In re Hurricane Rita Evacuation Bus Fire

Decision Date06 March 2006
Docket NumberNo. 05-1073.,05-1073.
Citation216 S.W.3d 70
CourtTexas Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation

Justice PEEPLES delivered the opinion for a unanimous Multidistrict Litigation Panel.

Before us is a motion to appoint a pretrial judge for six lawsuits, pending in two counties, which arise from one common incident. For the reasons stated below, we grant the motion without an oral hearing. See rule 13.3(k). A pretrial judge has been appointed by separate order.

On September 22, 2005, as Hurricane Rita approached the southeast Texas gulf coast, defendant Brighton Gardens evacuated some of the residents from its assisted living and health care facility in Houston, placing them on a bus that had been chartered through defendant Global Charter Services. Early the next day, the bus caught fire near Dallas, causing the death of twenty-three persons and injuring several others. Six lawsuits arising from this incident have been filed in state court— four in Hidalgo County and two in Harris County. Two other cases have been filed in federal court. The defendants have asked this panel to consolidate the eight state cases for pretrial proceedings before one judge. Several of the plaintiffs have objected to that request; one firm representing plaintiffs does not object, provided that a pretrial judge from Houston is chosen.

Administrative rule 13 empowers the MDL Panel to transfer related cases (i.e. those involving one or more common questions of fact) from trial courts in different counties to a single pretrial court for coordinated pretrial handling. The pretrial court's authority over transferred cases is extensive and complete. See Rule 13.6. From time to time, as the pretrial court concludes that cases are ready for trial, it will remand them to the original trial courts for trial in the county of venue. See Rule 13.7.

The MDL panel may order transfer if it will (1) serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses and (2) promote the just and efficient conduct of the litigation. See Rule 13.3. The movant need not show that anyone has already been inconvenienced or that there are existing problems to be addressed. See In re Silica Products Liability Litigation, 166 S.W.3d 3 (Tex. M.D.L. Panel 2004). Instead we must simply be convinced that transfer to a pretrial judge would promote Rule 13's goals of convenience and efficiency.

These cases arise from one common event, and no one has seriously denied that the liability issues in each of them will be substantially the same. We recognize that different attorneys will develop and try their cases differently, that not every defendant before us has been sued in every case, that different expert witnesses may be involved, and that the damages will differ from case to case, as they always do. But the lawyers will be examining the same large pool of employees and fact witnesses. At the least, the witnesses will include those who dealt with the bus as it made its way from South Texas to Houston and then toward Dallas, those who witnessed the fire itself, those who responded to the scene to provide rescue and medical care, and those who investigated it. When rule 13 voices its concern for efficiency and for the convenience of parties and witnesses, it has such persons in mind. While none of them have yet been subjected to conflicting demands or repetitive discovery, we conclude that assigning one pretrial judge to handle the cases arising from this one tragic event will further rule 13's laudable goals of efficiency and convenience.

Plaintiffs argue that many of them are not similarly situated. Some plaintiffs, for example, were receiving healthcare at Brighton Gardens, and on some causes of action they may have to comply with the statutory rules for healthcare claims. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ch. 74. Other plaintiffs may have been on the job for their employers during the incident and may therefore face workers compensation issues that other plaintiffs do not. There may indeed be differences. But every case is different. No two cases are alike. A rule 13 transfer of cases does not require that the cases be congruent or anything close to it. It requires only that cases be "related"—i.e. that they involve one or more common questions of fact—and that transfer will serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses and promote the just and efficient conduct of the litigation.

Because these criteria are overwhelmingly shown in this group of lawsuits arising from the same event, the Motion to Transfer is granted.



The Joint Motion for Transfer, filed by Sunrise Senior Living Services, Inc. et al., under the Texas Rules of Judicial Administration, is granted. Pursuant to Administrative rule 13, the causes listed on the First Amended Appendix A of the Joint Motion for Transfer, attached hereto and incorporated herein for all purposes, and tag-along cases if any, are transferred to Judge Rose Guerra Reyna of the 206th District Court of Hidalgo County.


Re: No. 05-1073; In Re: Hurricane Rita Evacuation Bus Fire

                  Mr. Andrew Weber, Clerk
                  Supreme Court of Texas
                  Supreme Court Building
                  201 West 14th, Rm. 104
                  Austin, Texas 78701
                  Dear Mr. Weber

Enclosed for filing in the above-referenced cause are four copies of the First Amended Appendix A to the Joint Motion to Transfer Pursuant to Texas Rule of Judicial Administration 13, which was filed on December 20, 2005. An electronic version of the enclosed First Amended Appendix is also being transmitted to Ms. Claudia Jenks of your office.

Please file-stamp the enclosed extra copy of this document and return it in the self-addressed, postage-paid stamped envelope for our file.

By copy of this letter, all counsel of record are being provided a copy of the enclosed motion.

Thank you for your assistance.

                cc: Justice David Peeples                     nd

Floor Houston, Texas 77019 Dick DeGuerin DeGuerin, Dickson & Hennessy Kenneth Tekell State Bar No. 19764000 Tekell, Book, Matthews & Limmer 1221 McKinney, Suite 4300 Houston, Texas 77010 Amanda S. Hilty Ronald L. Bair

                1018 Preston, 7th Floor
                Houston, Texas 77002
                Frank Costilla
                Law Offices of Frank Costilla, PPLC
                Five East Elizabeth Street
                Brownsville, Texas 78520
                Larry D. Warren
                Mark A. Cooper
                Ball & Weed, P.C
                745 East Mulberry Avenue, Suite 500
                San Antonio, Texas 78212-3191
                Craig Vittitoe
                Adams & Graham, L.L.P
                222 East Van Buren, West Tower
                Harlingen, Texas 78550
                Jim M. Perdue, Jr
                Joe N. Perdue
                Priscilla Walters
                The Perdue Law Firm, LLP
                2727 Allen Parkway, Suite 800
                Houston, Texas 77019
                Michael Garza
                Garza & Vela, LLP
                Texas State Bank Tower
                3900 North 10th Street, Suite 950
                McAllen, Texas 78501
                John Dacus
                HARTLINE, DACUS, BARGER, DREYER &amp
                KERN, LLP
                6688 N. Central Expressway, Suite 1000
                Dallas, Texas 75206
                Darrell L. Barger
                KERN, LLP
                One Shoreline Plaza, Suite 2000
                800 North Shoreline Blvd.
                Corpus Christi, Texas 78401
                The Bair Law Firm, P.C.
                14711 Pebble Bend Drive
                Houston, Texas 77068
                Eduardo Roberto Rodriguez
                Mitch Chaney
                Rodriguez, Colvin, Chaney & Saenz, L.L.P.
                1201 East Van Buren
                P.O. Box 2155
                Brownsville, Texas 78520
                J. A. "Tony" Canales
                Canales & Simonson, P.C.
                2601 Morgan Avenue
                P.O. Box 5624
                Corpus Christi, Texas 78465-5624
                Richard Warren Mithoff
                Mithoff Law Firm
                Penthouse, One Allen Center
                500 Dallas, Suite 3450
                Houston, Texas 77002
                Michael L. Brown
                Brown & Adkins
                712 Main Street, Suite 2120
                Houston, Texas 77002
                Mark E. Enright
                ARNSTEIN & LEHR, LLP
                120 S. Riverside Plaza, Suite 1200
                Chicago, IL 60606-3910
                Charles Lyman
                FERRELL, PC
                1221 McKinney Street, Suite 3600
                Houston, Texas 77010


                1. Cause No. C-2365-05-F; Aggie Foster,
                   on Behalf of the Person and Estate
                   of Lillie Spies v. Global Limo, Inc.,
                   Global Charter Services, Inc., d/b/a
                   "The BusBank", and Century MCT
                   Charter Tours, Inc., Global Limo, Inc.,
                   and Juan Robles Gutierrez; In the
                   398th Judicial District Court of Hidalgo
                   County, Texas ("Foster")

The following counsel have appeared to date in this litigation:

                Robert Luke
                SBN: 00789463
                Ron Simon
                SBN: 00788421
                Simon & Luke, LLP
                2929 Allen Parkway, 42nd Floor
                Houston, Texas 77019
                713/335-4949 (fax)
                Counsel for Plaintiff Aggie Foster, on
                Behalf of the Person and Estate of Lillie
                Dick DeGuerin
                SBN: 05638000
                DeGuerin, Dickson & Hennessy
                1018 Preston, 7th Floor
                Houston, Texas 77002
                713/223-9231 (fax)
                Counsel for Plaintiff Aggie Foster, on
                Behalf of the Person and Estate of Lillie

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