Texas Civil Justice League
Legislative Report
May 29, 2015

A detailed legislative summary is in process and will be released next week.  TCJL thanks our members, friends, and elected officials for a very successful session!

forum non conveniens
HB 1692 by Sheets PASSED and Sent to the Governor 5-26-15.
SB 1942 by Huffman

(TCJL PROGRAM) TCJL SUPPORTS.  The doctrine of forum non conveniens allows a trial court to dismiss a lawsuit if another court is a more appropriate forum to hear the case because the suit has little or no connection to the state. Under Texas law, a court may not dismiss a case under the rule if the plaintiff is a Texas resident. A recent Texas Supreme Court decision, however, has opened a potential loophole in the Texas forum non conveniens rule. In a 5-4 decision, the Court allowed intervenors in a lawsuit filed in Hidalgo County on behalf of the estate of a non-Texas resident to claim Texas residency and keep the suit in Hidalgo County—despite the fact that the underlying plaintiffs were from Mexico, the accident occurred in Mexico, the witnesses and evidence were all located in Mexico, and Mexican law likely applied to the accident. The proposed legislation will assure that only direct plaintiffs who are actual Texas residents can invoke the Texas residency exception to keep their cases in Texas courts.

Good Faith Remediation 
HB 1794 by Geren PASSED and Sent to the Governor 5-25-15.
SB 1509 by Hancock

(TCJL PROGRAM) TCJL SUPPORTS.  Recent lawsuits have sought to collect hundreds of millions of dollars of civil penalties against Texas businesses for alleged environmental violations going back for decades—even though the businesses have been working with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to remediate the problem and, in some cases, did not even own the property when the alleged violations occurred. In one of the cases, a jury rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the business should pay billions even though it spent millions to clean up a mess that it inherited from another company. The proposed legislation will address this type of lawsuit abuse by assuring that businesses pay punitive civil penalties only for their own conduct, not for the actions of others. The legislation will also assure that businesses that remediate in good faith will not be punished as long as they comply with applicable state enforcement orders.

Contested Case Hearings
HB 1865 by Morrison PASSED and Sent to the Governor 5-14-15.
SB 709 by Fraser

TCJL SUPPORTS Provides a predictable timeline for the permitting and contested case process; codifies recent court decisions affirming TCEQ discretion to determine who is an affected party in a contested case; establishes that a draft permit issued by TCEQ has been through a very thorough review process and therefore meets legal, technical, public health and environmental requirements.

Procedures in Contested CasesHB 1247 by Wayne Smith, SB 941 by Creighton
Standing in Contested Cases – HB 1113 by Clardy
(TCJL PROGRAM) PASSED and Sent to the Governor 5-14-15 as part of HB 1865 

Asbestos Evidence Manipulation
HB 1492 by Doug Miller PASSED and Sent to the Governor 5-26-15.
SB 491 by Schwertner

TCJL SUPPORTS.  Includes HB 2904 by Sarah Davis. Texas should address manipulation of the bankruptcy trust system of compensating claimants for asbestos-related diseases.  Require that plaintiff lawyers file claims with bankruptcy trusts in advance of trial against defendants in litigation to assure honesty and transparency in litigation.

OCIP Clarification (Owner/Contractor Controlled Insurance Program) 
To be addressed in case pending before Texas Supreme Court
HB 1668 by Workman  SB 666 by Eltife 

(TCJL PROGRAM) TCJL SUPPORTS.  Despite case law to the contrary, a recent Corpus Christi Court of Appeals decision has opined that §§406.122 and 406.123, Labor Code, which define when an independent contractor may be treated as an employee for purposes of workers’ compensation insurance coverage, conflict with each other. Under existing law, an independent contractor may be deemed to be an “employee” when the contractor is covered by a “wrap” workers’ compensation insurance policy that includes all the contractors and contractor employees on a worksite. The Corpus Christi case introduces unnecessary confusion into a well-established workers’ compensation insurance practice and should be corrected. The proposed legislation does not change existing law, but simply clarifies that the two statutes do not conflict.

Asbestos Inactive Docket
HB 2904 by Sarah Davis PASSED and Sent to the Governor 5-26-15 as part of HB 1492 

TCJL SUPPORTS.  Relating to dismissal of certain actions for an asbestos-related or silica-related injury.  Extends the time for the MDL court to identify and dismiss inactive claims by an additional 120 days.  Judge Mark Davidson asked for this extension, and both sides of the bar support the bill.  With no opposition, it is expected to move quickly.


Net Worth Evidence
HB 969 by Ken King
SB 735 by Fraser PASSED. 5-28-15 Senate concurs in House amendments, on way to the Governor

TCJL SUPPORTS.  Provides that the financial condition or net worth of a party is not relevant for the purposes of supporting a claim for, or the amount of, exemplary damages and, therefore, is not discoverable or admissible as evidence.

Patent Trolls
SB 1457 by Nichols PASSED and Sent to the Governor 5-26-15.

TCJL MONITORING.  Relating to claims of patent infringement.  Authorize the Attorney General to enjoin and/or sanction persons who engage in abusive patent trolling practices.

12 Person Juries
HB 1122 by Clardy This bill was pulled down by the author.
SB 824 by Huffman

TCJL SUPPORTS.  All cases heard in county courts at law are tried before six person juries, whereas all cases heard in state district courts are tried before standard 12 person juries.  If a county court at law is hearing a civil case in which more that $200,000 is in dispute, the court should be required to impanel a 12 person jury.

Property Insurance Litigation (Chapters 541 and 542, Insurance Code)
Did not pass.  Dead.
HB 3646 by Smithee
SB 1628 by Larry Taylor

TCJL SUPPORTS.  Relating to insurance claims and certain prohibited acts and practices in or in relation to the business of insurance.

Consumer Lawsuit Lending
HB 3454 by Thompson, S. 4-28-15 Heard and left pending in House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence.  Did not pass.  Dead.

TCJL OPPOSES. Relating to transactions involving the assignment of rights in an individual’s legal claim; authorizing the imposition of a fee.
This is the same bill from last session, and is being carried at the request of the lawsuit lending industry.  It states specifically that these transactions are not loans, thereby removing it from traditional oversight process for loans.  TCJL and our members are opposed to the bill, and it has a great deal of opposition from the general business community at large.  A committee substitute was discussed prior to the hearing, but a sub was not offered.

Process for house bill

This diagram displays the sequential flow of a bill from the time it is introduced in the house of representatives to final passage and transmittal to the governor.

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