BEAUMONT – A breach of contract suit against the International Paper Company can now resume, as the Ninth Court of Appeals has issued an opinion stating a discovery issue is now moot.

Alleging it was not fully compensated for work performed, Signature Industrial Services of Beaumont filed a complaint against Tennessee-based International Paper Company, Greg Bennett and Alliance Engineers & Project Consultants of Beaumont on Aug. 8, 2014 in Jefferson County District Court.

Court records show that on March 23 International Paper filed a petition for writ of mandamus, arguing the trial court “clearly abused its discretion in ordering discovery of private financial information” the day before.

By deposing a corporate representative, Signature sought to discover bonuses and compensation paid to International Paper’s managers, speculating that the managers were motivated to deny payment to Signature in order to increase their bonuses.

The Ninth Court stayed the deposition and requested a response from Signature. However, on March 31 International Paper filed a motion to dismiss the appeal, which justices granted on April 13, court records show.

“Relator filed an agreed motion to dismiss the mandamus proceeding as moot because the real parties in interest agreed to withdraw the notice of deposition on the objected-to topic,” the Ninth Court’s opinion states. “The motion is granted. We lift the stay order previously entered in this proceeding, and we dismiss this original proceeding without reference to the merits and without prejudice.”

Case history

According to the original petition, Signature was approached by International Paper and Alliance Engineers representatives and asked to bid on work to a machine known as "the Slaker." International Paper allegedly asked that the work be started even before the bid process was complete. Signature says it was assured it would be fully compensated for all work on the project.

Signature asserts International Paper promised a speedy bid and contracting process but, instead, took a week longer than expected and failed to include more than $78,000 worth of initial costs in the agreement. Two weeks into the job, Signature claims it warned International Paper that the project was going to quickly surpass the bid amount. International Paper apparently acknowledged the increased costs and agreed for the work to continue.

Signature says International Paper failed to provide drawings and materials necessary to complete the project, causing additional delays. International Paper and its representatives were "admittedly overwhelmed with the enormity of the project and the obstacles," the suit states

By April 2014, Signature says Bennett had been assigned by International Paper to work directly with the Slaker project. Bennett allegedly told Signature to continue any necessary work and submit all change orders after the project was completed rather than alert the company to budget overages while the work was under way.

In addition to problems with project costs, Signature says it raised concerns with International Paper about allegedly lax safety standards and negligence that the company says allowed caustic chemicals to spill into the work site. Signature says the chemicals caused significant damage to its property.

In its original petition, Signature also alleges Bennett publicly made a number of "slanderous and disparaging statements" accusing the company of "stealing from the mill", "lying from their bill" and "inflating invoices."

At the completion of the project, Signature says International Paper alleged the scope of work "was not substantially complete" and allegedly refused to compensate Signature as initially agreed upon.

Signature is seeking more than $1 million in damages along with court costs and attorney fees.

Attorneys Glen W. Morgan and John Werner of Reaud, Morgan & Quinn in Beaumont represent Signature.

International Paper is represented in part by Shaw Cowart attorney Ethan Shaw.

Trial case No. E-195964

Appeals case No. 09-17-00088-CV

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