Slack & Davis Featured in Class Action Reporter: Farmers Insurance Suit Over Smart Plan Auto Program

As featured in two separate articles for Class Action Reporter, Partners Mike Slack and John Davis, together with the Law Offices of Joe K. Longley and Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein, LLP filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division against Farmers Insurance Group over its Smart Auto Program. The lawsuit alleges that the insurance company offered sizable discounts for new subscribers, unfairly and illegally discriminated against current policyholders and violated the Texas Insurance Code.

The article explains that Farmers Group, Inc. selectively lowered insurance policies in favor of new policyholders while existing policyholders continued to pay higher rates, despite policy changes that mandate lower rates. The class action seeks all damages and/or restitution associated with unfair discrimination; award of attorneys’ fees; expert witness fees and costs; recovery of monies recovered for or benefits; statutory penalties and pre-judgment and post-judgment interest for violation of the Texas Insurance Code.

To read a more detailed summary of the case, please visit the firm’s Farmers Insurance blog post and FAQ page.

Pirkey Barber Adds Two Experienced Trademark Attorneys

Pirkey Barber PLLC has announce that Austin trademark attorneys Anna Kuhn and Kate Swint have joined the firm.

Kuhn’s practice has specialized in trademark law for 20 years, and she joins Pirkey Barber as Senior Counsel.  The San Antonio native received her J.D. from Yale Law School after earning a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Texas at Austin. She began her career in the Dallas office of Baker Botts LLP and was a senior in-house trademark and copyright attorney at Dell Inc., a longtime client of Pirkey Barber, before launching the Law Office of Anna Kuhn.

Swint also practices in the field of trademark and copyright law and joins Pirkey Barber as an Associate. She previously worked with Kuhn at her firm and teaches copyright law at St. Mary’s University School of Law. Swint earned her J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law and is also a graduate of the University of the Texas at Austin where she received a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology.

“We are extremely honored and excited to have Anna and Kate join our firm,” said Pirkey Barber Managing Member Steve Meleen. “I have known and worked with Anna for years, and she epitomizes everything we look for in a Pirkey Barber lawyer. We’ve been fortunate more recently to get to know and work with Kate. We have tremendous respect for them and their work, and we share a strong commitment to providing excellent client service. They are great additions to our team.”

Founded in 2006, Pirkey Barber now has 22 attorneys, making it one of the largest trademark and copyright law firms in the United States.

Carey Gunn Venditti joins DLA Piper’s Real Estate Practice

DLA Piper has announced that Carey Gunn Venditti has joined the firm’s Real Estate practice as a partner in the Austin office.

Venditti advises investors, developers and owners of commercial, mixed-use, multifamily, office, retail, planned-community and condominium projects. She focuses her practice on the acquisition, disposition, financing and development of land and the purchase, sale, financing, leasing, operation and administration of income-producing properties, and has been involved in major projects representing both regional and national clients.

“Carey has an impressive real estate background and is well respected throughout the industry, particularly regarding mixed-use urban development and public-private partnerships,” said John Sullivan, chair of DLA Piper’s US Real Estate practice. “Texas continues to be an active market for our clients, and Carey will be a great addition to our Texas practice and our national and international real estate platform.”

“The Urban Land Institute recently named Austin as the top real estate market to watch, and Carey’s arrival reflects our commitment to this growing area and its diverse economy,” said John Gilluly, regional managing partner of DLA Piper’s Texas offices.

Venditti was recently selected to serve as the chair of the Austin District for the Urban Land Institute, an organization dedicated to providing leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide.

Venditti is the latest addition to DLA Piper’s Austin office, following Caryn Smith, who joined the firm’s Tax practice earlier this month. Venditti joins the firm from Greenberg Traurig where she was a shareholder. She received her J.D. from The Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law and her B.A. from The University of Texas at Austin.

Austin-Based FloSports Hires Paul Hurdlow as Senior Vice President – General Counsel

FloSports , the innovator in live digital sports and original content, announced the hire of Paul Hurdlow as Senior Vice President and General Counsel.

Hurdlow joins FloSports after serving in various regional and national leadership positions in DLA Piper’s emerging company practice, where he provided broad legal and strategic advice to growth companies in a range of industry sectors.

Hurdlow comes to FloSports with more than 30 years of experience, including 23 years at DLA Piper where he served as FloSports’ lead outside counsel for the past eight years. In addition to establishing the firm’s now-prominent office in Austin, Texas, Hurdlow founded DLA Piper NEST in 2014, an innovative program designed to serve the specific needs of early-stage, high-growth companies, from formation to funding and beyond. At DLA Piper, Hurdlow represented growing clients ranging from early-stage startups to publicly traded companies. He is highly experienced in private and public corporate finance and strategic transactions involving substantial intellectual property rights.

“ The sports media landscape is rapidly evolving and we need elite talent to help us capitalize on the opportunities most vital to our business ,” FloSports co-founder and CEO Martin Floreani said. “For several years, Paul and the team at DLA Piper have been an indispensable resource to us. We’re excited and honored to have him join our senior management team in a full-time capacity. He’s advised a lot of high growth clients during his distinguished career, and we expect him to be a huge asset for FloSports.”

“While working with FloSports, I’ve had the opportunity to develop a great relationship with the team and grow a passion for the business,” Hurdlow said. “Seeing the company’s growth, the evolving complexities of the industry, and the potential to lead a media transformation, I feel like this is an incredible opportunity I can’t pass up. Plus…sports!”

“I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have worked with the outstanding team at DLA Piper. I could not have pursued this exciting venture with FloSports had my partners and colleagues at my firm not helped me realize my dream of building Austin’s leading emerging company practice. I look forward to cheering the firm’s continued success from the perspective of a valued client.”

Hurdlow is consistently recognized by industry sources and peers as a leading attorney in the venture capital, corporate, and merger and acquisitions areas. Outside of work, he is a passionate supporter of philanthropic and public benefit companies and foundations. Hurdlow co-founded the influential Austin Entrepreneurs Foundation in 1998, and continues to serve on its board of directors.

Austin Bar Issues Statement on the Proposed Elimination of Funding for the Legal Services Corporation

What follows is a statement from the Austin Bar about this recent development:

On March 6, 2017 the Trump Administration revealed a federal budget proposal that would eliminate funding for the Legal Services Corporation. The Austin Bar Association joins the American Bar Association and countless local and state bars from across the country in renouncing this proposed action.

The LSC ensures equal justice under the law by enabling access to the justice system for vulnerable citizens and provides the backbone for America’s civil legal-aid and pro bono system. According to the American Bar Association, the number of people qualifying for legal assistance has increased about 25% over the past decade, but funding is down 17.7% since 2010. Legal aid assists nearly 1.9 million Americans annually, including military and veterans, senior citizens, rural residents, women (nearly 70% of clients), and natural-disaster victims. Sadly, 50-80% of clients are turned away due to a lack of resources.

Texas has three LSC grantees: Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Legal Aid of Northwest Texas, and Lone Star Legal Aid. Texas LSC grantees assisted over 131,000 Texans in 2017, including over 58,500 children. Approximately 6 million Texans, over 20% of the state’s population, are eligible for legal aid.The poverty population has increased by nearly 1.3 million people since 2000. The state currently receives $31,196,205 in federal funding from the LSC. This funding accounts for 54% of Texas’s total legal-aid dollars. Any reduction at the federal level will impact Texas more acutely than many other states.

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, in his address to the 85th Texas Legislature on February 1, 2017 said, “The justice system must be accessible to all. Justice only for those who can afford it is neither justice for all nor justice at all. The rule of law, so revered in this country, has no integrity if its promises and protections extend only to the well-to-do.”

Austin attorneys, along with attorneys from across Texas and the U.S., generously donate countless hours of time and services to pro bono clients, but pro bono work alone is a poor substitute for federal legal-aid funding. Access to the judicial system, the third branch of government and the bedrock of a free democracy, remains for all Americans–not just those who can afford to pay for an attorney–a fundamental right of American democracy.

The proposed elimination of all funding for the LSC is an affront to our democracy and to the legal system upon which it is based. The Austin Bar Association is proud to support the LSC and is deeply committed to serving the citizens of Austin and Central Texas to ensure equal access of justice for all.

Apple Named in Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Crash on I-35

FaceTime was cited in a lawsuit as a factor in the death of a 5-year-old girl in a car accident on I-35 in Texas. 

A California couple has filed a wrongful lawsuit against Apple alleging that the company’s failure to lockout its application FaceTime, from users operating vehicles, led to the death of their daughter.

The crash that resulted in the death of the 5-year-old girl happened on Christmas Eve, 2014. Her family’s vehicle was rear-ended by a 22-year-old man who was using FaceTime while driving. The crash injured the plaintiff, his wife and one daughter. Their second child, in the backseat of the car at the time of the collision, died as a result of her injuries. When police arrived at the scene of the fatal crash, FaceTime was still active on the young man’s iPhone.

“Here’s where Apple comes into the picture,” said lawyer Brooks Schuelke, an Austin personal injury not involved in this case. “In 2008, Apple designed technology to prevent a FaceTime user activating the app if the GPS indicated a vehicle was travelling at a certain speed.”

Court documents allege that Apple failed to implement a safer, alternative design that locked FaceTime users from the application while driving.

The technology to limit access to an application based on speed recorded by GPS, is widely used. For example, most cars with video display consoles do not allow the consoles to be changed or modified while the vehicle is in motion. “Which also begs the question why someone would drive and be using FaceTime while doing so. It is definitely distracted driving,” said Schuelke.

 

Attorney: Will Austin Come Crawling Back To Uber And Lyft?

Attorney Anne Milligan of Fisher and Phillips recently wrote a blog post about the controversy over Austin and the ride-sharing services:

“”The sharing economy has become so entrenched in our vocabulary and culture, it’s hard to remember when exactly the romance began. For Uber, the story started on a ‘snowy Paris evening in 2008‘ when two tech dudes had trouble convincing a chauffeur de taxi to rescue them from the elements. And thusly the biggest of the ride-sharing giants was born in 2009. Way back when, it wasn’t 50 Shades of late-model Nissan Sentra—it was all black Lincoln Town Cars, all day long.

“But as with any real-life romance, eventually the fanciness fades and the five-star dinners and flowers fade to Endless Apps™ and Netflix. With Uber and Lyft, there were growing pains, competing desires, and unexpected twists—passionate arguments for and against the companies, from cities, cab unions, and people who were just sick of getting stuck in the snow.

“Much like John Cusack’s character in 1989’s classic Say Anything…, Uber and Lyft showed up with a boombox and a whole bunch of independent contractors, even in cities where they were explicitly banned, hoping to woo the cities over to giving them a permanent place in the heart of the city.

“Austin was one such city. After being locked in a regulatory battle with the city over whether it would even be allowed to operate in city limits, ride-sharing service Uber announced in June 2014 that it was showing up, and it wasn’t leaving until the City came outside to talk about its feelings. Flash forward to December 2015, and it looked like Austin was ready to say yes to the proverbial dress—with one hefty condition. All drivers would have to undergo a fingerprint-based criminal background check. For Uber and Lyft, that was the relationship equivalent of being asked to lose fifty pounds and quit smoking. And with that, the two car sharing platforms packed their bags, knowing that one day—Austin would know what they missed out on.

“In the months that followed, news outlets touted the micro-ride share companies that filtered into the mix, a seemingly perfect pairing to the City’s microbreweries and burgeoning micro-apartment fix. Austin was blasting that new relationship all over the (social) media, and news outlets looked to cities like Austin as evidence that there was “life after Uber. And it’s pretty good.” One sharing economy expert even said that “It’s a really helpful place where we’ve been able to hit the hold button on Uber and Lyft and say — what else is possible? What else might happen?” (read: I’m really happy about this breakup, I can really grow as a person, you know?)

“Times change; people change; cities change. Austin’s micro-Uber alternatives faced their first, big test at this year’s SxSW (an annual ten day conference/festival that the really cool people claim isn’t cool anymore, but that still draws 72,000 registrants and artists each year). It doesn’t take a gambling man to say that the micro-Ubers of Austin weren’t ready to take on the once-a-year burden of most of the population of Asheville, North Carolina (population 88,512) or Bloomington, Indiana (population 84,067), just like it doesn’t take much analysis to safely say that the ultimate result of Austin’s rejection of Uber and Lyft was a literal meltdown.

“Enough time has passed now, and Austin doesn’t have to keep doing wrong to prove that it was right a year ago. One of the many great things about Austin—whose downtown ZIP code has the most bars per capita than any other ZIP code in the country—is that its citizens are equally committed to a cold, cheap PBR as they are a local microbrew. Lyft, Uber, and the City’s unique micro ride-sharing companies can exist amongst each other. This author hopes Austin will give John Cusack another chance.”

Austin Young Lawyers Association Holds 3rd Annual Runway for Justice

The Austin Young Lawyers Association Foundation is sponsoring a fashion show to benefit the Women’s Resource Fair, which provides food, clothing, medical care, hygiene care, childcare and job assistance to over 300 low-income women in Travis County.

The 3rd Annual Runway for Justice will be held on Thursday, March 23, at 800 Congress Ave.  Austin, from 6:00 – 9:30 p.m. and will showcase men and women lawyers modeling casual, business and evening looks.  Champagne, cocktails and hors d’oeuvres will be served, and all guests will receive a SWAG bag. Claude Ducloux and Karen Burgess will emcee the event.

Clothes by: Estilo Boutique, Z Couture, Wally’s Menswear.

Accessories by: Ruby & Violet, Embellish Boutique, and Jackie Padilla of Stella and Dot.

Hair and makeup for models by Ritual Salon and Tiffany Taylor.

Onsite makeup for attendees by Blast Blowdry Bar.

Tickets to Runway for Justice are $60 per person. Purchase tickets at www.ayla.org.

Members of the media are invited to attend. Please contact Debbie Kelly, Debbie@austinbar.org, to arrange for a press pass.

Runway for Justice helps fund the Women’s Resource Fair which provides the following services:

·       Medical services, including mammograms, pap smears, well women exams and wellness visits

·       Confidential legal assistance with family law, child custody, domestic violence and protective orders, criminal cases, immigration, estate planning and consumer issues

·       Mental health services

·       Social services and shelter referrals

·       Job skills, education and employment counseling

·       Debt and credit counseling

·       Clothing closet and haircuts

One woman, molested as a child and placed into foster care by Child Protective Services, put herself through school to be a private investigator while working several jobs.  After being laid off and abandoned by her husband, she and her son became homeless.  Her life changed after attending the Women’s Resource Fair. “I peeked into the main room of service providers, where a woman from Dress for Success was talking about jobs and interviews. I wondered, “Where is Dress for Success?” Maybe there I will find help, and indeed I did. Dress for Success outfitted me in interview suiting, which I wore out of the boutique. From there, I drove to downtown Austin and knocked on the doors of many attorneys to offer my Private Investigative Services. Without a business card or a website, I became an entrepreneur overnight.  Four years later, I am one of 40 private investigators in Texas who own their own firm.”

Managing Partners Forum Set for Thursday

The next meeting of the Austin Managing Partners Forum (MPF) will take place on March 23, 2017 at Graves Dougherty Hearon & Moody from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. 

This event is being billed as “the perfect opportunity to network with a diverse group of Austin’s law firm managing partners and discuss issues you regularly face.”

Brenda Barnes, Managing Principal of B2 Management & Consulting will moderate a panel of your esteemed colleagues talking about something that’s always on the mind of Managing Partners: Succession Planning.  You’ll hear from Joe Basham of Allensworth & Porter, Steve Wood of Thompson Coe, and Ed McHorse of Graves Dougherty. They’ll talk about their experiences with succession planning within their respective firms and offer insights that you can consider for your own firm.

If you are a Managing Partner and you would like to register, visit:

http://r20.rs6.net/tn.jsp?f=001_Q_FwFosGW1BbKA35EHVCS3iHtMDCN7gGQGqnUjzSLx06vw18U38d6W0JM8qL_Mr9Zzu8s1lRI9H7hAEsCPXQbcULpiCTp1igKH-_TK-UHey8TibjPekaGyk9u6_eF8d-_hADxiC_Xau1pdQw29U3ZxJ5Brr8BclTEZ7yFVnXpOJf1e05Li9QrNSNOqg5QBs6kG5S4BrnyRHLu1A-gLjg3maS06C7hu-tYos4YbnqMH3Z9FqcHUotGpWZFe8IfBgxNBWvqQlNud5z8iqPu6lJA==&c=mnNtX0p4tMHSXpWjLqQjY9oU70NAnAZW2h1PbaOlghLyEolLj85wPw==&ch=dnLNueT8sMwHkT81IgJlmpWm6JLZR19oaQ5F38oWEUV67lvU3lm5qw==

Please direct any questions to Clare Chachere at cchachere@slackdavis.com