Houston Appeals Court Affirms Sizable Legal Fee Award to AZA Client
October 28, 2013
HOUSTON – A Texas appeals court upheld a jury award of $750,000 in attorneys’ fees for AZA’s client – a ruling that means the award will stand as the fourth-largest defense verdict delivered in Texas in 2011.
Attorney Elizabeth Pannill Fletcher of Houston’s Ahmad Zavitsanos Anaipakos Alavi & Mensing P.C. (or AZA) successfully defended Mistras Group, Inc. and several of its employees against a $9 million lawsuit by a competing company in a Harris County trial. The suit was filed by Texas-based Sentinel Integrity Solutions Inc., which accused a former employee of breaking a non-compete covenant by going to work for New Jersey-based Mistras (NYSE: MG). Mistras is a global leader in providing technology-enabled asset protection solutions used to evaluate the structural integrity of critical energy, industrial, and public infrastructure.
The appeal was heard by a three-judge panel from Houston’s 1st District Court of Appeals, which issued its ruling on October 22. AZA’s appellate win was reported by the legal publication Law360 in the story “Oilfield Co. Must Pay Atty Fee Award, Appeals Court Rules” (subscription required).
Along with its claims of breach of a non-compete agreement by the employee, Sentinel also sued Mistras and some of its employees for allegedly interfering with that agreement.
Ms. Fletcher and AZA partner John Zavitsanos represented the Mistras defendants in the original 2011 trial, which concluded with a jury finding that Mistras and its employees did nothing wrong. The jury awarded Mistras’ employee $750,000 in legal fees for defending the claims through the time of trial, and additional attorneys’ fees if Sentinel filed an unsuccessful appeal. The award represented Texas’ fourth-largest defense verdict in 2011, according to the publishers of VerdictSearch and Texas Lawyer.
“Sentinel’s complaint on appeal was that the attorney’s fees were too high, and that it was somehow the trial court’s fault. But as the Court of Appeals noted, the fees were fully supported by the evidence, found to be proper by the jury, and awarded by the trial judge,” Fletcher says.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the fee awards, and sent the case back to the trial court to determine the proper amount of appellate fees to award. Mr. Zavitsanos says, “The jury originally granted us appellate fees too and we’ll now go back to the trial court to determine the amount.”
The appellate case is Sentinel Integrity Solutions Inc. v. Mistras Group Inc., et al., No. 01-12-00370-CV.
Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing P.C., or AZA, is a Houston-based law firm that is home to true courtroom lawyers with a formidable track record in complex commercial litigation, including energy, intellectual property, securities fraud, construction and business dispute cases. AZA is recognized by U.S. News & World Report and The Best Lawyers in America as one of the country’s best commercial litigation firms in the 2013 listing of the nation’s leading law firms. National corporate counsel named AZA one of the country’s best in client service among law firms serving the Fortune 1000. AZA has been hired on many occasions by the same companies the firm has prevailed against at trial. Read more at http://www.azalaw.com.