Judge Sparks Transfers Case Under U.S. Supreme Court Case Atlantic Marine Construction Company, Inc.

Compass Bank v. Palmer, et al., No. A-13-CA-831-SS (W.D. Tex. January 30, 2014)(Sparks, S.)

Defendant Palmer and various affiliated businesses under his control executed a series of loan agreements with Texas State Bank, which was later acquired by plaintiff Compass Bank. Order at pp. 1-3. After defendants defaulted on all loan agreements, plaintiff brought suit for breach of contract in the Austin Division of the Western District of Texas. Id. at 3. Defendants then filed a Motion to Transfer Venue to the Southern District of Texas, McAllen Division, arguing that it was the more convenient venue, and at least two of the loan agreements contained forum selection clauses requiring any lawsuit to be filed in that venue. Id. at 4.

After setting forth the standard for venue transfers under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), the Court discussed in detail the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Atlantic Marine Construction Company, Inc. v. United States, 134 5. Ct. 568 (2013), which addressed the enforcement of forum selection clauses. Id. at 7-8. Noting that Atlantic Marine directs district courts to enforce forum selection clauses except for in unusual cases, the Court found that the plaintiff provided no persuasive reason why the forum selection clauses should not be enforced as valid against it. Id. at 10. Moreover, the public interest factors weighed in favor of transferring the venue, because the operative facts occurred in McAllen, not Austin. Id. at 11. Finally, because the loans with forum selection provisions demanded transfer to McAllen, the Court held that it made “little sense” to sever the case and keep the matter in Austin with respect to the loan agreements without such venue restrictions. Id. at 12-13. Thus, the Court transferred the entire lawsuit to the Southern District of Texas, McAllen Division.

Judge Sparks Grants Motion for Summary Judgment, Permanent Injunction, and Orders Records Removed from Property Records

U.S. Bank National Association, as Trustee, on Behalf of the Holders of the Asset Backed Pass-Through Certificates, Series NC 2005-HE4 v. Hall, No. A-13-CA-431-SS (W.D. Tex. January 28, 2014)(Sparks, S.)

Defendant Hall defaulted on his mortgage and subsequently lost his house to the plaintiff trust in a foreclosure sale. Order at p. 2. Thereafter, Hall began a series of fraudulent recordings in the Travis County Official Public Records pertaining to the property and his mortgage, attempting to transfer the property to himself or associated entities. Id. at 2-4. The Trust then brought suit against Hall, alleging (1) trespass to try title, (2) trespass to real property, and (3) suit to quiet title and for declaratory judgment. Id. at 4.

The Court granted the Trust’s Motion for Summary Judgment in its entirety. Id. at 4. The Court held that the summary judgment evidence clearly demonstrated that the Trust has title to the property and that Hall’s fraudulent tactics and purported prior conveyances of the property did not impair that title. Id. at 6. The Court also declared that Hall’s fraudulently recorded instruments are invalid and of no force or effect, and should be removed from the property records. Id. at 7-8. Finally, the Court granted the Trust’s request for a permanent injunction against Hall, holding that “Hall’s fraudulent pattern of behavior has denied the Trust its right to the Property, clouded its title, and denied the Trust exclusive access to the Property for approximately seven years.” Id. at 9.

Judge Sparks Grants Summary Judgment for the Texas Department of Insurance Citing Sovereign Immunity and Finds Racial Discrimination and Retaliation Claim Fails

Allbritain v. Texas Department of Insurance, No. A-12-CA-431-SS (W.D. Tex. January 23, 2014)(Sparks, S.)

Allbritain was discharged by the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) after allegedly committing insurance fraud on an insurance claim involving her home. Order at p. 1. Criminal charges against Allbritain were ultimately dismissed, and she filed a wrongful termination suit against TDI, alleging racial and age discrimination, retaliatory discharge, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Id. at 2-3. The Court granted TDI’s motion for summary judgment on all claims. Id. at 3.

The Court found that Alibritain’s claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and her state law claims for defamation, negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress were barred by sovereign immunity. Id. at 6. Judge Sparks also concluded that Allbritain’s racial discrimination claim failed because (i) her supervisor’s refusal to allow Allbritain to telecommute was not an “adverse employment action”; (ii) the failure to reassign Allbritain her preferred support staff was not an “adverse employment action”; (iii) the refusal to allow her to run out her vacation and compensatory time after being fired was not an “adverse employment action”; (iv) Allbritain failed to provide evidence demonstrating she “was treated less favorably than other similarly situated persons outside the protected class”; and (iv) Allbritain failed to rebut TDI’s evidence of a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the termination of her employment. Id. at 6-16. Finally, the court rejected Allbritain’s retaliation claim because she failed to identify with specificity the “protected activity” or the “adverse employment action.” Id. at 16-17.