Case Summaries

Port of Houston Authority of Harris County Texas v. Louis Dreyfus Company Houston Export Elevator LLC

In March 2022, a jury in U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes’ court returned a $28 million verdict for AZA client, the Port of Houston, in a breach of contract dispute with French merchant firm Louis Dreyfus Company. The dispute was over Louis Dreyfus’ refusal to do required upkeep on a portside grain elevator it rented from the government from 2008 through 2018. The lack of upkeep resulted in massive corrosion, conveyor and structural tower problems, dust system problems, and other issues.

AZA Lawyers: Todd Mensing, Kelsi Stayart White, Michael Killingsworth, and Thomas Frashier

Case Type: Litigation Plaintiff

Melinda Abbt v. City of Houston

In early 2022, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Melinda Abbt v. City of Houston reversed a hostile work environment summary judgment order in a Houston firefighter’s case, setting two new precedents in hostile work environment cases. The panel found AZA’s firefighter client did not need to experience harassment in real time for it to be actionable. According to the ruling, the victim still has a claim if she finds out later about what happened behind her back. The appellate panel also ruled that the City of Houston can be liable if a workplace harassment report goes up the chain of command but stops because a supervisor who was a recipient of the notice is also a participant in the harassment. This is the first time the court has ruled on these issues.

AZA Lawyers: Kelsi Stayart White on appeal, Joe Ahmad and Jordan Warshauer in trial court

Case Type:

City of San Antonio v. Armando D. Riojas and City of San Antonio v. Jimmy Maspero

In one day in 2021 AZA appellate practice member Judge Daryl Moore argued two back-to-back governmental immunity cases for the City of San Antonio before the Texas Supreme Court. In early 2022, the court ruled in favor of San Antonio, reversing the intermediate appellate court and dismissing both cases.

Both cases filed against San Antonio involved the immunity of law enforcement officers under the Texas Tort Claims Act and both were reversed and dismissed. These were the first two cases Judge Moore argued after he left the 333rd District Court bench, where he earned recognition as one of Harris County’s and Texas’ best judges.

In the City of San Antonio v. Armando D. Riojas, the court found that the city and the police officer who turned on his emergency lights to warn drivers of a slowdown had immunity from being sued by a motorcyclist who collided with another vehicle. Chief Justice Nathan Hecht wrote that the officer met the test of being “reasonably prudent” in this situation. 

In the companion case City of San Antonio v. Jimmy Maspero, Justice Debra Lehrmann wrote that the officer pursuing a fleeing drug suspect was not reckless, and her actions did not amount to those that would allow for an exception to emergency situation allowances in the governmental immunity laws.

AZA lawyer: Daryl Moore 

Case Type:

Fremont Emergency Services (Mandavia), et al. vs. UnitedHealth Group, Inc. et al.

In a closely watched December 2021 trial, a Nevada jury handed AZA client TeamHealth yet another trial victory on behalf of underpaid emergency room doctors, this time with a $62.65 million jury award against United Healthcare, the largest insurer in the nation. With attorneys’ fees, the award came to more than $75 million. 

The seven-week trial put several Las Vegas area ER physicians groups up against a cluster of United Healthcare affiliates. The jury found that the insurers cheated the doctors groups out of more than $2.65 million in payments and also awarded $60 million in punitive damages. TeamHealth plaintiffs will also seek attorney’s fees. Texas Lawbook featured the Nevada case as the top story in Top Commercial Litigation in 2021 

The lawsuit is one of many TeamHealth affiliates have filed against various insurers across the country to stop systematic underpayment of ER doctors groups by insurance companies. AZA has already won two other jury trials for TeamHealth doctors in several states and settled a handful of other cases. This Nevada win against the largest U.S. insurer could be a bellwether for the more than two dozen similar cases around the nation against various insurers. 

The jury found the insurance affiliates liable for unjust enrichment, breach of contract and unfair insurance practices. The court had ruled that the insurers willfully hid evidence in this case. 

TeamHealth is the nation’s largest clinical practice. It operates in 47 states, contracts with 16,000 healthcare professionals and treats 30 million patients annually. 

The AZA team worked with local counsel was Pat Lundvall, Florida attorney Justin Fineberg and Carol Owen of TeamHealth.

AZA lawyers: John Zavitsanos, Joe Ahmad,  Jane Langdell Robinson, Jason McManis,  Kevin Leyendecker, Michael Killingsworth,  Louis Liao

Case Type: ,

ACS Primary Care Physicians Southwest, PA et. al v. Molina Healthcare, Inc. and Molina Healthcare of Texas Inc.

A Harris County jury awarded $19.1 million to a group of emergency room doctors in June 2021 in the first case in the nation to litigate emergency room physicians’ out-of-network pay from private insurance companies under the Affordable Care Act. 

The jury awarded physician groups ACS Primary Care Physicians Southwest PA and Emergency Services of Texas, affiliates of non-party physician led TeamHealth, $1.58 million in actual damages and $17.5 million in punitive damages from Molina Healthcare of Texas Inc. The  verdict found Molina routinely underpaid claims and failed to follow insurance laws that require they pay the usual and customary rates for the geographic area.  

Jurors were told that the case was being watched nationally by emergency room doctors and nurses and by insurance companies elsewhere who have tried to get around paying the going rate. 

The Texas Insurance Code requires private insurance companies like Molina to pay doctors the “usual and customary rate” for a geographic area. According to trial testimony, the rate from other private insurers is $1,042 per claim, but Molina was paying the ER doctors only $151 per claim. The plaintiffs showed the defendants violated the Texas Insurance Code and were deceptive in breaching their promises. 

AZA tried the case with Collin Kennedy of Hanshaw Kennedy Hafen.  

AZA lawyers: John Zavitsanos, Sammy Ford IVJane Langdell Robinson,  Michael KillingsworthLouis Liao 

Case Type: ,

Bryan C. Wagner et al. v. Apache Corp

AZA prevailed at the Supreme Court of Texas in April 2021 on behalf of client Apache Corp. This victory paved the way for Apache to proceed in its arbitration against Wagner Oil to recover in excess of $15 million under an indemnity provision in Apache’s agreement with Wagner Oil.   

The ruling rejected arguments by Wagner Oil to discard an arbitration provision contained in a 2001 purchase and sale agreement for oil and gas wells, mineral leases and fee interests and property to operate the wells. The justices agreed that based on the plain language in the provision, the two parties are bound to arbitrate their dispute over Wagner Oil’s alleged failure to honor its indemnity obligations when third-party surface landowners brought lawsuits for alleged environmental contamination.   

After the oil and gas sale transaction, Wagner Oil assigned the assets purchased from Apache to parties related to Wagner. When faced with Apache’s indemnity claims stemming from the third-party environmental litigation, Wagner and its related entities claimed that the assignees were not bound by the arbitration clause in the original purchase and sale agreement.  

A trial court initially agreed with Wagner Oil, but on appeal, the Texas 2nd Court of Appeals ruled in Apache’s favor in 2018, holding that the arbitration clause in the purchase and sale agreement applied to the assignees. In Oct. 2020, the Supreme Court of Texas denied Wagner’s request to hear the case, but later reversed and allowed the appeal to proceed.   

AZA lawyers: Jane Langdell Robinson, Tim ShelbyFoster C. Johnson and Nathan Campbell.  

Case Type:

Southeastern Emergency Physicians, LLC v. Arkansas Health & Wellness Health Plan, Inc., Centene Corporation et. al

A six-person jury in August 2020 awarded a $9.4 million verdict on behalf of Southeastern Emergency Physicians, LLC, an affiliate of TeamHealth Inc., finding that Centene Corporation and Ambetter, Novasys and Celtic, its commercial insurance subsidiaries, systematically tried to strip the 120 emergency clinicians in the physician’s group of most of their pay.

In one of the first in-person jury trials in Arkansas since the COVID-19 virus hit, the jury in U.S. District Judge Brian S. Miller’s court found that the defendants grossly underpaid and breached their agreement with the emergency room doctors. The jury awarded $9.4 million in damages and the judge added an additional $1.24 million in attorneys’ fees and costs.

AZA won the case though they were hired to do so six days before jury selection. See the Texas Lawbook story on this win Six Days Notice, Six Witnesses, Six Jurors, 150 ER Doctors, Two Ticked Off In-House Counsel and a $9.4M Verdict (subscription required).

The jury found that the Centene-controlled commercial insurance company and health network since 2014 had paid the emergency clinicians’ groups only 20% of the amount they were owed for their services.  The jury also heard how Centene tried to obfuscate their ownership of the companies and the entities responsible for paying the doctors. This case led to settlements with Centene in this case and others.

AZA tried the case with Collin D. Kennedy of Frisco, Texas-based Hanshaw Kennedy Hafen, LLP. and Little Rock lawyers from Wright Lindsey Jennings.

AZA attorneys: John Zavitsanos, Kevin Leyendecker and  Michael Killingsworth

Case Type: ,

Julie Smith, et al. v. Red Mountain Energy, LLC, et. al.

Following three weeks of grisly testimony about a tragic 2018 oil rig explosion that killed five, jurors nevertheless found that AZA client National Oilwell Varco (NOV) was only 10 percent responsible. The Oklahoma  jury found in January 2020 that other companies that had already settled out of the case for significant amounts were 90 percent at fault. 

The devastating accident was the industry’s deadliest since the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The lawsuit was brought by two of the surviving families.  

The jurors who returned this verdict, well below the settlement offered by Houston-based NOV pre-trial, were subjected to horrific photoof the bodies, medical examiner testimony about the likely pain felt by the victims, and a courtroom packed with often crying childrenLawyers for the families asked the jurors for $200 million from NOV. Before trial, NOV offered to settle the case with the two families for substantially more than the jury verdict requiring NOV to pay only $2 million. That is only one percent of what the plaintiffs’ lawyers sought.  

The well was owned by Red Mountain Operating, which the jury found 60 percent responsible for the tragedy. The rig was owned and operated by Patterson-UTI Drilling Company, LLC. NOV provided the drilling mud used in the operation and one on-site worker.  

AZA lawyers argued that NOV had a very limited role in the operation, and NOV employees had not been authorized to make any of the decisions that led to the tragedy. The jurors agreed. 

AZA lawyers: John Zavitsanos, Kevin Leyendecker and  Michael Killingsworth 

Case Type: ,

National Oilwell Varco LLP v. Sadeesh Sadagopan et al

A federal judge in August 2018 awarded $12.2 million to National Oilwell Varco (NOV) from three former high-level employees based in Dubai who participated in various schemes to defraud and siphon funds from the company.

After receiving a whistleblower complaint through NOV’s internal compliance hotline, the global oilfield services company conducted a thorough investigation that ultimately uncovered multiple fraudulent schemes orchestrated by the three federal defendants and a U.S.-based executive, whose case was separately resolved via arbitration. The schemes uncovered by NOV were wide-ranging and included the four high-ranking employees’ creation of sham vendors, strawman companies, fake agents, and other means to skim money from their company around the globe.

The lawsuit before Judge Lee Rosenthal in the U.S. Southern District of Texas was hard-fought, with AZA defeating an onslaught of motions to stall discovery or have NOV’s case dismissed from federal court on various grounds. Once the defense motions had all failed, the former employees, Sadeesh Sadagopan, Majed Hamdan and Khaled Zantout, agreed to default on liability for NOV’s claims rather than face NOV in general discovery. After a contested hearing on damages, the judge awarded NOV the $12.2 million from all three defendants jointly and severally.

AZA lawyers: John Zavitsanos and Shawn Bates

Case Type: ,

Vital, et al. v. National Oilwell Varco

AZA defeated a nationally-known civil rights lawyer when the firm secured a victory for client National Oilwell Varco in a discrimination lawsuit filed by employees seeking $120 million.

Houston-based NOV, an oilfield equipment supplier, argued that the eight current and former African American employees were not treated differently because of their race. The federal jury heard 12 days of testimony in the trial before Judge Lee H. Rosenthal in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

The plaintiffs were represented by high-profile civil rights lawyer Angela M. Alioto of San Francisco’s Law Offices of Mayor Joseph L. Alioto and Angela Alioto. The lawsuit complained of racial discrimination, hostile work environment and retaliation. It alleged non-African-Americans got raises and promotions that were denied to the plaintiffs. But the jury found that NOV had not violated the rights of the plaintiffs, seven former NOV employees and one current NOV employee.

Special trial counsel John Zavitsanos, called in just a few months before trial by co-counsel, offered evidence that showed there were several non-discriminatory reasons some of the workers did not receive promotions, were not asked to return to their jobs after taking unauthorized leave or were fired for cause.

AZA Lawyers: John Zavitsanos and Nathan Campbell.

Case Type: ,

In re SemCrude, L.P.

AZA prevailed for a client with $115 million at stake in an energy sector lawsuit filed by more than 100 oil and gas producers.

SemCrude, a major midstream oil and gas company, filed for bankruptcy in 2008 without paying the oil and gas producers who sold to SemCrude in the preceding months. When those producers could not get full recovery from the bankruptcy estate, they filed suit against the downstream pipeline companies who purchased gas from SemCrude, including AZA client Plains Marketing, L.P.

AZA participated in over 225 depositions in the case. Plains did settle with one producer because their oil was proven to be held by Plains. Before the key February 2013 summary judgment hearing, AZA convinced many producers to abandon their claims against Plains, saving Plains over $30 million. After the hearing, other producers “settled” with Plains which paid absolutely no money to those producers, saving Plains more than $70 million more.

AZA lawyers: John Zavitsanos, Elizabeth Fletcher, Tim Shelby, and Jane Langdell Robinson.

Case Type: ,

Function One Consulting Group L.L.C. v. Accudata Systems Inc., et al.

This case was a $11.4 million jury win in a business disparagement lawsuit for a Houston technology company.

Function One hired AZA midway through the litigation to defend against a motion for sanctions based on videotape evidence of eavesdropping and spying by a Function One private investigator at archrival Accudata’s offices. After defeating this motion, AZA took over the case from Function One’s previous counsel. AZA defeated four counterclaims by Function One’s archrival, Accudata, obtaining dismissal of two on a directed verdict.

Although Function One initially sought only nominal damages, AZA developed a claim that Function One had lost a multimillion-dollar contract with its largest customer—BG Group, Ltd.—because of false allegations by Accudata that Function One had violated U.S. tax laws. AZA presented Accudata emails and witness testimony from former BG Group executives and a former Chief Counsel of the IRS. And through cross-examination of Accudata’s president, AZA secured a unanimous jury finding of actual malice as well as $1 million in punitive damages.

AZA’s victory in this case is the largest business disparagement verdict in Texas for at least the last 10 years.  Two weeks after the verdict, Accudata paid a confidential settlement amount.

Case Type:

WCT Cowboy Country Ranches, L.L.C. v. Energen Resources Corporation, Plains Marketing, L.P., Plains Marketing GP, Inc., et al

AZA was hired by Plains in the defense of a $400 million trespass case in Texas’ oil-rich Permian Basin. AZA’s aggressive and creative pretrial motions stripped down this case before the first potential juror entered the courthouse.

The surface owner of a large ranch, WCT Cowboy Country Ranches, LLC, negotiated agreements with Energen Resources, the operator of oil and gas wells throughout the ranch.  WCT Cowboy Country interpreted these agreements as allowing access to Energen and oil marketers like Plains only via specified private roads to certain wells.  Use of the “wrong” road would cost Energen or Plains $50 to $100 per “rod” (a distance equal to 16.5 feet) for each use.  Using this formula, WCT Cowboy Country claimed Plains owed more than $400 million in damages.

The case was contentious and hard-fought, with multiple depositions of executives and truck drivers and multiple court hearings in the rural town of Monahans, Texas. AZA argued pre-trial “special exceptions” that slashed the plaintiff’s damages model in half.  A partial motion for summary judgment granted on the eve of trial eliminated the plaintiff’s punitive damages theory and cut the value of claims against Plains to barely more than $300,000.

Although WCT Cowboy tried to settle before trial, Plains refused.  On the weekend before trial, WCT Cowboy Country gave up completely and dismissed all of its claims against Plains without Plains paying any settlement.

AZA lawyers: Tim Shelby and Jane Langdell Robinson.

Case Type: ,

Schlumberger Limited and Schlumberger Technology Corporation v. Charlotte Rutherford

In only five months, AZA helped client Charlotte Rutherford get four-fifths of her case dismissed and those who sued her slapped with record high fees and sanctions totaling $600,000. This case illustrates AZA’s ability to shred a case in pretrial and beat bigger firms. Ms. Rutherford, Schlumberger’s former Deputy General Counsel for IP, faced highly publicized “revenge” litigation from Schlumberger. AZA achieved extraordinary results – leaving the case with only one cause of action and little hope for damages. AZA also left Schlumberger tagged with $350,000 in attorney’s fees and $250,000 in sanctions for overreaching in its allegations. Both fees and sanctions are record highs under the law.

Rutherford had left Schlumberger to join Acacia Research Group to lead its move into the energy sector. After her new employer sued Schlumberger for patent infringement, Schlumberger launched a scorched-earth attack against her. Before she hired AZA, Rutherford was confronted with a Schlumberger TRO based on affidavits that AZA later proved to be false. Once retained, AZA forced Schlumberger to voluntarily dissolve the TRO and abandon its attempt at a temporary injunction.

AZA lawyers: Joseph Y. Ahmad and Tim Shelby.

Case Type: , , ,

Air Liquide Large Industries U.S., LP v. NRM Investments, Inc., et al.

In this energy sector contract lawsuit, AZA prevailed on all claims in a jury trial and obtained a permanent injunction against its client’s opponent. This case shows AZA’s ability to be creative, focused and fierce in trial and includes a spectacular case-winning cross-examination. It also illustrates how AZA’s boutique efficiency can win the day with the firm’s three lawyers besting the opposition’s nine.

NRM sought $2.5 million in damages, alleging fraud and breach of contract and complaining that Air Liquide sold NRM industrial materials with valuable nickel and chromium but also containing hazardous waste in violation of the contract and California law. Air Liquide denied the allegations and sought $1.5 million still owed under the contract.

AZA’s Todd Mensing got a remarkable 15 potential jurors struck for cause (a quarter of the panel) by showing their bias against Air Liquide because it is a large multinational company.  Mr. Mensing’s relentless cross-examination of NRM’s primary environmental law expert ended with the key witness admitting he wasn’t an expert. At the end of the 2½- week trial, the jury rejected all NRM’s claims and awarded Air Liquide $1.7 million, representing Air Liquide’s full damages, including attorneys’ fees.

Air Liquide also obtained a permanent injunction barring NRM from attempting to return the materials to Air Liquide. NRM had threatened to dump the materials at Air Liquide’s Houston offices or its executive’s home during the dispute.

AZA lawyers: Todd Mensing and Tim Shelby.

Case Type: ,


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