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The biggest courtroom wins of 2018

January 11, 2019

Believe it or not, litigation often rises to the level of literature; regardless of the outcome, there’s usually a good story to tell.

The cases that unfolded in 2018 were no exception. Some litigation wins made it on this list due to their sheer dollar-value or high-profile nature. Others required extraordinary efforts by the lawyers involved. Some were just important for the people of Texas.

These are our top 10 picks for the most important litigation wins in 2018.

An antitrust win for AT&T against the DOJ

When AT&T announced plans to merge with Time Warner for $85 billion in October 2016, AT&T General Counsel David McAtee knew the company would likely have to contend with a Department of Justice challenge. Just two years before, the telecom giant had lost its bid for T-Mobile over just such an antitrust claim.

In November 2017, DOJ took the Time-Warner acquisition to court. But by June 2018 AT&T executives, lawyers and their support staff were toasting a slam-dunk victory. U.S. District Judge Richard Leon had ruled that a six-week trial had failed to prove that the AT&T-Time Warner merger was anti-competitive.

Said one of the AT&T lawyers, later, “We tried the case the old-fashioned way: we contested every fact. We challenged every witness. We won every day.”

Another win for AT&T

August brought another slam-dunk victory for AT&T when a federal judge in California handed the company a win against the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC charged that the company’s DIRECTV subsidiary had misled customers by failing to disclose key terms to its discounted pricing: a two-year contract, a $20 early termination fee and an opt-out to avoid monthly charges for premium channels. The FTC had asked for $3.95 million in restitution.

After a nine-day bench trial, U.S. District Judge Haywood found that the requirements were “adequately and accurately disclosed.” In a matter of months, all remaining FTC charges were dropped.

A ‘watershed’ Fifth Circuit decision for Texas foster care children

It’s a case that has been going on since at least 2005, and it could possibly still be far from over.

Nevertheless, in October a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld a series of rulings by U.S. District Judge Janice Graham Jack that

Texas officials had been “deliberately indifferent” to the plight of 12,000 children in long-term foster care for whom “rape, abuse, psychotropic medication and instability are the norm.”

Credit goes to a team of Houston and Dallas lawyers from Yetter Coleman and Haynes and Boone.

A $178.5M arbitration award that ended a 28-year-old asbestos case

In late October, the Beaumont firm of Provost Umphrey won a total of $178.5 million for a class of 2,299 plaintiffs - primarily residents of the Beaumont area - who were exposed to asbestos between 1985 and 1987 while working at refinery and chemical plants in Southeast Texas.

The arbitration award marked the end of 28 years of litigation, interrupted by a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by defendant Pittsburgh Corning Corp. By the time a $4 billion trust was created to compensate victims, most of the original plaintiffs had died, and many of their heirs were displaced by Hurricane Harvey.

A med mal case that actually went to trial - and resulted in a $43m verdict

In January, an East Texas jury ruled that Tyler-based East Texas Medical Center committed gross negligence when it allowed a doctor who had been on probation to treat a patient with cholangitis.

The jury awarded $46 million to the patient, Billy Pierce, a former executive who has been unable to return to work since his 2014 hospitalization. Though Pierce’s attorneys had asked for only $20 million, the jury’s verdict included $25 million in punitive damages because the “evidence was so egregious.”

A Dallas family wins $242 million against Toyota

An August showdown between two Dallas parents and Toyota Motor Corp. pitted veteran plaintiffs’ lawyer Frank Branson against Barnes & Thornburg’s charismatic Victor Vital for Toyota in a three-week trial. Branson won.

A Dallas jury ruled that Toyota-designed seating was responsible for permanent brain damage suffered by two children when their family Lexus was rear-ended in a 2016 crash. It was Toyota’s first major trial in North Texas since moving its headquarters from California to Plano in 2017.

VirnetX’s $502 million win against Apple

In April, an East Texas federal jury ruled Apple wrongly appropriated technology owned by Nevada-based VirnetX that is vital to FaceTime technology. The verdict was the fourth in an ongoing series of patent disputes between the two companies.

VirnetX was represented by Caldwell Cassady Curry, a budding Dallas-based firm that has made quite the living defeating Apple in verdicts thus far totaling more than $1 billion.

Another large verdict against Apple (this time, on its home turf)

In August, Apple lost a multimillion-dollar patent infringement verdict to yet another Texas firm - this time, McKool Smith in Apple’s home state of California.

Ottowa-based WiLAN won a $145 million verdict on claims that Apple infringed on the company’s patented voice-over-LTE wireless communications technology in several of its iPhone 6 and iPhone 7 devices.

A $30m feud over a family business that led to a take-nothing defense verdict

It was a case that had $30 million at stake, but money was the last thing this case was about.

A Houston jury on Oct. 4 awarded a take-nothing verdict to three brothers who were sued by their two other brothers for $30 million - alleging fraud, securities violations and breach of fiduciary duty of their family business, Compressor Engineering Corp.

The sibling rivalry arose in 2016 after CECO had recovered from a financial crisis caused by a $6 million fraudulent invoice that got approved in the company’s Ohio and Pennsylvania operations. It caused CECO to face foreclosure and jeopardized more than 400 jobs.

A massive shareholder suit against Pier 1 dismissed for a second time

Fort Worth-based Pier 1 Imports had a rough 2018, with slumping sales and the sudden departure of its CEO.

But at least one dark cloud was averted when a Dallas federal judge dismissed a putative shareholder class action brought by the Municipal Employees’ Retirement System of Michigan alleging two former Pier 1 executives misrepresented the company’s financial health.

For a longer version of this article, visit texaslawbook.net

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