Texas Supreme Court Opinions - 5/8/15 (Part 2)

Posted by Rich PhillipsWith apologies for the delay, here are the summaries of the other six cases from the Texas Supreme Court’s May 8, 2015 order list. (See Scott’s summaries here.)12-0987, Gharda USA, Inc. v. Control Solutions, Inc. –  This case arose from a fire at a warehouse and office building. The primary issue is whether the testimony of four expert witnesses presented at trial is legally sufficient to sustain the jury’s verdict that the fire was caused by the defendants’ chemicals stored in the building. The trial court granted judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and the court of appeals reversed. In a unanimous opinion by Justice Green, the Court found that the opinions of at least two of the experts were unreliable. And because the other experts’ opinions relied on the two unreliable opinions, the Court found that all four opinions were unreliable. Therefore, the Court reinstated the trial court’s judgment that the plaintiffs’ take nothing.13-0175, Abutahoun v. The Dow Chemical Co. – In a case of first impression the Court considered whether Civil Practice and Remedies Code Chapter 95 (which relates to limitations on liability of property owners for injury, death, or property damage to an independent contractor) applies to an independent contractor’s negligence claim when the claim arises entirely from the negligent conduct of the property owner. In a unanimous opinion by Justice Green, the Court held that the plain language of Chapter 95 does not preclude its application to claims based on the property owner’s negligence.13-0795, City of Dallas v. TCI West End, Inc. – In a per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court held that the plain language of Texas Local Government Code section 54.012(3) allows a municipality to pursue a civil action against a property owner for violations of “general zoning ordinances regulating the use of land.” 14-0107, Gonzalez v. Ramirez – This case arises from a fatal car accident between a tandem truck and a car. The truck driver and the two passengers in the car were killed. The truck driver’s survivors and the survivors of the other two victims sued Gonzalez, who had contracted with the truck driver’s employer, claiming that he was liable as a “motor carrier” under federal or Texas regulations or under the common law. In a per curiam opinion, the Court held that Gonzalez was a “shipper” not a “motor carrier” under federal and state regulations. The Court also held that there was no evidence that Gonzlez retained control over the truck driver such that Gonzalez could be liable under the common law.14-0122, Life Partners, Inc. v. Arnold & No. 14-0226, Life Partners Holdings, Inc. v. State – These two cases were consolidated for argument because they presented the same issue: whether “life settlement contracts” are “investment contracts” and thus “securities” for purposes of the Texas Securities Act. “Life settlement contracts” are transactions in which a life insurance policy is purchased from the person whose life is insured. Interests in the policy are then sold to investors who receive payment when the insured dies. In a unanimous opinion by Justice Boyd, the Supreme Court held that the life settlement contracts are securities. The Court reached this conclusion by examining the efforts made by Life Partners both before and after the sale of the interests. The Court concluded that the profits realized by purchasing the interests were “at least predominately due to the entrepreneurial or managerial” efforts of Life Partners. In the interest of full disclosure, Thompson & Knight represents the Chapter 11 Trustee who has been appointed in Life Partners Holdings, Inc.’s bankruptcy proceeding.14-0536, Molina v. Alvarado – In this per curiam opinion, the Court held that the plaintiff waived his right to sue a city employee in the employee’s individual capacity by initially filing suit only against the city. Under the Texas Tort Claims Act, suit against the governmental unit bars any future suit against an individual employee. The Court held that if there was any doubt about whether the the individual employee could be liable, the plaintiff should have sued the employee in the first instance rather than waiting to add those claims later.