Yesterday, counsel for Brenda Young filed a petition for review of the 14th Court of Appeals’ decision discussed in this prior post.  This will be the first time the high court has ever been given the opportunity to decide whether or not Chapter 87 immunity applies to claims brought by workers.

A copy of Young’s petition can be downloaded here.

In her petition, Young contends that the 14th Court of Appeals committed error in holding that:

1.  non-consumers of equine activities (i.e. people who are paid to work around horses) qualify as participants under Chapter 87; and

2.  the posting of warning signs under Chapter 87 was a defense and not an element of proof (i.e. Young asserts that the McKims had the burden of proving that they had posted the Chapter 87 warning signs in order to be afforded immunity under Chapter 87, and that they did not meet that burden).

While I agree with the 14th Court of Appeals’ decision and do not wish to see it reversed, I am pleased that the Supreme Court now has an opportunity to review whether or not Chapter 87 applies to claims brought by employees or other workers.  This issue is currently somewhat “murky” under Texas law.  Clarification is needed because there seems to be a conflict of authority on this issue among the intermediate courts of appeals.  In that respect, I am pleased that Young requested review of the first issue discussed above.

Related posts:

Update on Young v. McKim

Another Appellate Court Holds Chapter 87 Immunity Act Applies to Suits Brought by Independent Contractors

Texas Supreme Court May Be Inclined to Grant Chapter 87 Immunity to Employers

Last week, we discussed Young v. McKim, a case dealing with whether or not Chapter 87 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code applies to workers.  Here’s a link to the post.

Young has filed a Motion for Reconsideration with the Fourteeth Court of Appeals in Houston.  A link to the motion can be found here

It is my understanding that Young intends to appeal her case to the Supreme Court of Texas.

I will post updates as they become available.  

 

 

As we discussed in this prior post, the Supreme Court of Texas has not yet addressed the issue of whether Chapter 87 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code (the “Act”) shields defendants from liability in suits where employees or independent contractors are injured while engaging in an equine activities. Up until last week, we only had two opinions—both from intermediate appellate courts—addressing this issue. 

In the first case—Johnson v. Smith (Corpus Christi 2002)—the court held that independent contractors were participants under the Act, and therefore the Act shielded defendants in suits brought by independent contractors from liability. In the second case—Dodge v. Durdin (Houston [1st] 2005)—the court held that employees are not participants under the Act, and therefore defendants in suits brought by employees are not immune from liability.

As of last Thursday, we now have a third appellate case that sheds light on this issue. The Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston recently held that the Act immunizes defendants from liability for claims brought by independent contractors.

The case, styled Young v. McKim, represents the first equine employee negligence suit addressed by a Texas court of appeals since Loftin v. Lee was handed down by the Texas Supreme Court in April of 2011. 

Case Background: Brenda Young had posted a flyer at Ravensway Stables advertising her ability to assist owners in the care of their horses. Tisa McKim and her daughter, Jackie, hired Young to care for their horses—Jasper and Butch—at Ravensway. 

About two months after Young started caring for Jasper (a rescue horse), Jasper kicked Young and injured her. The injury occurred while Young was talking to another boarder at Ravensway while Jasper grazed beside her.

Young sued the McKims for negligence, and the McKims moved for summary judgment under the version of the Act in existence in 2010 (i.e. before the Act was amended in 2011). The trial court granted the McKims’ motion for summary judgment. 

The Appeal: The Fourteenth Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment in favor of the McKims. On appeal, Young alleged that the Act did not shield the McKims from liability.  Among the reasons Young gave were 1) only “tourists and other consumers of equine activities” qualify as participants under the Act; and 2) Young was an employee of the McKims, not an independent contractor.  Young relied heavily on the First Court of Appeals’ opinion in Dodge on appeal.

The Fourteenth Court of Appeals determined that Young was an independent contractor, not an employee.  The court did not reach the issue of whether the Act would have applied had Young been an employee. The Fourteenth Court disagreed with the discussion in Dodge suggesting that the Act only applied to “tourists and other consumers of equine activities.”

Citing Loftin, the Fourteenth Court held,

“The Equine Act is a comprehensive limitation of liability for equine activities of all kinds…The Equine Act applies to all ‘participants’”. [Emphasis supplied].

It remains to be seen whether Young will be appealed to the Supreme Court of Texas. Given the Supreme Court’s expansive view of the Act set forth in Loftin, the Supreme Court might disagree with Dodge’s holding that the Act does not apply to employees.

Case Information:  Young v. McKim, No. 14-11-00376-CV, 2012 WL 1951099 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th] May 31, 2012, no pet h.).

Related Posts:

Are Employers Immune from Liability for Employees’ Horse-Related Injuries in Texas?

Victory for Horse Industry in Texas Supreme Court

Does Your Farm Need to Purchase Worker’s Compensation Insurance?

Time to Get New Warning Signs: Equine Activity Act Amended in 2011

On April 23, 2012, AQHA member Jason Abraham and two related business entities sued the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Amarillo Division.

The complaint asks the court to order the AQHA to revoke AQHA Rule 227(a), on the basis that an outright restriction on the registration of cloned horses and their offspring allegedly violates federal antitrust laws.

Rule 227(a) was approved in 2004 by the AQHA board of directors, which prohibits all cloned horses and their offspring from being included in the AQHA’s breed registry. 

Other breed registries, such as the Jockey Club and the Paso Fino Horse Association, have also ruled that cloned horses and their offspring are not eligible for registration.

As discussed in this prior post, Texas law (which may or may not be deemed applicable in this case) favors a policy of judicial non-intervention with respect to the internal affairs of voluntary associations, such as the AQHA. An exception to Texas’s policy of judicial non-intervention can apply in cases where a valuable right or property interest is at stake in a lawsuit, and cases where a voluntary association’s rules violate the law.

For more information, see the following articles:

Lawsuit Challenges AQHA Cloned Horse Registration Policy

Suit Filed: Claims AQHA Ban on Cloned Horses Violates Antitrust Law

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The topic of this week’s post is not a true “horse case”, per se, but horse dealers and those who purchase horses from dealers can certainly glean some valuable lessons from it. 

David and Lisa Moore were breeders and sellers of horses and dogs. Originally operating as “Kanes Lake Horse & Kennel” in Minnesota, they relocated to Magnolia, Texas, where they purchased about 25 acres of land and began “Brushy Creek Kennel”, where they also lived. 

The Moores sold at least 163 dogs to Lisa Bushman, who herself was a breeder and seller of rare dogs, including Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, West Highland White Terriers, and Jack Russell Terriers. 

 

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

At some point after Bushman bought dogs from the Moores for a sum of $132,000, Bushman sued the Moores in the 155th District Court of Waller County, Texas alleging violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices-Consumer Protection Act (“DTPA”), fraud, and breach of contract. 

In her lawsuit, Moore alleged that some of the dogs she purchased were sick, and that she had difficulty obtaining registration papers on the dogs. Moore claimed that she had been sued by some of her customers, that she to refund money on some of the sales to customers, and that she had to pay more than $10,000 in veterinary expenses to nurse the sick dogs back to health.

The court opinion makes no reference to any written agreement between the parties as to the terms of the dog sale. 

In his defense, David Moore alleged that the business arrangement with Bushman consisted of the Moores shipping dogs to Bushman via third-party breeders or brokers, without registration paperwork unless a higher price was paid.

Before the suit went to trial, Lisa Moore conveyed 18 of their 25 acres of land to Dalvis Enterprises, Ltd. (“Dalvis”), an entity owned almost entirely by the Moores. 

A side note that will prove relevant as you read on: in Texas, a husband and wife can claim up to 200 acres of rural land as their homestead, thereby shielding the land from creditors’ claims.

After a trial, the court found in Bushman’s favor, awarding her damages of approximately $350,000 against the Moores.

After Bushman attempted to levy execution of her judgment upon the 18 acres of land that had been partitioned from the 25-acre homestead and conveyed to Dalvis, Dalvis purported to convey the 18 acres back to Lisa Moore. Shortly thereafter, the Moores filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding.

The bankruptcy court, and later the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas on appeal, held that:

1) Bushman’s state court judgment was non-dischargeable in bankruptcy because the debt was incurred by fraud; and

2) the 18 acres of land was subject to execution on Bushman’s judgment, because the homestead exemption was lost when Lisa Moore transferred the property to Dalvis.

Surprisingly, the Moores claimed that the conveyance of land to Dalvis was a “pretend sale”, because it was allegedly made without consideration, in an attempt to hide the eighteen-acre tract from Bushman. The Moores made this seemingly self-defeating allegation in favor of their position that they never lost their homestead exemption on the 18 acres. Both the the bankruptcy court and federal district court on appeal found this argument unconvincing.

Take aways: Many or most of these issues could have been avoided, had the parties put the express terms of their purchase and sale agreement in writing. Further, an inspection of both the dogs and their registration paperwork before the dogs were accepted and paid for might have alleviated the situation. 

Case InformationBushman v. Moore, 2011 WL 7655696, Civil Action No. H-10-3045 (S.D. Texas, Sept. 14, 2011).  Hot off the presses from Westlaw this week (not sure why it took Westlaw so long to publish this opinion?).

On March 30, 2012, the Supreme Court of Texas denied review of Paula Gaughan’s lawsuit against the National Cutting Horse Association (“NCHA”). 

We first covered the Gaughan case in a post back in August of 2011, shortly after the Fort Worth Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment in favor of the NCHA. The trial court’s now completely final judgment awards the NCHA $75,000 in attorneys’ fees and denies Gaughan’s request that certain NCHA financial records be judicially declared available for inspection by all NCHA members. For more information, see this article.

The Justices of the Supreme Court of Texas

The NCHA is a Texas nonprofit corporation. The Gaughan case dealt primarily with a company’s duties under the Texas Non-Profit Corporation Act to maintain and, in some cases, allow members to inspect the nonprofit’s books and records. The trial and appellate courts held that the NCHA complied with the portions of the Act that were at issue in the lawsuit.

While we’re on the topic of a member’s suit against a horse association, it is a convenient time to point out that the NCHA would likely be deemed a “voluntary association” under Texas law. Here are some “fun facts” about voluntary associations:

  • It is the right of a voluntary association to manage, within legal limits, its own affairs without interference from the courts. This is what they call the “policy of judicial nonintervention.”
  • Review of a voluntary association’s actions is severely limited under Texas law. Courts will not interfere with the internal management of a voluntary association so long as the governing bodies of such association do not act totally unreasonably, contravene public policy, break the law, or violate the association’s own rules and procedures.
  • An individual, by becoming a member of a voluntary association, subjects himself or herself, within legal limits, to the association’s power to administer its rules as well as its power to make its rules.
  • An exception to the policy of judicial nonintervention can be made where a valuable right or property interest is at stake in a lawsuit.

Although the policy of judicial nonintervention did not directly come up in the Gaughan case, these issues often preclude or limit the ability of a court to interfere in disputes between members and horse industry associations. 

Related Post:  NCHA Litigation Update:  NCHA Wins Again

Are you thinking about buying a ranch through an informal seller finance deal? If so, beware.  Andalusian breeder Rancho Mi Hacienda and owner Gilda Arana learned the hard way the pitfalls of doing this type of deal “on the fly”.

Rancho thought it had an enforceable written agreement whereby Coy Lynn Owens and his wife Linda agreed to sell Rancho 126 acres of land in Hopkins County, Texas. After all, Rancho did have a letter signed by Coy Lynn memorializing the parties’ verbal agreement concerning the ranch sale. 

In reliance, Rancho transported its seventy-three Andalusian horses from California to Texas and moved them onto the property. Further, Rancho paid Coy Lynn $25,000 and gave the Owenses’ daughter an Andalusian horse of her choosing. Rancho also expended substantial sums on a log cabin, shelter for the horses, and utilities for the premises. It was Rancho’s understanding that the $25k and the horse constituted the down payment, and that an additional $200,000 was to be paid to the Owenses at the end of a five year term.

Photo:  a very majestic Andalusian mare

Around the time Rancho took possession of the property, Coy Lynn Owens went to federal prison for mail fraud. Linda filed for divorce soon after Coy Lynn was incarcerated. In an agreed divorce decree entered by the divorce court, Linda was awarded the realty in question and Coy Lynn was divested of any title to it. 

Shortly after the divorce decree was entered, Rancho sued Coy Lynn, Linda, and L&L Investments (a holding company) seeking, among other things, specific performance of the ranch sale agreement, and damages related to the horses such as vet bills, the cost of five horses who died, and lost earnings for one year’s breeding season.

Rancho had Coy Lynn served with the lawsuit at the prison. When Coy Lynn did not file an answer, Rancho took a default judgment against Coy Lynn and nonsuited Linda and L&L Investments.  After the jump, you’ll see why this was a costly mistake.

Rancho (apparently still in possession of the property) later tried to levy execution on the 126-acre tract to satisfy its judgment against Coy Lynn. In response, Linda obtained a judgment from a JP Court ordering Rancho evicted from the property.

Linda also filed suit in district court against Rancho seeking a declaratory judgment that, among other things, Linda was the sole owner of the property and that it was not subject to execution. The trial court and the Texarkana Court of Appeals agreed with Linda on these points.  The Court of Appeals held that because Rancho’s suit was filed after the divorce decree divested Coy Lynn of all interest in the property, it was no longer community property subject to execution on a judgment against Coy Lynn alone. 

In hindsight, Rancho probably realized that nonsuiting Linda was a terrible idea.  According to the Court:

Although Rancho’s suit originally included [Linda] as a defendant, it made the choice not to pursue an action against [Linda] and filed a nonsuit as it pertained to her, electing to pursue judgment only against [Coy Lynn], who was apparently perceived to be the low-hanging fruit.

Case informationRancho Mi Hacienda v. Bryant, 2012 WL 952853, No. 06-11-00080-CV (Tex. App.—Texarkana, Mar. 22, 2012). The full text of the opinion can be found here.

In general, a defendant can only be immune from suit in a Texas horse-related injury case if the plaintiff was a “participant in a farm animal activity or livestock show” when the injuries occurred.

Chapter 87 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code (the “Act”) was amended in 2011 to, among other things, include farm animals other than equines. However, the “participant” requirement did not change in 2011.  Neither the former nor the current version of the Act specifically states whether or not employees of equine activity sponsors are considered “participants in a farm animal activity or livestock show” under the Act.

The 1st Court of Appeals in Houston is the only Texas court to have taken up this issue (Dodge v. Durdin, 2005).  In that case, Deborah Dodge sued her employers, Magestic Moments Stables, et al, after a horse kicked her in the abdomen as she was administering paste-wormer at the direction of her employer. Dodge claimed that she incurred $4,000 in medical bills as a result of her injuries, and that her employers’ negligence was the proximate cause of her damages. 

Majestic Moments claimed that Dodge’s suit was barred by the Act.  The trial court agreed, and dismissed the case.  On appeal, the 1st Court of Appeals disagreed that the Act applied to an employer / employee relationship.

This warning sign should not be a "news flash" to anyone.

Citing its review of legislative intent, together with the duties assigned to Texas employers under the Texas Labor Code, the 1st Court of Appeals held that, “the Equine Act applies to consumers and not to employees and that Dodge is therefore not a ‘participant’ under the Equine Act.” 

Workers’ compensation did not cover Dodge’s alleged injures. Unlike employers in many states, Texas employers are able to opt out of the workers’ compensation system. For more information, see this post.

In Dodge, the 1st Court of Appeals noted that the only other Texas court to have addressed the definition of “participant” was the Corpus Christi Court of Appeals in Johnson v. Smith (2002). In that case, the Corpus Christi court acknowledged that an independent contractor—not an employee—in charge of breeding and handling stallions was a participant under the Act.  The 1st Court of Appeals distinguished the Johnson case from the Dodge case on its facts.

Neither the Dodge nor the Johnson case were appealed to the Supreme Court. 

The Texas Supreme Court has not yet addressed whether or not an employee or independent contractor who is injured while working with horses on their employer’s premises is a “participant” for purposes of the Act.  Until the Supreme Court takes up this issue or the Legislature clarifies it, this issue continues to be somewhat unsettled in Texas. Texas equine businesses should therefore not rely upon the Act to provide immunity from suits brought by employees or independent contractors. 

Businesses can take several steps to minimize liability risk in this area, including 1) procuring insurance to cover employee or independent contractor injuries; 2) having employees or independent contractors sign liability releases; and 3) forming limited liability entities through which employees and independent contractors are retained.

A special thank you to reader Lois Mermelstein, Esq. of Austin, Texas for submitting this topic suggestion.

Here’s another case that demonstrates the importance of filing suit in the correct jurisdiction.

Remember Becky George’s APHA defamation case that was dismissed due to lack of personal jurisdiction? George was represented by Thomas Corea of the Corea Law Firm, PLLC in that matter. 

Thomas Corea represented John Anthony “Tony” Burris in another lawsuit involving an allegedly defamatory letter that defendants Pamela J. Bilek, the Bilek Family Trust, and Bilek Quarter Horses, LLC sent to the American Quarter Horse Association (“AQHA”).  The letter at issue complained of Burris’s activity as a judge for the AQHA.

Burris’s suit was originally filed in the 40th District Court of Ellis County, Texas. The Ellis County court dismissed Burris’s suit after determining that the State of Texas lacked personal jurisdiction over the Bilek defendants. Unlike in the Becky George suit, Corea did not appeal this dismissal.

The Ellis County Courthouse, in my hometown of Waxahachie, Texas

Seven days after Burris’s Ellis County case was dismissed, Corea filed (on behalf of Burris) three new lawsuits in Potter, Victoria, and Medina Counties of Texas. All of the new lawsuits alleged the same conduct against Bilek towards Burris that was the subject of the Ellis County lawsuit.

On the same day that the multiple lawsuits were filed, Corea sent an email to Bilek’s counsel advising that,

This is NEVER going away. Pam needs to get that through her drunk head that I will chase her to the end of the earth and she needs to get this settled now.

In response, Bilek’s counsel advised Corea that sanctions would be sought if Corea served any of the three new lawsuits. The Potter County lawsuit (which was identical to the Ellis County suit) was subsequently served on Bilek.

Bilek filed a special appearance (again alleging lack of personal jurisdiction) and motion for sanctions against Corea, the Corea Law Firm, PLLC, and Burris in the Potter County suit. Corea subsequently non-suited the Potter County case.

The 108th District Court of Potter County held a hearing on the motion for sanctions a couple of days after Corea non-suited the case. Corea appeared at the sanctions hearing by telephone, and did not object to any of the exhibits offered by Bilek’s counsel (who personally appeared).

The court found that all of the same jurisdictional facts alleged in Potter County had already been fully litigated and resolved in Ellis County, and determined that the Potter County suit was brought in bad faith and for purposes of harassment. 

The Potter County court ordered Thomas Corea, the Corea Law Firm, PLLC, and Tony Burris to pay Bilek $50,000 for costs and attorney’s fees, $10,000 to compensate Bilek for the deliberate and intentional harassment and inconvenience, and additional attorney’s fees in the event of unsuccessful appeal. 

Corea appealed the sanctions award. The Amarillo Court of Appeals upheld the sanctions awarded by the trial court, in their entirety.

Case informationCorea v. Bilek, 2012 WL 602898, No. 07-11-00114-CV (Tex. App.—Amarillo, Feb. 24, 2012).