Here’s another case that demonstrates the importance of filing suit in the correct jurisdiction.
Remember Becky George’s APHA defamation case that was dismissed due to lack of personal jurisdiction? George was represented by Thomas Corea of the Corea Law Firm, PLLC in that matter.
Thomas Corea represented John Anthony “Tony” Burris in another lawsuit involving an allegedly defamatory letter that defendants Pamela J. Bilek, the Bilek Family Trust, and Bilek Quarter Horses, LLC sent to the American Quarter Horse Association (“AQHA”). The letter at issue complained of Burris's activity as a judge for the AQHA.
Burris’s suit was originally filed in the 40th District Court of Ellis County, Texas. The Ellis County court dismissed Burris’s suit after determining that the State of Texas lacked personal jurisdiction over the Bilek defendants. Unlike in the Becky George suit, Corea did not appeal this dismissal.
The Ellis County Courthouse, in my hometown of Waxahachie, Texas
Seven days after Burris’s Ellis County case was dismissed, Corea filed (on behalf of Burris) three new lawsuits in Potter, Victoria, and Medina Counties of Texas. All of the new lawsuits alleged the same conduct against Bilek towards Burris that was the subject of the Ellis County lawsuit.
On the same day that the multiple lawsuits were filed, Corea sent an email to Bilek’s counsel advising that,
This is NEVER going away. Pam needs to get that through her drunk head that I will chase her to the end of the earth and she needs to get this settled now.
In response, Bilek’s counsel advised Corea that sanctions would be sought if Corea served any of the three new lawsuits. The Potter County lawsuit (which was identical to the Ellis County suit) was subsequently served on Bilek.
Bilek filed a special appearance (again alleging lack of personal jurisdiction) and motion for sanctions against Corea, the Corea Law Firm, PLLC, and Burris in the Potter County suit. Corea subsequently non-suited the Potter County case.
The 108th District Court of Potter County held a hearing on the motion for sanctions a couple of days after Corea non-suited the case. Corea appeared at the sanctions hearing by telephone, and did not object to any of the exhibits offered by Bilek’s counsel (who personally appeared).
The court found that all of the same jurisdictional facts alleged in Potter County had already been fully litigated and resolved in Ellis County, and determined that the Potter County suit was brought in bad faith and for purposes of harassment.
The Potter County court ordered Thomas Corea, the Corea Law Firm, PLLC, and Tony Burris to pay Bilek $50,000 for costs and attorney’s fees, $10,000 to compensate Bilek for the deliberate and intentional harassment and inconvenience, and additional attorney's fees in the event of unsuccessful appeal.
Corea appealed the sanctions award. The Amarillo Court of Appeals upheld the sanctions awarded by the trial court, in their entirety.
Case information: Corea v. Bilek, 2012 WL 602898, No. 07-11-00114-CV (Tex. App.—Amarillo, Feb. 24, 2012).