AZA is a true trial boutique. We average one trial a month and have already had 14 this year. We may yet have another one or two before the year ends. It’s not unusual for the firm to have a case overseas and certainly normal for trials to be held in other states.
Below are notes on a few interesting ongoing cases. The issues in dispute couldn’t be more diverse. There’s a lawsuit over the sale of ice cream in the West Bank, litigation involving underpaid emergency room doctors across the U.S., and disputes involving Texas energy companies and a brewery over who pays the costs of a devastating winter storm in 2021.
Ben & Jerry’s brand integrity and social mission litigation
AZA represents the Vermont-based ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc. Our client is in a dispute against its parent company, Conopco/Unilever, about the fundamental corporate governance of the global, billion-dollar ice cream brand. After over a year of negotiations, Ben & Jerry’s merged with Unilever in 2000. That merger agreement created an independent board of directors that has primary responsibility for Ben & Jerry’s brand integrity and social mission.
The dispute, which has garnered a great deal of international media attention, centers on the independent board’s explicit and unique authority under the merger agreement. Specifically, the board objects to Unilever’s attempts to transfer Ben & Jerry’s intellectual property rights enabling the sale of their ice cream in their name in the West Bank. Harvard Law professor Jesse Fried said of our client’s one-of-a-kind rights under the merger agreement: “It’s not just that I haven’t seen it, it’s that I don’t think it exists anywhere in the world except Ben & Jerry’s.”
Following mediation, an injunction hearing, and settlement discussions this summer, Ben & Jerry’s filed an amended complaint to broaden its claims under a corresponding licensing agreement. The case is Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Holdings Inc., vs. Conopco, Inc., in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Emergency room doctor pay litigation
AZA represents TeamHealth in cases across the country for its emergency room doctors groups. We’ve successfully won three jury trials in Arkansas, Texas and Nevada and have two more on tap. Our team has beaten even the country’s largest insurer United Health Care and are making inroads for underpaid ER doctors. These cases total as much as $500 million and will affect the pay of every ER doctor in the nation.
In recent years, insurers drastically and systematically cut payment to ERs doctors. Unlike other doctors, ER physicians cannot deny care. And 75 percent of patients come to ERs at or below cost from uninsured and Medicaid/Medicare patients. Thus, the 25 percent paid by commercial insurance is critical to keeping ERs open.
Each case involves novel issues of common law, insurance regulation, and state healthcare statutes. In December 2021, AZA scored its biggest win so far in this war. The trial team secured a $76 million judgment in Nevada state court against UnitedHealthcare. After seven weeks of evidence, the jury unanimously found malice, oppression, and fraud in United’s underpayment of the doctors and awarded the doctors $62.65 million, including punitive damages. The court further awarded more than $12 million in attorneys fees and costs.
TeamHealth’s CEO said of the Nevada jury success: “Our win … will meaningfully impact every front-line physician in America – and that’s no exaggeration.” The CEO said: “The jury’s determination that the evidence was ‘clear and convincing’ and that United was guilty of ‘oppression, fraud, and malice’ says it all. “
Currently, there is a TeamHealth case at the Texas Supreme Court that will determine whether a private cause of action exists under the Texas Insurance Code. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals certified the question for the Texas Supreme Court to consider.
Litigation from Texas’ power grid failure
AZA also represents energy companies and a brewery in a series of lawsuits stemming from the February 2021 winter storm that killed more than 130 people, shut down the Texas power grid, and did nearly $200 billion worth of damage.
AZA began advising clients about force majeure and contract interpretation issues immediately after the unprecedented weather severely disrupted the natural gas markets in Texas and Oklahoma. We immediately filed four major lawsuits involving more than $150 million in damages
Three of AZA’s cases are complex claims for major energy companies against other large energy companies involving issues of breach of contract and refusal to recognize force majeure declarations. There are many discovery battles, depositions, expert witness reports, and summary judgment briefings. All three cases are set for trial in 2023
In a fourth case, AZA filed suit on behalf of Anheuser-Busch against a natural gas provider for price gouging during the storm. That case was resolved on a confidential basis shortly after it was filed.