Posts Tagged ‘Texas Supreme Court’

Texas Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments on Value of Family’s Dog

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Dallas, Texas, /PRNewswire-iReach/ The Texas Supreme Court heard arguments on January 10, 2013, from lawyers representing both sides in a case originally filed alleging the wrongful death of a family pet. The initial lawsuit was dismissed by the trial judge, and the plaintiff, Jeremy Medlen, successfully appealed to the Second Court of Appeals. The defendants then sought a review of the case by the state’s highest court.

What is the Value of a Companion Animal?

Imagine that your beloved dog, a part of your family for years, and a faithful companion to your two small children, escaped from your back yard during a thunderstorm. You learn that he is safe and sound at the local animal shelter, and you can pick him up as soon as he is micro-chipped. When you arrive on the appointed day, with your small children in tow, you learn that the shelter has euthanized your dog (by accident, they claim).

For and his family, this was no bad dream…it was a reality. The devastating sense of loss he experienced convinced him that he needed to do more than grieve the unnecessary of his dog. He contacted attorney Randy Turner, of Bailey & Galyen, to see what his options were.

According to Turner, Jeremy wasn’t initially interested in a monetary recovery; he simply wanted to others not to suffer the way he and his family had. Turner told him, however, that, under Texas law, there was no legal action he could take unless he wanted to seek damages for the monetary value of the dog. Jeremy’s dog, Avery, was a mixed breed with no appreciable market value. Turner told him, though, that the Texas Supreme Court had recognized the concept of “sentimental value” in other types of property, such as family heirlooms or photographs. Jeremy agreed to be a test case in the attempt to establish sentimental value in a pet.

The Lawsuit

Turner filed a lawsuit alleging negligence by the Tarrant County animal control officer. The trial judge dismissed the lawsuit, citing an 1891 opinion allowing recovery for monetary value only. Turner appealed, and the Second Court of Appeals reversed the trial court ruling. The court found it inconsistent that a person could recover sentimental value damages for a lost photograph of a dog, but not for the dog itself.

Veterinary medical associations, the American Kennel Club, pet product manufacturers and trade groups, have all filed briefs with the Texas Supreme Court supporting the defendant’s position.They contend that finding sentimental value here leads to the likelihood of a slippery slope, allowing juries to find sentimental value almost anywhere. Turner believes this to be a property rights issue, not an animal welfare issue, and has the support of property law professors from law schools across Texas.

Turner acknowledges that the odds are against him, citing statistics that show that nearly nine out of ten cases reviewed by the Supreme Court are reversed. The court’s ruling is not expected for several weeks.

Contact:

Randy Turner

Attorney

Bailey & Galyen – Attorneys at Law

Phone: 817-288-1101

Email: rturner@galyen.com

Texas Supreme Court Guts Consumer Class Action Protections

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 42 specifically authorizes Texas citizens to bring class action lawsuits.  A case cannot be pursued as a class action, however, until a Texas trial court determines and certifies that the requirements of Rule 42 have been met.  The Texas Supreme Court, through a series of decisions beginning in 2000, has created so many obstacles to certification that it has become practically impossible to have a class action in a state court. The Texas Supreme Court has restrictively interpreted Rule 42 so as to effectively eliminate class actions in Texas courts. .

Rule 42 was intended to be used when a group of people have suffered similar harm from similar actions of a particular defendant.  The one or more individuals that bring the lawsuit are called “class representatives” and represent the interests of the entire class harmed by the defendant’s conduct.  The claims of the class representatives arise from facts or law common to all class members.  If a class action settles, a judge must approve the amount of the settlement and the compensation paid to the lawyers.  If a class action lawsuit results in a favorable jury verdict after trial, the class members will split the damages awarded by the jury among themselves.

Class action lawsuits have many advantages over individual lawsuits when many have been similarly harmed.  In fact, the U.S. Congress has stated:

“Class action lawsuits are an important and valuable part of the legal system when they permit the fair and efficient resolution of legitimate claims of numerous parties by allowing the claims to be aggregated into a single action against a defendant that has allegedly caused harm.”

Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, Section 2(a)(1).

One advantage of class actions is that a person who has suffered minimal damages (not enough to justify pursuing the case on their own), can seek compensation by combining their claims with others similarly situated so that litigation against a large corporation becomes feasible. It makes no financial sense for an individual consumer to sue to recover, for example, a $5.00 fee that was improperly charged. Keep in mind that if a company improperly charges $5.00 to a million customers, they have made a $5 million illegal profit.  Rule 42 class actions were intended to provide consumers a tool to stop such corporate misconduct.

Aggregating similar claims also leads to a more efficient use of precious judicial resources.  If 1000 people file separate claims in separate lawsuits, the courts would be flooded with duplicative cases and it would take literally years to resolve all of the disputes.  By aggregating claims into a single lawsuit, the litigation is handled efficiently by a single judge presiding over a single lawsuit and trial.  Defendants also benefit by aggregating many small claims into one lawsuit because their defense costs are substantially reduced.

Another advantage of class action lawsuits is that they often alter the conduct of businesses and corporations in ways that benefit society.  The threat of being exposed to hundreds of millions of dollars in damages can cause a corporation to think twice about illegal, unethical, discriminatory or unsafe conduct.

Despite the important consumer protection purposes behind Rule 42, the Texas Supreme Court announced a new and highly restrictive approach to class action lawsuits in two cases, Intratex Gas Co. v. Beeson and Southwestern refining Co. v. Bernal, 22 S.W.3d 425, decided in 2000. The Texas Supreme Court in Beeson, Bernal, and a number of subsequent cases has consistently reversed class certifications.

So, even if a trial court in Texas does certify a class action under Rule 42, that does not mean the defendant will settle, or consumers will get their money back, or that the case will even go to trial as a class action. The defendant can appeal to have the class decertified.  That happened again recently in Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. v. Marketing on Hold, Inc. A lawsuit was filed alleging that Southwestern Bell had improperly charged fees to approximately 6,900 customers from 1991-1998.  The trial court conducted a four day certification hearing and determined that all of the Rule 42 requirements had been met for class certification.  The Court of Appeals agreed.  And the Texas Supreme Court reversed and decertified the class.