Exxon Asks Judge to Throw Out Climate-Change Class Action

September 27, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – ExxonMobil and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asked a Dallas federal judge on Tuesday to dismiss a shareholder class action against them, arguing investors are piggybacking claims by several blue-state attorneys general that the oil giant concealed what it knew about climate change.

The Irving-based oil company says the plaintiffs in the case are seeking a “free ride on the soiled coattails” of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s investigation into its knowledge of climate change and global warming.

In a 32-page motion to dismiss, ExxonMobil accuses the investors of copying “the baseless insinuations and irresponsible allegations” by Schneiderman’s office.

“None of that recycled material is entitled to any weight,” the motion to dismiss with prejudice states. “After years of transparent publicity seeking, pandering to well-financed special interests, and repeated shifts in focus, the NYAG has not established any wrongdoing before a court of law. All that has come of the NYAG’s efforts is a stinging rebuke from state attorneys general in twelve other states filed in this court and in a federal court in New York.”

Lead plaintiff Pedro Ramirez sued ExxonMobil and Tillerson in November 2016, claiming violations of the Securities Exchange Act and SEC rules. Tillerson served as ExxonMobil’s chief executive from 2006 to 2016, before he left to join President Donald Trump’s administration.

The lawsuit claims ExxonMobil made “materially false and misleading” public statements when it failed to disclose internal reports that “recognized the environmental risks caused by global warming and climate change.” Ramirez claims the oil giant also used an inaccurate “price of carbon” – the cost of carbon tax or cap-and-trade regulations – to overstate the value of its reserves.

ExxonMobil flatly denies the allegations, retorting that Ramirez is attempting “to manufacture a securities fraud claim out of its baseless allegation that ExxonMobil pulled a ‘bait-and-switch’” when it disclosed it used a proxy cost of carbon up to $80 per ton to account for the potential impact of the government’s climate policies.

“Under plaintiff’s flawed theory, the use of a lower cost figure overstated the value of ExxonMobil’s assets and the amount of its reserves,” the motion states. “But the reality is that ExxonMobil fully disclosed the risks of climate change to its business, and in no way misrepresented the methodologies it used to analyze those risks. There was no shell game.”

ExxonMobil further contends the plaintiffs failed to adequately plead there was any fraudulent intent and that the company repurchased billions of dollars worth of its own stock during the class period and none of the defendants sold their shares.

Ramirez’s lawsuit came on the heels of attorneys general in Massachusetts and the U.S. Virgin Islands launching their own investigations into ExxonMobil’s knowledge of climate change and global warming.

ExxonMobil sued U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker in Tarrant County Court in April 2016 to block his subpoena for several decades worth of documents, calling it an unconstitutional fishing expedition. Walker agreed to drop the subpoena two months later.
The company also sued Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in Fort Worth federal court in June 2016, seeking to block a similar subpoena. The trial judge ruled four months later that Healey must show there is no political bias in her request.

Several conservative attorneys general have come to ExxonMobil’s aid in the dispute. Texas and 10 other states filed an amicus brief last September in the company’s suit against Healey, saying the investigations were an “unconstitutional use of investigative powers” by liberal authorities.

study by Harvard researchers released last month found that ExxonMobil has knowingly misled the public for nearly 40 years about the dangers of climate change, based on an analysis of company communications.

Company spokesman Scott Silvestri said at the time that the findings are “inaccurate and preposterous.”

From Courthouse News.

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Jury Whacks JPMorgan With $4 Billion for Mishandling an Estate

September 27, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – A Dallas County jury Tuesday ordered JPMorgan Chase to pay a whopping $4 billion in damages for mishandling the estate of the former American Airlines executive behind the SABRE airline reservation system.

Max D. Hopper died of a stroke in 2010 and JPMorgan was selected as administrator to split $19 million in assets between his widow and two of Hopper’s children from an earlier marriage.

The widow, Jo N. Hopper, sued the bank in 2011 for breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract.

The verdict from the six-member jury concluded that JPMorgan failed “to act toward Jo Hopper in the utmost good faith and exercise the most scrupulous honesty” and failed put her interests “above its own and to not use the advantage of its position to gain any benefit for itself” at her expense.

The jury awarded $4 billion in punitive damages and $4.6 million in actual damages.

JPMorgan spokesman Andrew Gray said he is confident the massive verdict will not survive appeal.

“Clearly, the award far exceeds any possible interpretation of Texas tort reform statutes,” Gray said in a statement.

Hopper blasted JPMorgan after the verdict, saying it “horribly mistreated” her and “abused my family and me out of sheer ineptitude and greed.”

She said the verdict would protect others from being mistreated by banks.

“Surviving stage 4 lymphoma cancer was easier than dealing with this bank and its estate administration,” she said in a statement Tuesday evening.

Hopper accused the bank of failing to release interests in the couple’s assets for more than five years, including art, jewelry and her late husband’s collection of 6,700 golf putters and 900 bottles of wine.

“The bank’s incompetence caused more than just unacceptably long timelines; bank representatives failed to meet financial deadlines for the assets under their control. In at least one instance, stock options were allowed to expire,” Hopper’s attorneys with Loewinsohn Flegle in Dallas said in a statement.

“In others, Mrs. Hopper’s wishes to sell certain stock were ignored. The resulting losses, the jury found, resulted in actual damages and mental anguish suffered by Mrs. Hopper. With respect to Mr. Hopper’s adult children, the jury found that they lost potential inheritance in excess of $3 million when the bank chose to pay its lawyers’ legal fees out of the estate account to defend claims against the bank for violating its fiduciary duty.”

Hopper’s attorneys claimed that her chief representative at the bank’s private wealth management unit in Dallas had handled only one other intestate estate during her career.

Hopper’s husband retired as chairman of Sabre Group in 1995, which was at the time a subsidiary of Fort Worth-based American Airlines’ parent company. It  was spun off in 2000 and is now known as Southlake-based Sabre Holdings. It operates the Sabre Global Distribution System, which automates online booking for airlines, hotels, car rental companies, rail providers and tour operators.

From Courthouse News.

State Attacks Insanity Defense in Beheading Murder Trial

September 27, 2017
By David Lee

NORMAN, Okla. (CN) — Prosecutors chipped away at Alton Nolen’s insanity defense Tuesday, grilling defense expert witnesses who say he was mentally ill when he beheaded a co-worker at an Oklahoma food-processing plant in 2014.

Licensed psychiatrist Antoinette McGarrahan, of Dallas, acknowledged during cross-examination that her schizophrenia diagnosis of Nolen, 32, could be considered “somewhat objective,” but that she is trained to make such a diagnosis.

She testified under direct examination Monday that she examined Nolen for nine hours over two days in 2016 and concluded “there were numerous indications of mental illness.” She said Nolen stuttered, said he was tempted by the sight of her feet, called her an infidel and “seemed preoccupied with what was going on in his mind.”

McGarrahan said Nolen would refer to things “in the name of Allah” when it wasn’t appropriate to what was being discussed and that there was a history of mental illness in his family.

Nolen is charged with the first-degree murder of Colleen Hufford at a Vaughn Foods plant in Norman in September 2014. The killing made national headlines because aside from its gruesome nature, Nolen, who is black, had converted to Islam, and Hufford, 54, was a white woman.

Nolen allegedly killed Hufford in retaliation for being suspended when she complained about racial remarks he made while the two were on an assembly line. Nolen’s attorneys acknowledge that he killed Hufford, but say he should be found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Psychologist Anita Russell, of Tulsa, also testified Tuesday, saying Nolen was insane and “delusional” during the attack. She said he tried to dictate the conversation during her 2015 evaluation and refused to discuss his personal life.

The trial has lasted three weeks, with the defense expected to rest their case Wednesday. Last week prosecutors played recordings of Nolen calmly admitting the killing to investigators, saying it was justified because he felt “oppressed” as a Muslim.

Nolen was shot and wounded by a company executive, stopping a subsequent attack on Traci Johnson, 46. She testified on Sept. 18 that he cut her up “like a piece of meat,” and she needed surgery to repair damage to her jugular vein.

From Courthouse News.

Attorneys to Argue Oklahoma Man Was Insane When He Beheaded Co-Worker

September 25, 2017
By David Lee

NORMAN, Okla. (CN) –  Attorneys for Alton Nolen will present their case Monday that he was insane when he beheaded a co-worker at an Oklahoma food-processing plant, days after prosecutors played recordings of him calmly admitting to the killing.

Nolen, 32, is charged with the first-degree murder of Colleen Hufford in September 2014, at a Vaughn Foods plant in Norman. The killing made national headlines because, aside from its gruesome nature, Nolen, who is black, had converted to Islam, and Hufford, 54, was a white woman. Nolen allegedly killed Hufford in retaliation for being suspended when she complained about racial remarks he made while the two were on an assembly line. Nolen allegedly told her “I beat Caucasians” during an argument.

Prosecutors called their final witnesses on Wednesday and the trial recessed for the following two days. In recordings played for the jury Wednesday, Nolen is heard telling police investigators that the killing was justified because he felt “oppressed” as a Muslim.

“She just, you know, wanted to bring me down, like I couldn’t be me as a Muslim,” he said. “She want to bring me down low to the ground.”

Nolen admitted that he had watched videos on YouTube depicting beheadings all the time, The Oklahoman newspaper reported.

Nolen denied investigator questions over whether he was influenced by Muslims he knew from mosques or that he met in prison.

“Like I say, the Quran is easy to understand,” he said. “No one guides me but Allah.”

Nolen said he felt no remorse for the attack.

“I don’t feel regret because what I done, that’s probably going to make Vaughan Foods a better place to work at, if somebody was to come there who was a Muslim,” he said. “I don’t regret it at all.”

Nolen said he was sure he “was going to heaven” if he had died during the killing. He was shot and wounded by a company executive, stopping a subsequent attack on Traci Johnson, 46.

“He wouldn’t stop,” Johnson testified on Sept. 18. “He was just going back and forth like he was cutting up a piece of meat. I did not know what to do or think.”

Johnson testified that she needed surgery to repair damage to her jugular vein. She sustained severe cuts to her face, neck and finger.

From Courthouse News.

Oklahoma Police Shoot to Death a Deaf Latino Man

September 21, 2017
By David Lee

OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – Oklahoma City police admitted Wednesday that a Hispanic man who was shot to death in front of his home was deaf and could not understand their commands to drop a metal pipe.

Magdiel Sanchez, 35, was shot by one officer with a Taser and by another officer with a gun Tuesday night, police Capt. Bo Mathews told reporters. He acknowledged that neighbors had yelled at police that Sanchez could not hear before he was killed.

“In those very volatile situations where you have a weapon out, you can get what they call tunnel vision, where you can really lock in to just the person that has a weapon that would be the threat against you,” Matthews said at a news conference. “I do not know exactly what the officers were thinking at that point.”

The officer who fired the gun, Sgt. Chris Barnes, is on administrative leave pending investigation. He is an eight-year veteran of the force.

Matthews said an officer was investigating a reported hit-and-run collision at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday and a witness gave the address where the officer found Sanchez on the porch. He said the metal pipe Sanchez held was 2 feet long and had a leather loop on one end for wrapping around a wrist.

Matthews said the officer called for backup and Barnes arrived when Sanchez left the porch to approach the officers. They opened fire at the same time when Sanchez was about 15 feet away.

Matthews said neither officer had a body camera on. He does not know why Barnes used his gun instead of a Taser. He said Sanchez’s father was the suspected driver in the hit-and-run and confirmed to officers that his son was deaf. Sanchez was not in the car and has no known criminal history, Matthews said.

Julio Rayos, Sanchez’s neighbor, told The Oklahoman newspaper that Sanchez was developmentally disabled and did not speak, communicating through hand movements. Rayos speculated that Sanchez became frustrated trying to tell the officers what was going on.

“The guy does movements,” Rayos said. “He don’t speak, he don’t hear, mainly it is hand movements. That’s how he communicates. I believe he was frustrated trying to tell them what was going on.”

Sanchez’s death comes four months after a police officer in Tulsa was acquitted of first-degree manslaughter for shooting an unarmed black motorist who had his hands up and was walking away from her. Betty Shelby was found not guilty of shooting Terence Crutcher, but the jury said she was not “blameless” in his death and questioned whether she had “other options available” to subdue him, rather than kill him.

From Courthouse News.

EEOC Sues Texas Doctor for Religious Discrimination

September 21, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – A Dallas-area medical practice fired four employees for refusing to attend morning Bible discussions or after judging their personal lives, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Wednesday in a federal lawsuit.

The EEOC sued Dr. Tim Shepherd, of Lewisville, on behalf of former employees Almeda Gibson, Courtney Maldonado, Stacy O’Laughlin and Joshua Stoner. It claims Gibson, a Buddhist, made repeated requests for religious accommodation that were denied and that her requests to be excused from the religious portion of the required meetings were ignored.

“These meetings typically began each workday morning with a reading or study of Biblical verses and principles and included a discussion of how the religious principles could be related or applied to the personal lives of the employees,” the 9-page complaint states. “These mandatory meetings were usually led by the business owners, Dr. Timothy Shepherd or his wife Virginia Shepherd.”

The EEOC says Maldonado was “transferred” from clinical supervisor to medical assistant after she told the Shepherds that “she believed it was wrong to require employees to attend meetings at which a specific religion is discussed in such detail.” She was transferred to the new job a week later.

“The day after Ms. Maldonado’s transfer, the Shepherds called a meeting with Ms. Maldonado and the employees she had supervised as clinical supervisor and told the group that Ms. Maldonado had been removed from that position because she was not leading them property, was not following Christ, and was not seeing the Shepherd’s vision,” the complaint states.

“The following week, in early March 2016, Mrs. Shepherd called Ms. Maldonado and another employee into her office and told them both that they needed to be ‘more Godly’ and ‘wash the feet’ of others. Ms. Maldonado was fired on March 9, 2016.”

O’Laughlin was fired one month after Shepherd’s wife told her that being a single mother was “not what God wanted” for her, the complaint states.

Stoner was fired after he refused Ms. Shepherd’s “insistence that he attend premarital counseling because he was living with his girlfriend,” according to the EEOC.

The agency says it filed the lawsuit after trying to reach a pre-suit settlement through conciliation.

“Of course, employers and employees are not required to leave their own religious beliefs at home when they walk through the workplace door,” EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Meaghan L. Shepard said in a statement. “However, the law requires that employers reasonably accommodate requests to be excused from company-sponsored religious activities rather than firing employees who seek such accommodation.”

Shepherd’s office could not be reached for comment after office hours Wednesday.

The EEOC seeks an injunction, back pay, compensatory and punitive damages for religious discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

From Courthouse News.

CitiFinancial to Pay $907K for Seizing Soldiers’ Cars

September 18, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – CitiFinancial Credit has agreed to pay $907,000 to settle claims it illegally repossessed cars belonging to active-duty service members, federal prosecutors said Monday.

The Department of Justice says at least 164 cars were repossessed between 2007 and 2010 in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which shields members of the military from certain civil actions while they are serving.

“During the investigation, the Department learned that CitiFinancial conducted repossessions without court orders even when CitiFinancial had evidence in its own records suggesting that a borrower could be a protected servicemember,” prosecutors said in a statement. “In several cases, loan servicing notes indicated that CitiFinancial was informed that the borrower was in military service or had received orders to report for military service. CitiFinancial, nevertheless, continued repossession efforts and eventually succeeded in repossessing the servicemembers’ vehicles.”

The repossessions took place before CitiFinancial Credit sold its car lending and servicing business to the U.S. subsidiary of Spanish banking giant Banco Santander.

Dallas-based Santander Consumer USA settled similar allegations with federal prosecutors in 2015, agreeing to pay $9.4 million for illegally repossessing over 1,100 between 2008 and 2013.

Prosecutors say a court may delay repossession or require the refund of all or part of prior installments or deposits that a service member has already made.

“The court may also appoint an attorney to represent the servicemember, require the lender to post a bond with the court and issue any other orders it deems necessary to preserve the interests of all parties,” according to an eight-page complaint filed Monday in Dallas federal court. “By failing to obtain court orders before repossessing automobiles owned by protected servicemembers, defendant denied servicemembers their rights to obtain a court’s review of whether their repossessions should be delayed or adjusted to account for their military service.”

Under the terms of the settlement, each member of the military impacted by the repossessions will receive $5,000 and an additional $500 for subsequent lost equity and accrued interest.

CitiFinancial also agreed to have adverse information relating to the repossessions removed from the service members’ credit records.

“The men and women who serve in the armed forces deserve to have us protect their backs while they selflessly protect us,” said John Parker, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas. “This conduct clearly fell short of that and I’m grateful we were able to repair some of that harm.”

From Courthouse News.