Evidence paves way to plaintiff’s judgment in joint venture case

After a jury trial, the plaintiff won judgment of $336,000 for breach of a joint venture to bid a contract with the Air Force about upgrades to the storied Paveway laser-guided bomb program.  X Technologies v. Marvin Test Systems, No. 12-50230 (June 11, 2013).  On the issue of causation, the Fifth Circuit quickly dismissed two challenges to a key witness’s qualifications since he was not testifying as an expert, and also dismissed the effect of a claimed impeachment in light of the full record developed at trial.  The Court went on to affirm a directed verdict on a claimed defense of prior breach, finding that the agreement only imposed a one-way bar on multiple bids for the contract, and to affirm the judgment of breach, noting multiple uses of “team” in the record to describe the parties’ relationship.

Tortious interference damages affirmed

In Homoki v. Conversion Services, a check processing company sued its sales agent and a competitor.  No. 11-20371 (May 28, 2013).  It won judgment for $700,000 against the competitor for tortious interference with the sales agent’s contract with the company, and $2.15 million against the agent for past and future lost profits.  The company and competitor appealed.  First, the Fifth Circuit — assuming without deciding that the plaintiff had to show the competitor’s awareness of an exclusivity provision in the agent’s contract — found sufficient evidence of such knowledge in testimony and the parties’ course of dealing, and affirmed liability for tortious interference.  Second, the Court found that the plaintiff’s “experience in managing his business for sixteen years” supported his damages testimony, and that “[w]hile [plaintiff]’s presentation of its damages evidence was far from ideal,” also found sufficient evidence of causation on the interference claim.  Finally, the Court found that the plaintiff had given adequate notice of its claim of conspiracy to breach fiduciary duties (the joint pretrial order was not signed by the judge), but the plaintiff waived jury trial on that issue by not requesting a damages question — particularly given the significant dispute about causation in the evidence presented.

Cumulative evidence establishes age discrimination.

In Miller v. Raytheon Co., the Fifth Circuit affirmed liability for age discrimination and affirmed in part on damages.  No. 11-10586 (revised, July 30, 2013).  Among holdings of broader interest in civil litigation, the Court: (1) affirmed the verdict of liability, noting: “Considered in isolation, we agree with Raytheon that each category of evidence presented at trial might be insufficient to support the jury’s verdict.  But based upon the accumulation of circumstantial evidence and the credibility  determinations that were required, we conclude that ‘reasonable men could differ’ about the presence of age discrimination”; (2) reversed an award of mental anguish damages because “plaintiff’s conclusory statements that he suffered emotional harm are insufficient”; and (3) rejected a challenge, based on the Texas Constitution, to the statutory punitive damages cap in the TCHRA.

$40+ million trade secret judgment affirmed.

In Wellogix, Inc. v. Accenture, LLP, LLP the district court entered judgment for the plaintiff — $26.2 million in compensatory damages and $18.2 million in punitives, after a remittitur —  in a trade secrets case about software to make oil exploration more efficient.  No. 11-20816 (May 15, 2013, revised Jan. 15, 2014).  Affirming, the Court: (1) reminded, in the opening paragraph, of the deference due to a jury verdict; (2) detailed the sufficient evidence before the jury of a trade secret, of its inappropriate use by the defendant, of damages, and malice; (3) rejected Daubert arguments about the scope of the plaintiff’s computer science expert’s testimony  and the material considered by its damages expert; and (4) affirmed the punitive damages award because it was less than the compensatory damages and the issue of “reprehensibility” was neutral.  The Court also analyzed aspects of the relationship between trade secret claims and the patent process.  Footnote 4 of the opinion provides a useful guide to the federal courts’ treatment of a “Casteel problem” in Texas jury submissions.

Federal Circuit affirms 9-figure verdict under 5th Circuit standards

In Versata Software v. SAP America, the Federal Circuit affirmed jury verdicts that will likely lead to a judgment in excess of $400 million.  That Circuit’s review of a verdict is “reviewed under regional circuit law,” as to which the Court observed: “The Fifth Circuit applies an ‘especially deferential’ standard of review ‘with respect to the jury verdict.'”  (citing Brown v. Bryan County, 219 F.3d 450, 456 (5th Cir. 2000)).  In affirming the award for a reasonable royalty, the Court quoted the recent case of Huffman v. Union Pacific R.R., which discussed “inference on the basis of common sense, common understanding and fair beliefs, grounded on evidence consisting of direct statement by witnesses or proof of circumstances from which inferences can fairly be drawn.”  675 F.3d 412, 421 (5th Cir. 2012).  (Huffman is nominally about the causation requirements of FELA, but its analysis easily extends to other basic Daubert issues.)

Reversal for charge error

The plaintiff in RBIII, L.P. v. City of San Antonio sought damages after the City of San Antonio razed a property without providing prior notice.  No. 11-50626 (April 23, 2013).  After a jury trial it recovered $27,500 in damages.  The Fifth Circuit found that a key jury instruction on the City’s defenses “improperly cast the central factual dispute as whether or not the Structure posed an immediate danger to the public, when the issue should have been whether the City acted arbitrarily or abused its discretion in determining that the Structure presented an immediate danger.”  Accordingly, “[b]ecause this error in the instructions misled the jury as to the central factual question in the case,” the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings.   The Court’s analysis summarizes how federal courts address the issue of harm in erroneous jury instructions that the Texas Supreme Court has engaged in the Casteel line of cases.

Damages affirmed for incorrect credit reporting

The plaintiff in Smith v. Santander Consumer USA received $20,43.59 in damages for violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.  No. 12-50007 (Dec. 20, 2012).  The Fifth Circuit agreed that damages were not recoverable solely for a reduced line of credit, but found sufficient other evidence about harm to the plaintiff’s business and personal finances to affirm.  Enthusiasts of appellate arcana will find it interesting to compare the Court’s analysis of a general federal verdict under the Boeing standard with the Texas damages submissions required by Harris County v. Smith, 96 S.W.3d 230 (Tex. 2002) (applying Crown Life Ins. v. Casteel, 22 S.W.3d 378 (Tex. 2000)).

Jury verdict of no copyright infringement affirmed

Baisden v. I’m Ready Productions involved several challenges to a defense verdict in a copyright infringement case.  No. 11-20290 (Aug. 31, 2012).  Among other holdings, the Fifth Circuit reminded that “[c]onsent for an implied [nonexclusive] license may take the form of permission or lack of objection,” making the Copyright Act’s requirement of a writing inapplicable.  Id. at 9-10 (reviewing Lulirama Ltd. v. Axcess Broad. Servs., 128 F.3d 872 (5th Cir. 1997)).  The Court also reviewed a jury instruction that allegedly conflated the question of license with that of infringement — a potential problem since the burdens are different on the two points — but found that while “the question is not a model of clarity” it did not give rise to reversible error.  Id. at 19-21.

Defenses rejected in fraudulent lien case

Vanderbilt Mortgage v. Flores, arising from a collection suit about the financing for a mobile home, involved a substantial recovery on counterclaims for wrongful debt collection and filing of a fraudulent lien.  692 F.3d 357 (5th Cir. 2012).  The Fifth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part, finding: (1) the release of the debtors unambiguously reached only the lien and not the underlying debt (thereby mooting some counterclaims); (2) property owners in the position of these debtors did not have an ongoing duty, for limitations purposes, to check deed records; (3) Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem Code chapter 12, about fraudulent liens, does not require actual damages before penalties may be awarded; (4) Chapter 12 does not violate the Excessive Fines Clause; and (5) personal jurisdiction over one defendant was appropriate, particularly given the confusion in its own records about its activities.

Injury verdict affirmed over Daubert challenges

Roman v. Western Manufacturing examined a $1mm-plus verdict about severe injuries from a pump malfunction.  No. 10-31271 (Aug. 17, 2012).  After review of the standards, id. at 5 (“It is not our charge to decide which side has the more persuasive case.”), the Court found that two qualified mechanical engineers met Daubert even though they lacked extensive experience with “stucco pumps,” declining to “make expert certification decisions a battle of labels.”  Id. at 7.  The Court also rejected technical challenges to the type of pump reviewed by the experts and the plausibility of their factual assumptions about its operation, id. at 13 (“There was certainly contrary evidence, but that was for jurors to weigh.”), as well as sufficiency challenges about the inferences made by the jury.  Id. at 16-17.  Additional challenges were found waived under Fed. R. Civ. P. 50.  This opinion is the latest in a series of thoughtful cases about Daubert after the 2009 decision in Huss v. Gayden.