Appeals court removes conditions in Mexican suit against Ford

Steve Korris Apr. 14, 2010, 4:00am

EASTLAND, Texas � Ingeniously but improperly, Texas judge Michael Mayes sent a Mexican suit against Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone Firestone to Mexico in a way that made it three times as strong.

He ruled that Ford and Bridgestone Firestone could take the case to Mexico only if they would admit any evidence the Mexicans asked them to admit, translate every word in the file and fly every witness to Mexico.

Translation, at $54 a page, would have started at more than $1 million with no limit.

The 11th Court of Appeals of Texas, in Eastland, removed the conditions in December.

Chief Justice Jim Wright repeated for each condition that it placed plaintiffs "in a much better position than they would have been had they originally filed their suit in Mexico where both Tennessee and Texas have said they should have filed it."

Mayes, judge of the 410th District Court in Montgomery County, presides over suits from around the state against Ford and tire makers.

The Texas suits and others around the nation allege that faulty tire design caused tread separation and that faulty vehicle design caused rollover.

Mass litigation attracted a few plaintiffs from Mexico.

Rosalva Sanchez Villanueva sued Ford and Bridgestone Firestone in Tennessee over a 1996 crash that killed several persons in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas.

A judge found a Tennessee forum inconvenient for the defense and found a Mexican forum appropriate.

Tennessee's court of appeals agreed in this and other Mexican cases.

Villanueva sued again, not in Mexico but in Dallas County, Texas.

A judge transferred the suit to Mayes, who had taken statewide jurisdiction in 2004 by appointment of the Multi District Litigation panel of the Texas Supreme Court.

Ford and Bridgestone Firestone asked Mayes to declare his court inconvenient and dismiss the suit.

Mayes dismissed it, finding Mexico an available and adequate forum.

That sounded like good news to the defense, but his conditions spelled bad news.

He required Ford and Bridgestone Firestone to stipulate to the admissibility of all evidence to which Villanueva might ask them to stipulate.

He required them to translate any and all evidence of her choosing to transport to Mexico any and all witnesses of her choosing.

He prohibited negotiations over jurisdiction.

If Ford and Bridgestone Firestone failed to meet any condition, he ruled, Villanueva could reopen her suit in Tennessee.

If Tennessee rejected her again, he ruled, she could reopen it in Dallas County.

Ford and Bridgestone Firestone appealed, successfully.

Under Mayes's conditions, Chief Justice Wright wrote, introduction of evidence would be unencumbered by the possibility that it isn't admissible.

"Appellants are not allowed to object on any grounds," he wrote.
"Otherwise, by merely raising a valid objection, they are back in Tennessee or back in Texas," he wrote.

Next, he drew a line between translation for trial witnesses and translation for "anyone from anywhere that appellees wanted � relevant, reasonable or not."

He wrote that "before any document is translated, the request for that translation should be reasonable, and the document should at least pass the relevancy test."

Next, he drew a line between making one's witnesses available in a home forum and making anyone available that a plaintiff wants.

"Appellants could neither raise objections to nor refuse to pay the cost for that transportation," he wrote.

Last, he erased the condition that Villanueva couldn't sign any document submitting to Mexican jurisdiction.

He wrote that Mayes couldn't exempt her from executing a legitimate and proper document seeking consent on jurisdiction.

He declared it "particularly bothersome" in the face of her lawyer's statement that his clients would never sign a submission.

Justices Terry McCall and Rick Strange agreed.

They sent the suit to Mayes and instructed him to set new conditions.

Joe England, Richard Denney, Lydia Barrett and Russell Bowlan represented Villanueva.

Craig Morgan, Michael Eady, Wade Crosnoe and Danielle Shields represented Ford.

Phillip Dye, John Weber, Knox Nunnally, Sandra Rodriguez, Vernon Hartline, Scott Edwards and Angela Gordon represented Bridgestone Firestone.

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