Most Viewed Decisions

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

Alcoa, Inc. v. Nat'l Labor Relations Bd., 15-60848 (5th Cir. 02/22/2017)

The court held that substantial evidence supported the NLRB's decision that Alcoa and a wholly-owned subsidiary (Traco) was a "single employer," and that the companies violated the National Labor Relations Act by denying employees access to Traco's facility and by surveilling handbillers. In late 2010, Traco refused to allow Traco and Alcoa employees to distribute union handbills on Traco property. When a union representative moved across the street, in the public right-of-way, to distribute handbills, a Traco General Manager positioned himself so that any Traco employee wishing to obtain a leaflet would have to pass him. The NLRB filed a complaint alleging that Alcoa and Traco violated the act by refusing access to the Traco facility and by surveilling handbillers. An administrative law judge held that the companies were a "single employer" and that they violated the act by refusing access to the Traco facility and through unlawful surveillance. After the NLRB adopted his recommended order, the companies filed an appeal. With respect to the joint employer issue, the court held that, because there was evidence showing that Alcoa and Traco held themselves out to the public and employees as a single entity, did not deal with each other at arms-length, and centralized control of labor relations, substantial evidence supported the NRLB's finding that the companies constituted a single employer. The court noted that there was no NLRB precedent expressly holding that the employees of one entity have a right of access to the exterior facilities of another entity. It nevertheless agreed with the NLRB that interpreting the act to find such a right was consistent with the statute's policy of protecting employee's rights to collectively pressure their employer. Because the companies did not contest that Alcoa employees had been denied access to the Traco facility or that the Traco general manager positioned himself so that he could see which Traco employees accepted handbills, the court affirmed this aspect of the NLRB's decision and granted the NLRB's cross-application for enforcement of its order. Alcoa, Inc. v. Nat'l Labor Relations Bd., No. 15-60848, 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, 2/22/17

15-60848
EDWARD C. PRADO, CIRCUIT JUDGE

Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth

Banker v. Banker, 13-15-00385-CV (TexApp Dist 03/02/2017)

Kay and John Banker divorced. The court split the marital estate 55 percent for Kay, while also allowing John to retain ownership of his livestock business (ECL), multiple vehicles and trailers titled in his name, and goods in his possession. The court also entered a judgment of $455,000 against John to offset the assets he kept. Kay appealed from the divorce decree on several grounds. The court overruled her first issue, that the trial court incorrectly assessed the value of certain assets. The court found that John was allowed to invoke the property-owner rule to testify about the value of his business because of his longtime ownership and experience; that the trial court properly rejected Kay's only evidence of ECL's good will value; and that the trial court's assessment of the value of John's vehicles was proper because it was between John's estimate and Kay's higher estimate. The court allowed Kay a small remittitur for a bank account that was improperly valued, but rejected Kay's argument that the overall division was manifestly unfair because it relied on the cumulative value of all assets, including those the court found were properly valued. The court rejected Kay's issue that she should be granted a new trial due to the two-year delay between the start of trial in April 2013 and the entry of final judgment in 2015. The court found that Kay's evidence of changing property values in that time was not "newly discovered evidence," and that if the court had entered judgment sooner, the judgment would be the same yet property values still would have changed afterward. The court rejected Kay's third issue, that the trial court failed to account for John's sale of six horses, finding that evidence of a "secret sale" was not credible because the divorce decree accounted for the horses as part of the division of "goods." The court also rejected Kay's other issues. The court reversed the trial court's judgment "to the extent that it excludes the six horses," conditionally affirmed the court's judgment as to the bank account pending addition of the $4,941 remittitur, and affirmed the judgment in all other respects. Banker v. Banker, Corpus Christi-Edinburg Court of Appeals, Case No. 13-15-00385-CV, 3/2/17.

13-15-00385-CV
NELDA V. RODRIGUEZ

Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth

Texas Department of Public Safety v. Smith, 13-16-00082-CV (TexApp Dist 02/23/2017)

The Texas Department of Public Safety appealed the trial court's reversal of an administrative decision to uphold the suspension of appellee's driver's license. The Department argued that the court lacked jurisdiction because the driver did not send a copy of the petition of the State Office of Administrative Hearings or obtain a copy of the administrative record. The Department further argued that the trial court erred in finding that it did not need to be served with notice of the final hearing and by finding that the administrative decision was not supported by the evidence. Turning first to the issue of jurisdiction, the court held that although Texas law requires that an appellant from a driver's license suspension send their petition to the State Office of Administrative Hearings, failure to do so does not deprive the court of jurisdiction because there is no clear legislative intent to that effect. Similarly, while the court agreed that the driver's failure to obtain an official copy of the administrative record left the trial court unable to conduct a meaningful review of the administrative decision, this did not deprive the court of jurisdiction. Addressing the issue of notice of the hearing, the court held that the Department was entitled to notice, and its due process rights were violated when the trial court ruled without notice having been given. As it was undisputed that the Department was not notified of the hearing, the trial court abused its discretion by denying the Department's motion for a new trial, the court held. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. Texas Department of Public Safety v. Smith, Texas, 13th District, Corpus Christi – Edinburg, No. 13-16-00082-CV, 02/23/17.

13-16-00082-CV
DORI CONTRERAS JUSTICE

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth

In Re S.J., 14-17-00054-CV (TexApp Dist 02/23/2017)

Relator S.J. moved from India to Texas with her child, S.S. to escape an abusive marriage to an alcoholic husband. Mother and child are American citizens; father is a citizen of India. Upon learning that the child was in Texas, father petitioned the court to assume temporary emergency jurisdiction under Tex. Fam. Code §152.204. The court asserted jurisdiction because the child was in Texas and jurisdiction was necessary to protect the child from mistreatment or abuse, and then ordered mother to return the child to India. She filed for a writ of mandamus, arguing the court had no evidence for its finding. The appeals court found that father testified mother was never abusive or violent toward the child, and was a good parent. Instead, the father argued that the mistreatment that gave rise to jurisdiction was the "international abduction" from India. The court found this did not fit the definition of "mistreatment," that father cited no case law supporting his argument, and that there was no evidence that the move "caused the child any mental or emotional injury that resulted in an observable and material impairment in the child's growth, development, or psychological functioning." The court held that because the trial court lacked jurisdiction, its order to return the child to India was void, and it granted conditional mandamus relief directing the court to vacate its order. In Re S.J., Houston 14th Court of Appeals, Case No. 14-17-00054-CV, 2/23/17.

14-17-00054-CV
JOHN DONOVAN JUSTICE

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

E-Learning v. AT&T Corp., 04-16-00291-CV (4th COA. 03/02/2017)

Appellant E-Learning LLC, a software company doing business as BDG, sued AT&T for breach of contract and related claims. BDG and its owners, Roger and Judith Grant, had done business for years with AT&T. In 2013, the Grants proposed a project and began working on it based on feedback from their main contact at AT&T. Several months later, however, AT&T informed appellant it would not pursue the project. The Grants invoiced AT&T, which did not pay because no contract was signed. Appellant sued, and AT&T moved for traditional and no-evidence summary judgment. The court granted both motions, entering a take-nothing judgment against appellant. On appeal, appellants argued the court abused its discretion by excluding several pieces of evidence. Appellants also challenged the grant of traditional summary judgment and the trial court's denial of a motion for a new trial. The court held that the trial court properly excluded Roger Grant's affidavit because it was a sham affidavit made solely to survive summary judgment. The court found that the affidavit had several material contradictions with Grant's deposition testimony, notably that he stated in his deposition that AT&T was never bound to accept the project but stated in his affidavit that the company was under contract to do so. The court upheld the exclusion of other evidence of procedural grounds. The court also held the grant of traditional summary judgment was proper because none of appellant's grounds had merit. On appellant's breach of contract claim, the court found that AT&T conclusively showed through Grant's deposition testimony that it did not accept the contract; the other grounds were found meritless for lack of evidence. Lastly, the court overruled appellant's challenge to the denial of a new trial because it relied on the same arguments as its other challenges. The court affirmed the trial court's judgment. E-Learning, LLC v. AT&T Corp., San Antonio Court of Appeals, Case No. 04-16-00291-CV, 3/2/17.

04-16-00291-CV
KAREN ANGELINI, JUSTICE

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

Vetter v. McAtee, 15-20575 (5th Cir. 03/01/2017)

The parties briefly entered into an unwritten partnership agreement to market to hospitals a new kind of whiteboard that improved hospital staff's ability to communicate with patients. After the dissolution of the partnership, appellant initiated the underlying suit claiming breach of the partnership agreement; appellee counter-claimed for breach of the same agreement. Appellee's corporation further initiated a separate lawsuit for trademark and copyright infringement, cyber piracy, false advertising, and civil conspiracy. Following consolidation of the suits and a jury trial, a judgment resulted which was adverse to both parties and each have subsequently appealed. The court affirmed holding the jury instruction as written correctly stated the law for abandonment through non-use of a trademark and that the evidence supported the jury's conclusion that appellant defrauded appellee and abandoned her trademark. Moreover, the court affirmed appellee's adverse judgment of breach of the partnership agreement as a reasonable jury could have found that appellant personally suffered damages as a result nor was there error in the trial court's subsidiary factual finding that interpleaded funds were partnership funds. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court was affirmed. Vetter v. McAtee, Fifth Circuit, Case No.: 15-20575, 03/01/2017

15-20575
PATRICK E. HIGGINBOTHAM, CIRCUIT JUDGE

Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth

Burlington Resources Oil & Gas Co. LP v. Texas Crude Energy LLC, 13-16-00082-CV (TexApp Dist 02/23/2017)

Appellant Burlington Resources Oil & Gas Company entered an agreement with Texas Crude Energy to develop a shale field. The agreement provided for royalties to Texas Crude when Texas Crude assigned future leases to appellant. Appellant paid the royalties, but also deducted post-production costs such as transportation and processing from the royalty calculation. Texas Crude sued, both sides moved for summary judgment, and the trial court granted Texas Crude's motion and denied appellant's, prompting an appeal. The court found that while royalties typically bear post-production costs, the parties can modify this rule by agreement. Relying on Chesapeake Exploration LLC v. Hyder (483 S.W.3d 870), the court found that the parties modified the rule here. As in Hyder, the royalty agreement here included "cost-free" language, in this case stating that appellant would deliver royalty interests to Texas Crude "free and clear of all development, operating, production and other costs." Although the underlying agreement did not provide for such "cost-free" royalties, the court found that when the terms of an instrument do not align with the underlying contract, the language of the instrument controls under the merger doctrine. The court rejected appellant's argument that language in the instrument specifying that the royalties are delivered "at the well" necessarily meant that the royalties included post-production costs. The court found that under Hyder, even when royalties are delivered at the well, parties are free to allocate costs as they see fit. The court affirmed the trial court's judgment. Burlington Resources Oil & Gas Co. LP v. Texas Crude Energy LLC, Corpus Christi-Edinburgh Court of Appeals, Case No. 13-16-00248-CV, 3/2/17.

13-16-00248-CV
DORI CONTRERAS JUSTICE

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

USA v. Hector Feliciano Lopez-Monzon, 15-41547 (5th Cir. 03/01/2017)

Appellant was charged with and convicted with four counts to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine. The government presented evidence that a Freightliner truck, to which appellant admitted to border patrol was owned by him, held a fuel tank with 411.4 kilograms of methamphetamine. Appellant moved for acquittal contending he had no knowledge of the contents within, and did not drive the truck over the United States-Mexican border with an intent to distribute. The district court denied acquittal and the jury found him guilty on counts two (possession with intent to distribute) and four (importing methamphetamine). On appeal, appellant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence only as to the knowledge element of his convictions, arguing that the government failed to prove he knew methamphetamine was concealed in the fuel tank. The court affirmed holding the government presented evidence from which a rational jury could conclude that appellant made inconsistent statements, including the purchase of the Freightliner as well as a second tractor-trailer, travel arrangements, and insurance policies. The court determined a rational jury could infer, given the totality of the circumstances and value of the drug, that appellant had knowledge the fuel tanks contained methamphetamine and intended to import such substance to the United States for distribution. U.S. v. Hector Feliciano Lopez-Monzon, Fifth Circuit, Case No.: 15-41547, 03/01/2017

15-41547
EDITH BROWN CLEMENT, CIRCUIT JUDGE

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth

Arceneaux v. Pinnacle Entertainment, 14-15-00894-CV (TexApp Dist 02/23/2017)

Appellant Roy Arceneaux became disruptive while drinking and gambling at PNK Casino. After he refused a security official's request that he leave, officials subdued him, and he sued for assault. The jury found that PNK assaulted him, that $40,000 would fairly compensate him for his injuries, but also that he was 70 percent at fault. Because he was greater than 50 percent at fault, the court granted PNK's motion for a take-nothing judgment under Tex. Civ. Prac. and Rem. Code §33.001 and §33.002, and an appeal followed. Appellant argued that these provisions didn't apply because the jury's finding that PNK assaulted him obviated the question of whether he was partially at fault. The court found that the unambiguous statute does not have an exclusion for intentional torts, that a 1995 amendment removed the intentional torts exclusion, and that the statute listed certain exceptions but that appellant did not assert any of them. The court also found that a court in Isaacs v. Bishop (249 S.W.3d 100) rejected the argument that Chapter 33 does not apply to the intentional tort of fraud, and that appellant offered no case law supporting his position. The court therefore held that §33.001 and §33.002 applied to appellant's claim, and as such he could not recover damages. The court affirmed the lower court's judgment. Arceneaux v. Pinnacle Entertainment, Houston 14th Court of Appeals, Case No. 14-15-00894-CV, 2/23/17.

14-15-00894-CV
MARC W. BROWN JUSTICE

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

J&J Container Manufacturing, Inc., v. Cintas-R U.S., 01-16-00432-CV (TexApp Dist 03/02/2017)

Cintas-R U.S. won a default judgment for more than $19,000 against appellant J&J Container Manufacturing. Appellant only became aware of the judgment when a constable collected the money, and it appealed on grounds that the judgment was void due to lack of service. The appeals court remanded, at which point Cintas filed notice of nonsuit, and the trial court dismissed the case while Cintas kept the $19,000. Appellant then filed for a new trial, which the court denied, and another appeal followed. Appellant argued the trial court abused its discretion by dismissing the suit without requiring Cintas to return the money, and by denying the new trial motion. The court found that appellant asserted in its motion that Cintas could not keep the money unless it prevailed on its breach of contract claim. The court held that because this motion therefore notified the trial court that appellant sought a return of its money, the trial court abused its discretion by denying the motion for a new trial. The court reversed and remanded, directing the trial court to "consider J&J's right to restitution and any other claims raised by the pleadings." J&J Container Manufacturing, Inc., v. Cintas-R U.S., Houston 1st Court of Appeals, Case No. 01-16-00432-CV, 3/2/17.

01-16-00432-CV
REBECA HUDDLE JUSTICE