Justices work to keep improperly filed cases out of Jefferson County venue

Known to some as a plaintiff friendly venue, Beaumont appellate justices have begun a trend of booting cases improperly filed in Jefferson County back to their appropriate courts � most recently sending a $60 million suit to Harris County. Over the past year, the Southeast Texas Record has chronicled several appeals cases where justices ordered the county's four civil district judges to transfer litigation to a more appropriate venue. On July 30 the Ninth Court of Appeals of Texas ordered a $60 million oil and gas lawsuit � which the defendants argued was improperly filed in Jefferson County � transferred to Harris County. In July, justices transferred several more cases back to their appropriate counties. Ruling that a case tried in the wrong county is "never harmless," Ninth Court justices reversed an $8.2 million verdict levied against Union Pacific Railroad on July 16. In November 2007, the Southeast Texas Record reported on a Jefferson County wrongful death trial in which jurors found UP negligent for failing to install safety devices at a crossing where Louisiana resident Patsy Ardoin was struck and killed and her daughter Jasmine was seriously injured. UP appealed the verdict, arguing Judge Gary Sanderson, 60th District Court, should have never conducted the trial and was legally bound to transfer the case to Harris County. On appeal, UP asserted that the case should be transferred to Harris County where its principal office is located, and that Jefferson County was never the proper venue for the suit. The court agreed, reversed the judgment against the railroad and remanded the case for transfer. A week earlier, justices also swiftly sliced up two Orange County benzene suits and shipped the pieces all over Texas. On an accelerated appeal they ruled June 12 that District Judge Patrick Clark should have granted defense motions to transfer venue. Chief Justice Steve McKeithen wrote that Clark "erred in concluding that plaintiffs independently established venue in Orange County." Lance Lubel and Daryl Moore filed the suits, with six plaintiffs in each. One suit named 100 defendants and the other named 43. McKeithen wrote that although plaintiffs contended on appeal that all claims arose out of the same occurrences, they didn't allege that in the original petition. He wrote that although they contended on appeal that cumulative exposure caused indivisible injuries, they didn't support the allegation or put it in the original petition. Nor did they demonstrate that their claims against DuPont were part of the same occurrences either. Last June, justices granted a writ of mandamus directing 172nd District Judge Donald Floyd to transfer a Provost Umphrey suit and request for injunctive relief against Dole Food and its lawyers to Harris County. The original suit, Provost Umphrey vs. Dole Food et al, alleged Dole and its lawyers of negotiating directly with its clients in Nicaragua to settle pesticide exposure claims, and that Dole general counsel Michael Carter and Dole attorney James Teater of Houston conspired to interfere with client contracts. Provost Umphrey had sued Dole, Carter and Teater several years ago for tortious interference with the business relationship between Provost Umphrey and its Nicaraguan clients. The suit also alleges defamation and business disparagement. Justices ruled that Floyd's "denial of the motions to transfer amounts to a 'clear and prejudicial error of law,' necessitating mandamus relief." The Ninth Court of Appeals serves the 10 counties surrounding Beaumont. The justices on the court are Chief Justice Steve McKeithen, Justice David Gaultney, Justice Charles Kreger, and Justice Hollis Horton.

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