(John Disney/Daily Report)
A California woman has sued Hilliard Munoz Gonzales of Corpus Christi and two of its attorneys, alleging they settled a wrongful death lawsuit on her behalf without representing her and then failed to give her any of a $1 million settlement.
Kelly L. Curtis, of Santa Clara County, Calif., sued Robert Hilliard, Robert C. Hilliard LLP, John Martinez and Hilliard Munoz. She filed Kelly L. Curtis v. Robert C. Hilliard on Feb. 11 in the 215th District Court in Harris County.
Curtis alleges in her petition that the defendants “obtained payment” on a $1 million settlement check, kept “at least $400,000 for themselves” and distributed the remainder to Adriana Ancira, the “purported common-law wife” of Curtis’ late father who was killed in an accident in 2012.
When asked for a response to the allegations, Martinez, managing partner of Hilliard Munoz, wrote in an email that the firm denies the allegations “as set forth in the complaint.” He declined further comment on the suit because it’s pending. He said he expects it to be resolved through arbitration. Hilliard did not respond to a telephone message or an email requesting comment.
Plaintiff’s attorney Randall Sorrels, a partner in Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Friend in Houston, said, “In our world there’s always two sides to the story. We are anxious to hear Hilliard Munoz Gonzales’ side of the story.”
Deadly 18-Wheeler Accident
Curtis alleges in the petition in Kelly L Curtis v. Robert C. Hilliard that her father, James Davis, died after an 18-wheeler driven by Erick Valdez, doing business as Valdez Transport, struck Davis while her father was walking on the emergency shoulder of a highway on Feb. 13, 2012.
Curtis alleges that Ancira hired Hilliard, Martinez and their firm (HMG) to represent her in her claims against Valdez for the death of Davis.
“At no time did Plaintiff ever retain Hilliard, Martinez, HMG, or any other attorney at HMG, or authorize Hilliard, Martinez, HMG, or any other attorney at HMG to prosecute or compromise any of her claims,” Curtis alleges in the petition.
She alleges Hilliard and Martinez filed suit in Nueces County against Valdez on behalf of Ancira and Davis’ estate. She alleges that that on April 9, 2012, Hillard sent a letter to Houston attorney Scot Doyen, who represented Valdez in the underlying litigation, proposing a Rule 11 agreement that would settle Ancira’s claims and her claims against Valdez for $1 million, which was “represented to be the total sum of all insurance proceeds available to satisfy the claims.”
In the letter, Hilliard represented to Doyen that his office would provide settlement releases and authority to settle the claims from Ancira and Curtis, “the only known heir of Mr. Davis,” Curtis continues.
Curtis alleges that Hilliard made that representation without authority, but, relying on Hilliard’s “misrepresentations,” Doyen signed the Rule 11 agreement on behalf of Valdez on April 18, 2012.
Curtis alleges that, after the Rule 11 agreement was signed, Hilliard contacted her to attempt to persuade her to execute a waiver of her claims against Valdez, but she refused.
“During this series of correspondence, Hilliard did not disclose to Plaintiff that he had already purportedly settled Plaintiff’s claims on her behalf and that he did not intend to pay over or distribute any share of that settlement to Plaintiff despite the fact that he knew Plaintiff was an heir and wrongful death beneficiary of Mr. Davis,” Curtis alleges in the petition.
She alleges that, “pursuant to the fraudulently obtained Rule 11 Agreement, and again relying on Hilliard’s and Martinez’s misrepresentations,” Valdez’s insurer gave a $1 million check to the defendants. They “obtained payment” on the check, kept $400,000, and gave the rest to Ancira, she alleges.
Curtis notes in the petition that in 2012 she filed a wrongful death suit against Valdez in Nueces County “in order to enforce her claims against Valdez.” Citing the Rule 11 Agreement and the defendants’ “purported authority” to settle the plaintiff’s claims, Valdez filed a counterclaim in Kelly L. Curtis v. Erick G. Valdez seeking damages and attorney fees from Curtis for breach of the Rule 11 agreement, fraud and negligent misrepresentation. Curtis alleges she is incurring attorney fees and expenses to defend the counterclaim, “which is the direct result of Defendants’ fraud.”
Doyen, a partner in Doyen Sebesta who is Valdez’s attorney, did not return a telephone message seeking comment.
Curtis brings fraud, fraud by nondisclosure, liability for acts as purported agent, tortious interference with prospective contract, invasion of privacy: appropriation, conversion of settlement proceeds, conversion of check, slander of title, money had and received, and vicarious liability causes of actions against the defendants. She also brings an alternate pleading of breach of fiduciary duty/legal malpractice if it is determined the defendants had authority to bind her to a Rule 11 agreement or that she ratified the agreement.
Curtis seeks more than $1 million in monetary relief. She seeks damages for diminution of the value of her cause of action against Valdez, the value of the funds “converted or wrongfully withheld” by defendants or wrongfully distributed to Ancira, attorney fees, the value of any profits wrongfully realized by defendants and mental anguish.
She also seeks punitive damages “due to Defendants’ fraudulent conduct,” fee disgorgement, and a constructive trust “over any money received from any party as a result of Defendants’ misrepresentation that they had the authority to settle Plaintiff’s claims.”