The shop stops here

By The SE Texas Record | Dec 13, 2008

Lone Star State law does not and should not govern something that happened three decades ago and 2,000 miles away.

That was the common sense message from our Supreme Court this month, when it ruled that a Maine plaintiff didn't have the right to pursue her lawsuit here in Texas.

The court overruled Harris County District Judge Mark Davidson, who had previously allowed the suit. Three defendants, General Electric, Warren Pumps, and Ingersoll-Rand, asked the Supreme Court to intervene.

The complaint at issue is over an asbestos suit filed against a Maine paper mill. Plaintiff Gwendolyn Richards knew her late husband had never worked in Texas. But she sued here anyway, arguing that Maine courts wouldn't afford her the same opportunity at obtaining justice as ours.

In short, she felt Texas courts would be more amenable to her suit than elsewhere. So she shopped her case here, filing initially in Dallas County before its transfer to Judge Davidson.

State Supreme Court Justice Phil Johnson pointed out that the people of Texas aren't obligated to open their state courts to any American with a grievance.

"Absent some overriding consideration, the citizens of Texas should not be burdened with jury duty in a complex asbestos exposure case that has no relationship to Texas," he wrote.

Justice Johnson's conclusion might seem obvious. But his sensibility and sensitivity to the limited time and resources of Texas taxpayer-jurors escapes many High Courts across our country.

In states like Illinois, California, Michigan, and West Virginia, asbestos plaintiff venue shopping like Ms. Richards' is viewed as having no cost to the broader public. Rather, the rights of these filers are treated as supreme to those of everyone else, including not just local litigants but taxpayers generally.

Those states attract asbestos cases like a blue light does mosquitoes, clogging up local county courts and draining their resources.

Thanks to this ruling, your courts need not suffer the same fate. This is a precedent that will bode well for Texas.

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