Fact issue in employment dispute

scintilla posterNicholson worked for Securitas, a security staffing company. She sued about her reassignment from a position as a receptionist at a Securitas customer. The Fifth Circuit partially reversed a summary judgment for Securitas, noting: “If Securitas failed to follow its usual practices in responding to a client’s desire to have an employee removed, such a deviation can support Nicholson’s claim that the company should have known of the alleged discrimination.” Nicholson v. Securitas, No. 15-10582 (July 18, 2016).

Arbitration: delegation means delegation.

1DelegationIn Kubala v. Supreme Production Services, the parties disputed whether an arbitration agreement reached an employment claim that arose before entry into the agreement. The district court found that it did not and denied the motion to compel arbitration. The Fifth Circuit reversed, finding this delegation clause “strikingly similar” to the one at issue in Rent-A-Center v. Jackson, 561 U.S. 63 (2010): “The arbitrator shall have the sole authority to rule on his/her own jurisdiction, including any challenges or objections with respect to the existence, applicability, scope, enforceability, construction, validity and
interpretation of this Policy and any agreement to arbitrate a Covered Dispute.” The Court summarized: “The court appears to have thought that the question at the first step of the analysis is whether there is an agreement to arbitrate the claim currently before the court. But as we have explained, the only issue at the first step is whether there is any agreement to arbitrate any set of claims.” No. 15-41507 (July 20, 2016).

No litigation about HUD regulation.

HUDWe now make explicit what we have held in unpublished, nonprecedential opinions.  HUD regulations govern the relationship between the reverse-mortgage lender and HUD as insurer of the loan.  HUD regulations do not give the borrower a private cause of action unless the regulations are expressly incorporated into the lender-borrower agreement.” Johnson v. World Alliance Financial, No. 15-50881 (July 18, 2016).

EPA dismays; haze stays.

Big Brown PlantIn an uncommon example of a successful application for an appellate stay, the Fifth Circuit stayed the EPA’s rulings about Texas’s haze reduction plans. The Court found a likelihood of success on the merits, based on, inter alia, the degree of deference required by EPA, the lack of on-point authority supporting its position, and statutory limits on its power. As to irreparable injury, the Court noted the substantial compliance costs faced by power companies (to the point of risking TexasBarToday_TopTen_Badge_Small“unemployment and the permanent closure plants”), and the lack of any mechanism for them to recover those costs if the EPA’s rule was invalidated.  The Court also noted “the threat of grid instability and potential brownouts,” as well as the potential injury from a violation of the federalism principles in the Clean Air Act. Finally, the court “agree[s] with Petitioners that the public’s interest in ready access to affordable electricity outweighs the inconsequential visibility differences that the federal implementation plan would achieve in the near future.” Texas v. EPA, No. 16-60118 (July 15, 2016).

No class action about New Orleans flood control

flood signA putative class of New Orleans landowners sought damages arising from the construction of a flood-control canal. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the denial of class certification, noting: “This lawsuit seeks to recover different damages caused by different acts committed by different defendants at different times over a five year period.” Even under Louisiana state law theories that arguably reduced the proof problems, the Court still found fatal problems as to “individual questions regarding causation” (and the exclusion of other potential causes), as well as damages: “Any . . . formula would at a minimum need to take account of the variances in age, size, type, construction, condition, soil composition, and location of the properties.” The Court distinguished other cases that affirmed class certifications as involving “single episodes of tortious conduct usually committed by a single defendant.” Crutchfield v. Sewerage & Water Board, No. 15-30709 (July 13, 2016).

Twombly comes to Texas — UPDATED

In a fraudulent joinder analysis, the Fifth Circuit observed: “The Mastronardis’ claims against Estrada and Marin are insufficiently pled under either the federal standard or the revised Texas standard, which now tracks the federal standard.” Mastronardi v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., No. 15-11028 (June 29, 2016) (citing, inter alia, Tex. R. Civ. P. 91a.1). See also Int’l Energy Ventures v. United Energy Group, No. 14-20552 (March 31, 2016).

“Who knew? A puddle?!”

slipGranados slipped and fell on a puddle in Wal-Mart. The evidence showed that “[p]rior to the slip, a Wal-Mart employee named Mercedes Acosta had been mopping the store’s checkout area. According to video surveillance of the incident, she briefly mopped the entrance of the aisle in which Granados slipped about five minutes prior to the incident, coming within approximately five feet of the puddle’s location with her torso generally facing it. At her deposition, Acosta testified that although she normally looks for puddles and other hazards while cleaning, she did not see the puddle in which Granados slipped when she mopped the aisle. No other witness testified to seeing the puddle. However, an assistant manager at the store who viewed the puddle after Granados slipped testified that someone actively looking for hazards ‘should have noticed the puddle from approximately five feet away if it were present.” Unfortunately for Granados, this evidence did not establish actual knowledge of the puddle, and also did not establish constructive knowledge under Texas law, which emphasizes how long the puddle has been in place (a fact as to which she had no proof). Granados v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 15-10837 (June 30, 2016, unpublished).

Arbitration award affirmed over procedural objections

arbpictureThe unsuccessful parties in the arbitration of a real estate dispute challenged confirmation of the award. The Fifth Circuit rejected the argument that the phrase “any other misbehavior by which the rights of any party have been prejudiced in 9 USC § 10(a)(3) could be read as applying to the district court. It also rejected a discovery-related argument when “[t]he arbitrator decided not to issue subpoenas when the Investors failed to answer his questions about what evidence they needed from the two witnesses, who were outside the legal subpoena range, and who were less involved in the relevant transactions than the two Rainier witnesses who testified live at the hearing.” Rainier DSC 1 LLC v. Rainier Capital Management LP, No. 15-20383 (July 7, 2016).

Causation proved.

causationmemeIn the trial of a dispute about the handling of another lawsuit, the plaintiffs’ lawyer in that other suit testified that he would not have settled for less than $3 million. On appeal, two expert reports were cited in opposition to that testimony, and the Fifth Circuit rejected them. It noted that the trial court was within its rights to credit the lawyer’s testimony, and that the reports had been prepared pretrial and thus could not have addressed that testimony. RSUI Indemnity Co. v. American States Ins. Co., No. 15-30976 (July 8, 2016, unpublished).

Maybe a fact issue, but not a material one.

lienFannie Mae foreclosed on an apartment complex, in part because its management allowed six liens to attach to the property in breach of the loan documents. Self, a guarantor sued for the remaining deficiency, sought discovery about the validity of the liens. The Fifth Circuit agreed with the district court that this request was not a reason for continuance of a ruling on Fannie Mae’s summary judgment motion: “[E]ven if Self could establish that the liens were paid off or expired, such information would not negate his failure to timely secure the release of record of the liens or otherwise timely cure the liens as required under the plain and unambiguous language in the parties’ loan documents.” Fannie Mae v. Self, No. 15-20466 (July 6, 2016, unpublished).

Produce the texts.

yunomemeThe district court required the plaintiff in an FLSA case to submit her phone to a forensic examiner. It then awarded significant sanctions when the defendants’ “inspection revealed that the text messages in question were not on [Plaintiff’s] phone, that the mobile application allegedly containing such text messages was not on the phone, and that the phone appeared to have been reset or newly activated only three days before the forensic inspection.” The Fifth Circuit found no abuse of discretion; footnote 2 of the opinion details several unsuccessful explanations and counterarguments offered by the plaintiff, which had no traction here but could be of interest in a future e-discovery dispute involving similar issues. Timms v. LZM, LLC, No. 15-20700 (July 5, 2016, unpublished).

No, that’s not an FCRA claim

fcra logoBacharach, upset by the handling of credit reporting by SunTrust, sued it under the FCRA. The Fifth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for SunTrust, noting:

  • Reporting about a failed “flip” of commercial property — especially when the alleged losses involved lost rental income — did not fall within the scope of the FCRA;
  • Evidence of other, unrelated payment problems during the relevant period negated the element of causation; and
  • “Vague and conclusory deposition testimony” does not establish actionable emotional distress under the FCRA.

Bacharah v. Suntrust Mortgage, No. 15-31009 (June 30, 2016).

“Professional services” exclusion applies, except when it does not.

one hand clappingIndividuals injured in an industrial accident sued DP Engineering; the resulting insurance coverage litigation turned on whether the policies’ “professional services” exclusion applies. As to the duty to defend, after careful review of the underlying pleadings, the Fifth Circuit found that “[t]he facts alleged do not include administrative, non-professional activities,” but rather all involved “injuries that ‘arise out of’ DP Engineering’s . . . allegedly negligent engineering services.” However, the Court found error in resolving the duty to indemnify on the pleadings, as “[t]he allegations in the underlying lawsuits . . . do not conclusively foreclose that facts adduced a trial may show DP Engineering also provided non-professional services, which would be covered under the policy.” Hartford Casualty Ins. Co. v. DP Engineering LLC, No. 15-10443 (June 29, 2016).

Not a promise, but a fact.

monopoly hotelsAt issue in Meadaa v. Karsan (a case on a return trip to the Fifth Circuit) was whether investors were misled into believing they would acquire an ownership interest in a hotel, or whether the relevant statements were “an unfulfilled future promise.” The Fifth Circuit affirmed a finding that the statements were false and actionable under Louisiana law, noting the combined force of the sellers’ oral representations and followup letters to investors “specifying their individual interests in” the relevant company. No. 15-30413 (May 18, 2016).