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You Call Yourself a Plaintiff?

A recent case out of the Texas Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi decided the question of whether a wrongful death beneficiary residing in Texas may bring an action on behalf of a decedent who was a citizen of Mexico and for events that occurred in Mexico.  The Texas Supreme Court accepted the case but has not yet released an opinion.  Read more to learn about what may become a landmark case in Texas.

The Case:

In re Ford Motor Co., 2012 Tex. App. LEXIS 9684 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi Nov. 20, 2012, pet. granted)

The Facts:

A single-automobile accident occurred in Mexico involving Juan Mendez and Cesar Tueme and ultimately resulted in the death of Cesar Tueme. Both occupants of the vehicle were alleged to be citizens of Mexico. The Estate of Cesar Tueme was subsequently administered in Texas. Juan Mendez filed suit in the Texas probate proceeding against the Estate of Cesar Tueme based on improper maintenance of the vehicle.

A minor child and Texas resident of Cesar Tueme intervened through her mother, also a Texas resident, and brought wrongful death claims against both Ford and Michelin. The child and next friend alleged that tire failure caused the accident.

Ford and Michelin moved to dismiss the case under Section 71.051(b) of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code based, in part, on the argument that the decedent and wrongful death beneficiaries were treated as a single "plaintiff" under Section 71.051(e) of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code and that the residence of the decedent controls. Therefore, because the decedent was a resident of Mexico, all plaintiffs were considered residents of Mexico. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss and Ford and Micheli n filed a Writ of Mandamus.

The Corpus Christi Court's View of a "Plaintiff" under 71.051(e):

The Corpus Christi Court of Appeals did not view the definition of a "plaintiff" under Section 71.051(e) of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code as a single "plaintiff." Rather, the court looked to the definition of a "plaintiff" under Section 71.051(h)(2), which defined "expansively" a "plaintiff" as both the wrongful death beneficiary and the decedent. Based on this definition, the court held that, because at least one plaintiff was a Texas resident, the Motion to Dismiss was properly denied.

Proceedings in the Texas Supreme Court:

Ford and Michelin sought relief from the Texas Supreme Court. The Court accepted the petition and subsequently heard oral argument on December 3, 2013. At issue, ultimately, is the proper construction of Section 71.051. This author believes the Court will uphold the decision of the Corpus Christi Court of Appeals. As pointed out by that court, the language of Section 71.051(e) contemplates multiple plaintiffs, both residents and non-residents, and states that a court may not dismiss a case under Section 71.051(b) if the plaintiffs who are legal residents are properly joined in the case.

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