Civil penalties capped at — zero.

In Forrte v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the Fifth Circuit affirmed a finding of liability under the Texas Optometry Act, based on dealings between Wal-Mart and optometrists who leased space in its stores.  No. 12-40854 (revised, Aug. 25, 2014).  While the plaintiff optometrists did not claim actual damages, they obtained judgment for over $1,000,000, plus attorneys fees, based on mandatory statutory penalties.  Noting that the Act used the phrase “civil penalty,” the Fifth Circuit found that the damages fell within the cap set by Section 41.008(b) of the Civil Practice & Remedies Code  — “two times the amount of economic damages [plus] economic damages.”  In this case, that was zero, since the plaintiffs sought no other recovery.  The Court distinguished Vanderbilt Mortgage v. Flores, 692 F.3d 358 (5th Cir. 2012), based on the terms of the statutes at issue.  As the Texas Lawbook notes, this opinion has the potential to introduce uncertainty into other “Private Attorney General” statutes in Texas.

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