Local counsel aren’t usually responsible for doing the heavy lifting when they assist out-of-state lawyers who pursue civil litigation in Texas state district courts.
But a last-minute decision by a pair of Arizona lawyers to step aside and have Dallas attorney David Coale plead their case instead before his hometown’s Fifth Court of Appeals turned out to be an extremely wise move.
His recent win in Medina v. Michelin North America revives a hard-fought products liability case the Arizona plaintiff attorneys filed against the major tire maker in a Dallas state court. The dispute concerns whether Michelin is responsible for the failure of a tire that caused a roll-over accident that seriously injured members of the Medina family.
Coale, a partner in Lynn Pinker Cox & Hurst, was originally contacted by Phoenix solos David Shapiro and Luis Guerra for local counsel assistance years ago. He helped them retain jurisdiction in a Dallas state court after Michelin tried unsuccessfully to remove the case to federal court.
And after the state trial court dismissed the case on a no-evidence motion, they sought out Coale’s advice again in 2016 when they asked him to put the finishing touches on their Fifth Court appellate brief.
While Shapiro and Guerra were steeped in the factual knowledge about the case, Coale had a better grasp on the Texas Rules of Civil Procedures—specifically how the trial court didn’t follow them when it granted a no-evidence summary judgment motion in the case. But three weeks before the oral argument date, the plaintiff lawyers still hadn’t decided who should argue the case.
“I just assumed I wasn’t arguing the case. But they said, you know what? Why don’t you do it,” Coale said. “And nothing sharpens the mind like a pending execution date.”
“The case really turned on Texas procedure. And three weeks before oral argument I jumped in,” he said. “It’s a case you really get emotional about and it’s a gut check. But they thought the best idea was to step back.’’
Coale focused his arguments on the fact that the trial court failed to follow recent Texas Supreme Court precedent by granting Michelin’s no-evidence summary judgment motion even though it didn’t specifically state why the plaintiffs had no evidence.
In their decision, the Fifth Court noted that Michelin filed its no-evidence motion anticipating that the Medinas’ expert witness testimony would be excluded. And while the trial court granted Michelin’s no-evidence motion, it denied their motion to exclude the plaintiff’s expert witness testimony.
“Michelin’s only basis for no-evidence summary judgment motion on these claims was the lack or absence of expert testimony should the trial court grant its motion to exclude [the plaintiff’s expert] testimony. The no-evidence motion itself specifically requested the trial court not consider the no-evidence summary judgment motion on these claims until it considered and ruled on its motion to exclude,” wrote Justice David Evans.
“Because Michelin did not move for summary judgment on this ground, the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on the Medinas’ defective design, defective manufacturing, and negligence claims once it denied Michelin’s motion to exclude this testimony,” Evans in a decision that reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the Medinas’ products liability claims but affirmed its call to throw out gross negligence and punitive damage claims against Michelin.
Eric S. Bruner, a spokesman for Michelin, notes that the case was reversed on procedural grounds. “We will continue to defend Michelin’s reputation for quality and safety in court whenever necessary,” Bruner said.
Coale said he was pleased with the decision, even though it dismissed some of the Medinas’ claims.
“The claims that survived are broad enough, there’s enough left for my colleagues to try the case,” he said. “To them it’s a win. Being in court is better than not being in court.’’
Shapiro said he was also happy with Coale’s work and the decision to let him argue the case.
“He really did carry the day,” Shapiro said. “He argued to the three justices and did an outstanding job.’’