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DTPA Judge Reverses $1.5 Million Verdict On Jan. 15, a Harris County jury awarded plaintiff Doniece Wiggins $1,596,000 in her Deceptive Trade Practices Act claim against Home Construction Inc. But on Feb. 10, the judge entered a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, awarding the plaintiff nothing on the grounds that the suit was barred by the statute of limitations. Wiggins had sued Home Construction, from whom she had purchased her $400,000 home, claiming that the house had foundation defects because the house had been built on a filled-in ravine. Home Construction claimed that the foundation was performing properly and that the movement was normal. Home Construction filed the JNOV, alleging the plaintiff knew of the alleged defects more than two years before she filed suit, thereby barring her claims under the statue of limitations rule. Doniece Wiggins v. Home Construction Inc., No. 2001-38311 (55th District Court, Harris County) Plaintiff’s attorneys: Ian Cain, Houston; Dana LeJune, LeJune & Singer, Houston Defense attorneys: Jeff Befort and Paul McConnell, De Lange, Hudspeth, McConnell & Tibbets, Houston INJUNCTIVE RELIEF City Gets No Relief On Jan. 14, a Harris County judge ruled in favor of the defendants in a case brought by the city of Houston for injunctive relief. The city sought relief against Stanislaw and Mariola Pawlowski, who owned and operated a limousine service business, for an alleged violation of a deed restriction that prohibits a business from being operated out of a home. The plaintiffs’ attorney, Robert Carpenter Jr., says the city received a complaint in July 2000 that stretch limousines and a tour bus were being parked in front of the Pawlowskis’ home. Carpenter also alleged that the Pawlowskis’ residence was listed in the phone book as a business address. The city notified the Pawlowskis of their alleged deed restriction violation and later filed for injunctive relief in October of 2000 after the alleged business activity persisted. James Horwitz, attorney for the defendants, says the Pawlowskis claimed that they only stored their limousines overnight in their garage and that, since the suit was filed, they had changed the listings in the phone book so that their residence no longer was listed as the business address. He also says that in 1994, the Pawlowskis sought and obtained permission from their homeowners’ association to lengthen their garage so they could store their limousines. The judge granted defense counsel’s motion for a directed verdict in their favor. City of Houston v. Stanislaw Pawlowski and Mariola Pawlowski, No. 2000-54960 (113th District Court, Harris County) Plaintiff’s attorneys: Rudy Velasquez and Robert Carpenter Jr., City of Houston Legal Department Defense attorney: James S. Horwitz, Houston LEGAL MALPRACTICE Judgment Against Firm On Feb. 7, a Dallas County jury returned a verdict in the amount of $493,500 against the Dallas firm of Smith, Underwood & Perkins for alleged legal malpractice. The plaintiff had sought damages of $960,000, says defense attorney Alison Moore. EnMark Gas Corp. alleged in its petition that an attorney for Smith, Underwood & Perkins failed to object to a special question alleging alter ego of EnMark Gas Corp., after pleadings against it had been struck by the trial court in an underlying suit. Although the reporter’s record failed to reflect an objection, the attorney argued that he had made the objection, and that the alter ego could have been established in a subsequent suit, says the plaintiff’s attorney, David Shuford. In 1991, EnMark Gas Corp. changed its name to EnMark Corp., and at the same time, another company changed its name to EnMark Gas Corp., according to the petition. A former employee of the original EnMark Gas Corp. filed a suit in 1993 against the wrong company, according to the petition. The pleadings were amended, and the court later struck the pleadings against the new EnMark Gas Corp. and Rodney Miller, the company’s president; however, the court submitted an alter ego question to the jury about EnMark Gas Corp. and Miller, and the jury returned a verdict of $1.2 million against EnMark Gas Corp., EnMark Corp. and Miller, the petition stated. Smith, Underwood, which represented EnMark Gas Corp., allegedly failed to object to the jury charge questions, according to the petition. The defendants appealed the judgment in the 1993 suit, but the court of appeals affirmed, ruling that the defendants had waived error, according to the petition. The plaintiffs in the malpractice suit allege they would not have been held liable in the underlying case had their attorney made the proper objections. Plaintiffs EnMark Corp. and Miller’s claims were dismissed by summary judgment, Moore says, noting that Smith, Underwood expects to appeal the malpractice suit. EnMark Corp., EnMark Gas Corp. and Rodney Miller v. Smith, Underwood & Perkins No. 01-00644-J (191st District Court, Dallas County) Plaintiff’s attorneys: David W. Shuford, Shuford & Associates, Dallas Defense attorneys: Alison H. Moore and Shawn W. Phelan, Thompson, Coe, Cousins & Irons, Dallas

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