Fifth Circuit dismissed the resulting appeal, finding: “[T]he dismissal of the counterclaims did not precede the remand in logic and fact.  Dismissing the counterclaims did not deprive the court of subject-matter jurisdiction; the district court ruled it never had jurisdiction to begin with.”  Underwood Cotton Co. v. Clark Freight Lines, Inc., No. 14-11327 (Sept. 28, 2015, unpublished). The Court noted that the counterclaims could proceed in state court notwithstanding the district court’s jurisdictional ruling.

Not told about the mold

mold_cartoonThe Fifth Circuit reversed the dismissal of misrepresentation claims about the sale of a house with mold problems, finding that this disclaimer was not dispositive: “Buyer is hereby advised that mold and/or other microscopic organisms may exist at the property known as 1425 MAGNOLIA RIDGE, BOSSIER CITY, LA, 71112. . . . Buyer acknowledges and agrees to accept full responsibility/risk for any matters that may result from microscopic organisms and/or mold and to hold harmless, release, and indemnify Seller and Seller’s managing agents from any liability/recourse/damages (financial or otherwise). Buyer understands that Seller has taken no action to remediate mold. . . . The purpose of this disclaimer is to put Buyers on notice to conduct their own due diligence regarding this matter using appropriate, qualified experts[.]”  Jones v. Wells Fargo Bank, No. 15-30031 (Sept. 28, 2015, unpublished).

Bad trip

The district court removed a bankruptcy trustee after he sought to bill a family trip to New Orleans to the estate, noting two past situations where the court had an issue with the trustee’s practices.  The Fifth Circuit affirmed, rejecting several challenges to that ruling based primarily on the consideration of the past situations, holding: “The district courts and in turn the bankruptcy courts are the keepers of the temple. These courts rely on the bar to abide by its strict rules and norms of conduct. Bankruptcy practice presents many tasks attended and girded by strict identity of duty and diligence by its officers. The courts below were only minding their role: not to end, but to redirect a distinguished presence at the bar, and to give sustenance to necessarily demanding norms of practice. That this is expected does not diminish its importance.”  Smith v. Robbins, No. 14-20588 (Sept. 25, 2015).

Taxpayer’s claim revived

Susan Rothkamm sued for wrongful levy, after the IRS seized a CD in her name to satisfy a tax liability of her husband.  The Fifth Circuit reversed the dismissal of her claim, finding that she had standing as a “taxpayer” under the broad definition of 7701 of the Internal Revenue Code: “The term ‘taxpayer’ means any person subject to any internal revenue tax.”  The Court also found that limitations was tolled during the pendency of her application for a Taxpayer Assistance Order, and that the IRS did not have discretion to affect the length of that tolling period.  Rothkamm v. United States, No. 14-31164 (Sept. 21, 2015).  A dissent warned: “I dissent from the majority’s newly minted tolling rule. While this creativity is driven by a desire to achieve fairness, it suffers the vice common to such endeavors – it does the opposite by disrupting a carefully structured regime for the resolution of disputes between the IRS and property owners.”

No flip-flip about the flip-flop

jackup rigMyers slipped in the shower while working aboard a drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico.  In an echo of Blanton v. Newton Associates (a recent employment cases that turned on a prompt investigation into the facts), the rig operator quickly obtained a statement from Myers that said: “When getting out of shower, my shower shoe on left foot broke causing my left foot to slip and twist and resulted in falling out of shower.”  When Myers took an inconsistent position in trial (arguing that he fell because of inadequate rails and mats), this statement was key to affirmance of a defense judgment.  The Fifth Circuit also rejected an argument about the trial court’s review of the evidence: “Myers does not allege that the court did not see the flip flops; instead, he appears to object to the court’s failure to inspect them more closely. . . . When physical evidence is introduced at a bench trial, neither caselaw nor common sense establishes a minimum distance the judge must be from that evidence before the judge’s obligation to consider the evidence is satisfied.”  Myers v. Hercules Offshore Services, No. 15-30020 (Sept. 25, 2015, unpublished).

Antitrust claims thoroughly vetted

vetpictureSanger Insurance Agency alleged that HUB International violated the antitrust laws to keep it from selling professional liability insurance to veterinarians. The Fifth Circuit reversed the dismissal of Sanger’s claims with two holdings. The Court first found that while Sanger was new to this business, it had done enough to establish antitrust standing, especially since Sanger alleged that the defendants’ anticompetitive activity had hurt its ability to enter the market: “[B]y pursuing a deal with a professional association of veterinarians and even achieving some success in its initial efforts, Sanger went beyond ‘the most basic preparatory steps’ that we require of nascent competitors.”  While then remanding as to other claims, the Court found Sanger’s federal antitrust claims “reverse-preempted” under the McCarran-Ferguson Act.: “Assuming that HUB is engaged in exclusive dealing that prevents the insurers from writing insurance for other group plans, that conduct fortifies the Program HUB operates through the American Veterinary Medical Association. Keeping a large, geographically and professionally diverse pool of veterinarians in the Program—including significant numbers of small- animal, large-animal, mixed, and equine veterinarians—spreads risk.”  Sanger Insurance Agency v. HUB Int’l, Inc, No. 14-40854 (Sept. 23, 2015).

In the beginning was International Shoe —

genesisFirst Metropolitan Church sued Genesis Group, a company that helps churches obtain mortgage refinancing.  The Fifth Circuit affirmed dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction in a short opinion, echoing its recognition of recent Supreme Court opinions in Monkton Ins. Servs. v. Ritter, 768 F.3d 429 (5th Cir. 2014).  An interactive website, even one that lists Texas business references, does not create general jurisdiction, and contracting with a Texas resident does not create jurisdiction if it does not “contemplate a long-term relationship with . . . continuing obligations and wide-reaching contacts.”  First Metropolitan Church of Houston v. Genesis Group, No. 15-20186 (Sept. 17, 2015, unpublished)

RICO 101

rico graphicAllstate sued a group of chiropractic clinics and law firms under RICO, alleging that they conspired to send them fraudulent bills for unnecessary services.  Allstate won a 7-figure judgment at trial.  The Fifth Circuit affirmed, reviewing some basic RICO principles after recent Supreme Court rulings:

  • “Although the evidence proving the two will sometimes coalesce, the government still has to satisfy the organizational metric of the enterprise (including continuity and common purpose) and the statutorily enumerated predicated offenses.  There is thus no impermissible collapsing of the distinction between the enterprise and the pattern of racketeering.”  (applying a plain error standard of review)
  • “[M]ail fraud and its place in RICO framework are different from a case alleging common-law fraud, and one of the differences is the lack of a reliance requirement.” Here, “[r]egardless of how proximate cause is sliced, Allstate proved it.  There is no plausible argument that the insurers were unforeseeable victims or otherwise wronged by the caprice of chance.”
  • As to damages, distinguishing a similar case that found inadequate proof that all paid-for services were unnecessary, the Court held: “There is no such deficiency here.  The court instructed the jury, in awarding damages, to distinguish between the portions of the bills generated for unreasonable or unnecessary services and those not generated for those services. Allstate had experts examine all of the files, not just a representative sample, and one of those witnesses testified that Allstate had internally itemized the elements of each settlement.”

Allstate Ins. Co. v. Plambeck, No. 14-10574 (Sept. 17, 2015).

Revised opinion in Daubert case about pharmacy

pharmacy_logo_for_webThe Fifth Circuit issued a revised opinon in Kovaly v. Wal-Mart Stores, No. 14-20697 (Sept. 22, 2015, unpublished).  The new opinion reaches the same result — reversal of the Daubert exclusion of an expert about the standard of care for a Texas pharmacist asked to issue a 72-hour emergency prescription.  It provides more detail about the expert’s analysis, eliminating some uncertainty in the original opinion about the role of Texas regulations in the expert’s work: “Brooke specifically analyzed how the various regulations overlap and how the history of the regulations led to the codification of particular exceptions but not others.  He explained that his opinion was based not only on the regulations but also on their history, accepted practice, and pharmacist training.”

Kurds and Weigh

SCF_BYRRANGAAn appeal in a dispute between the Iraqi oil ministry and the Kurdistan governmental authority (“KRG”) ended in dismissal for mootness, after the tanker with the relevant oil “weighed anchor . . and . . . sailed to Ahkelon, Israel[.]”  (The ship at issue, UNITED KALAVRYTA, appears at right and is presently underway in the Black Sea.)    The Fifth Circuit rejected several arguments by the KRG that the dispute remained live, including:

  • Any request in the complaint for a declaratory judgment was merely ancillary to the claim to recover the tanker under admiralty law;
  • No claim for interest remained because the Ministry sought to recover the oil, not money damages;
  • The “such other and further relief” clause at the end of the complaint was not a pleading for money damages; and
  • “[H]ypothetical future shipments do not prevent the dispute regarding the Cargo at issue here from being moot.”

The Court also rejected a request by the TexasBarToday_TopTen_Badge_SmallKRG for vacatur of the lower court’s decision, noting in particular that “the KRG mooted this appeal through its voluntary decision to discharge the Cargo in Israel.  In so doing, the KRG severely weakened its argument for equitable relief.”  Ministry of Oil of the Republic of Iraq v. Kurdistan Region of Iraq, No. 15-40062 (Sept. 21, 2015, unpublished).

Permissible declaratory judgment action re: coverage

Fencing_girlMcGowan successfully sued his employer, Tractor Supply Co., for over $8 million in damages after a severe workplace injury.  In the meantime, TSC’s umbrella carrier sued TSC and another carrier for a declaration about coverage obligations.  The district court dismissed for lack of standing, and pursuant to its discretion under the Declaratory Judgment Act.  The Fifth Circuit reversed; its principal holdings were: (1) under Texas insurance law, this sort of suit is justiciable after a liability determination at trial, and does not require exhaustion of appellate remedies; (2) the issues and parties were different in the two actions; and (3) the declaratory judgment suit was filed after the state case and otherwise showed “no indication of procedural fencing.”  Ironshore Specialty Ins. Co. v. Tractor Supply Co. 14-51164 (Aug. 25, 2015, unpublished)

(12 ÷ 30) = Fact Issue = Summary Judgment Reversed

40_percent_off_light_redA security company required that its employees travel to a designated break location at lunchtime, substantially eating into their 30-minute lunch break.  The Fifth Circuit reversed summary judgment for the company on FLSA claims, reasoning:  “Unlike a requirement that the employee stay in uniform, or even one that may result in the employee having to perform a duty on rare occasions, a jury could find that preventing the employee from eating—ostensibly the main purpose of the break—for twelve out of thirty minutes during every break is a meaningful limitation on the employee’s freedom. The travel obligation thus cannot be deemed a mere ‘inconvenience’ as a matter of law.”  Naylor v. Securiguard, Inc., No. 14-60637 (Sept. 15, 2015).  Whether the “40 percent rule” carries over to other areas of summary judgment practice remains to be seen, but Naylor still stands as a cogent and highly readable review of a basic part of the modern workplace.

How to predetermine

calvins-doctrine-of-predestinationIn a dispute about insurance coverage for a False Claims Act case involving the repair of Coast Guard cutters, the relevant exclusion reached: “[t]he failure of your products to meet any
predetermined level of fitness or performance and/or guarantee of such fitness or level of performance and/or any consequential loss arising therefrom.”  The insured argued that “predetermination” implied a bilateral agreement, while a “requirement” was unilateral and did not implicate the exclusion.  The Fifth Circuit disagreed for several reasons: “But ‘predetermined’ means only ‘established, decided upon, or
decreed beforehand.’ It implies nothing about how a determination comes about, or who has the authority to determine. A single party can ‘determine’ something, and can do so in advance: there is nothing inherently bilateral about predetermination. And even if there were, the complaint lays out straightforwardly that [the insured] failed to meet a requirement that the parties together determined in advance. (citation omitted)”  XL Specialty Ins. Co. v. Bollinger Shipyards, Inc., No. 14-31283 (Aug. 27, 2015).