During his career, Scott Self has represented defendants in wrongful death cases — and lost. So it was a huge relief when a federal judge on Jan. 18 granted his clients’ motion for summary judgment.

“Wrongful death cases can lead to big damages,” Self says.

That same day, U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay for the Northern District in Dallas followed his memorandum and opinion granting the motion for summary judgment with a final judgment dismissing the claims against Self’s clients with prejudice. The judge also dismissed without prejudice the claims against other defendants, who had not filed answers and for whom attorneys did not file appearances.

In The Estate of DeShaun Newton, et al. v. Wes Grandstaff, et al., Self represents three defendants: Wes Grandstaff, his wife and Next Level Ballers, a nonprofit he helped operate.

On April 26, 2008, 14-year-old DeShaun Newton died while participating in a basketball tournament in Dallas hosted by Next Level Ballers, according to Lindsay’s memorandum and opinion. The plaintiffs alleged in a complaint that the Grandstaffs and Next Level Ballers “failed to provide adequate emergency medical personnel; adequate emergency medical equipment; and effective ingress and egress to the facility when the basketball game was played” and engaged in “allegedly tortious conduct” that was “a direct and proximate cause of injuries,” Lindsay wrote.

But, Lindsay continued, “[N]o evidence exists to establish causation, that is, that Plaintiffs’ injuries were proximately caused by the Next Level Ballers Defendants’ negligent conduct.”

Self, a junior partner in Dallas’ Fee Smith Sharp & Vitullo, says the facts of the case were “tragic” since a young man died shortly after his breathing stopped while sitting on the bench. While preparing the case, Self says, he had to walk a line between showing respect for the plaintiffs who had suffered but at the same time finding evidence that his clients were not liable for the damages.

To win on summary judgment, Self says, he would recommend that attorneys make every possible argument and provide evidence to support each of them. Go deep and wide in your summary judgment, he says.

“With a motion for summary judgment in federal court, you only get one bite at that apple, so focus your discovery so you can have multiple grounds in that motion,” Self says.

Okey Clarence Akpom of The Akpom Firm in Arlington who represented the plaintiffs, did not return a call seeking comment.

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