Waiver of removal rights – law’s the same –

Defendants removed, the plaintiff moved to remand, and the the district court granted the motion. It found a waiver of the right to remove, noting this contract provision: “The Parties hereto hereby irrevocably and unconditionally consent to the sole and exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of Harris County in the State of Texas for any action, suit or proceeding arising out of or relating to this Agreement or the Proposed Transaction . . . .” The defendants claimed ambiguity (which would make the waiver no longer be “clear and unambiguous,” and thus not satisfy the demanding standard in this area) from (1) the definition of “Proposed Transaction,” (2) the definitions of the relevant parties, and the use of “Proposed Transaction” in the above part of the relevant clause, but not in another, similar provision later in it. The Fifth Circuit rejected these arguments and affirmed, but also affirmed the denial of any award of attorneys’ fees. Grand View PV Solar Two, LLC v. Helix Elec., Inc., No. 16-20384 (Feb. 1, 2017). The opinion is a good summary of the law on this topic, which has not been addressed in detail recently.

No arbitration in Stanford cases

The receiver of the Allen Stanford businesses sued several investors for receiving fraudulent conveyances. In earlier appeals, the Fifth Circuit resolved other thresehold issues in these cases; in Janvey v. Alguire, the Court reviewed the denials of the defendants’ motions to compel arbitration. It affirmed, rejecting their arguments based on arbitration clauses in various Stanford-related documents: “Because the Receiver may sue on behalf of any of the Stanford entities that has a claim against the defendants, becausehe has chosen to sue on behalf of the Bank, which has not consented to arbitrate claims against any of the defendants [except for one, who waived the issue], and because none of the equitable doctrines urged by the defendants applies, the Receiver cannot be compelled to arbitate his claims against these defendants.” No. 14-10945 et al. (Jan. 31, 2017).

Carmack the Magnificent

Heniff Transportation, a trucking company, sued Trimac Transportation, alleging that Trimac did not properly clean a tanker-trailer, resulting in contamination and a damages claim against Heniff by its customer. Trimac argued that Heniff’s state law claims were preempted by the Carmack Amendment, a federal law that addresses actions about lost or damaged goods, arising from interstate transportation of the goods by a common carrier. The Fifth Circuit agreed, finding that washing a tanker-trailer was “plainly” such a service, directly analogous to specific examples given by the statute. This statute, not widely known outside trucking litigation, can bear significantly on UCC claims involving transported goods. Heniff Transportation v. Trimac Transportation, No. 16-40553 (Jan. 30, 2017).

Herding Fish

The “Gulf Council” manages fisheries in the federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico.With respect to red snapper, its statutory grant of authority requires it to establish “seprate quotas for recreational fishing . . . and commercial fishing.” A group of private anglers complained that the authority to set those two quotas precluded the ability to set a quota for fishing from charter vessels. The Fifth Circuit disagreed, finding that neither the canon that “expressing one item of a commonly associated group or series excludes another left unmentioned,” nor that “a specific statute prevails over an inconsistent general statute” compelled a ruling in favor of the anglers: “Amendment 40 does not create a separate quota for charter fishing; it subdivides the recreational sector into private and charter components.” Coastal Conservation Association v. U.S. Dep’t of Commerce, No. 16-30137 (revised Jan. 26, 2017).

No punitive damages for insurance claim denial

A church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi proved that its insurer did not properly handle its claim resulting from tornado damage (right), resulting in a damages award of over $1,000,000. The Fifth Circuit affirmed against challenges by both sides; as to the church’s request for punitive damages, it held: “Taking the facts in the light most favorable to Mount Carmel, GuideOne’s alleged conduct did not rise to the necessary level of an independent tort that would warrant punitive damages. Mount Carmel merely alleges that GuideOne had ‘knowledge of the financial harm that would result’ from its cancellation of the policy. But this type of knowledge is likely present for many cancellations and alone is not sufficient to rise to the level of an independent tort. Accordingly, it does not warrant punitive damages.” GuideOne Elite Ins. Co. v. Mount Carmel Ministries, No. 15-60915 (Jan. 23, 2017, unpublished).

False claims relator does not skate by.

The relator in a reverse False Claims Act case alleged that DuPont concealed its obligation to pay penalties under the Toxic Substances Control Act. After a careful review of the statute, its history, and policy considerations, the Fifth Circuit reversed the denial of summary judgment to DuPont: “Simoneaux’s position yields an extraordinarily broad construction of the FCA. If his reading . . . were correct, reverse-FCA liability could attach from the violation of any federal statute or regulation that imposes penalties. . . . For example, 45 C.F.R. § 3.42(e) prohibits roller-skating at the National Institutes of Health, and a person violating that regulation “shall be fined under title 18, United States Code, imprisoned for not more than 30 days, or both.” 40 U.S.C. § 1315(c)(A). Under Simoneaux’s reasoning, roller-skating at the NIH results in a penalty ‘of not less than $5,000’ and three times the fine assessed under Title 18. And any private person who saw the roller-skater could bring a qui tam action against him. The statutory definition of ‘obligation’ cannot bear the weight of that interpretation.” United States ex rel. Simoneaux v. duPont, No. 16-30141 (revised Dec. 14, 2016).

No, that’s not a genuine issue of material fact.

Defendants moved for summary judgment, on the ground of qualified immunity, in a case arising from a fatal police shooting. The district court “disregarded the testimony of [Officer] Copeland and two eyewitnesses, finding that because there was ‘no video evidence of the actual shooting[,]’ the ‘testimony of Copeland, the eyewitness, and the 9-1-1 caller . . . should not be accepted until subjected to cross examination.'” The Fifth Circuit reversed; in addition to a ground based on qualfied immunity law, the Court held that under general Rule 56 principles: ”There is no evidence to suggest that the pair was biased, and the district court specifically found that the heirs ‘[did] not offer any evidence to contradict the eyewitnesses’ statements.’ Because their testimony was ‘uncontradicted and unimpeached,’ the district court was required to give it credence. Failure to do so amounted to an inappropriate ‘credibility determination[].'” Orr v. Copeland, No. 16-50023 (Dec. 22, 2016).

Watch the clock on BK notices of appeal.

In Netsch v. Sherman, the appellants’ counsel missed the 14-day deadline for an appeal from bankruptcy court. The district court denied relief and the Fifth Circuit affirmed; while noting that all relevant factors were either neutral or favored appellants, it concluded:”[T]he bankruptcy court concluded that the reason for the delay weighed strongly against finding excusable neglect. In its analysis of this factor, the bankruptcy court emphasized that the parties had been subject to the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure throughout the adversary proceeding, these rules were unambiguous, and Appellants’ counsel confused the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The bankruptcy court also indicated that confusing bankruptcy procedure with civil procedure does not constitute excusable neglect. Consequently, the court held that the reason for the delay should be given greater weight than other factors.” No. 16-10432 (Dec. 22, 2016, unpublished).

IP Defendants Win – Something . . .

Defendants won an intellectual property dispute with Plaintiff, and then sought recovery of $1 million in attorneys fees. This request led to the surprisingly complicated question of exactly what claims were in the case when the Defendants won. The Fifth Circuit concluded: “The [Texas Theft Liability Act] claim in the [First Amended Complaint]–the operative complaint at
the time of the attorneys’ fee award—was never held to be preempted [by federal copyright law]. [Our earlier opinion on the merits] addressed only the TTLA claim as it was pleaded in the Original Petition and did not consider the TTLA claim in the FAC. This is significant because the TTLA claim in the FAC was distinct from that in the Original Petition and specifically omitted allegations that were equivalent to copyright, with the intention of avoiding preemption. And the district court also never held that the FAC’s TTLA claim was preempted. Rather, the TTLA claim in the FAC was litigated and dismissed on the merits during summary judgment, and therefore it was proper to award attorneys’ fees under the TTLA because that law supplied the rule of decision.” Spear Marketing v. Bancorpsouth Bank, No. 16-10155 (revised Jan. 12, 2017). This opinion echoes the complexity in other recent cases that addressed the substance of preemption issues involving federal copyright law.

No harm from 404(b) evidence

Foremost Insurance declined to pay a claim made by Charles Pendleton about the destruction in a fire of his 1956 Mercedes 190SL (an example of which appears to the right), arguing that he set the fire. A jury agreed and the Fifth Circuit affirmed. One of Pendleton’s grounds was that the district judge exceeded the scope of Fed. R. Evid. 404(b) by allowing evidence about other “similar accidents surrounded by similar circumstances regarding insurance” involving Pendleton. The Court found no harm as “ample evidence” supported the jury’s verdict in favor of Foremost, including the police investigation of the accident scene, further review of the accident by a forensic fire investigator and a mechanic/accident reconstructionist, and evidence about ownership of the other vehicle. Foremost Ins. Co. v. Pendleton, No. 16-60240 (Jan. 13, 2017, unpublished).