Virus Should Delay $30M Texas Trial, Real Estate Co. Says

By Cara Salvatore
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Law360 (August 25, 2020, 7:14 PM EDT) -- Lawyers for a large Houston apartment complex have urged a Texas judge to push back their $30 million trial next month against the company that sold them the property, saying that during the coronavirus pandemic there's "no reason anyone should get sick — or die — to resolve this."

Lawyers from Haynes and Boone LLP and Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, representing plaintiff Baron Real Property Holdings LLC, said in a filing Monday that the case over the real estate transaction, which is scheduled for a roughly three-week trial before Harris County District Judge Donna Roth, is "likely one of the most complex matters on this court's docket." They suggested it's not a good candidate for an in-person trial at a time when virtually all jury trials in the state are halted until Oct. 1 under an order from the Texas Supreme Court.

The suit against AMLI Residential Properties LP and BPMT Towne Square Partnership concerns the sale of a large apartment complex with allegedly serious property defects. The trial is set to begin Sept. 7.

The lawyers have requested a hearing for Thursday.

"While some have concluded that 'small socially distanced trials might work,' not even the most optimistic think 'complex or extended cases' should be tried. That should be especially so in Harris County, where the infection rate for COVID-19 exceeds 85 percent of all other Texas counties combined," Baron's counsel said.

The witnesses needed in the case are in Texas, Chicago, Denver and other places, and the trial will likely last at least three weeks, they said.

"It is, in other words, exactly the type of case that should not go forward amid the COVID-19 pandemic," the lawyers said.

Baron's lawyers also believe juror issues are likely to affect the fairness of the trial. Many jurors will not be able to show up because they are caring for children, parents or sick people, they said. Similarly, potential jurors of color may stay home because of concerns about the greater impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, they said.

Baron's lawyers asked a University of Texas epidemiologist, Dr. Catherine Troisi, to provide an opinion about whether the trial was safe. "It is my opinion that it is unlikely that there will be a meaningful reduction in COVID-19 cases in Harris County or Texas in general, in the month of September," she wrote. "Concerns are that the Labor Day holiday may lead to mass gatherings as well as the opening of schools will contribute to community spread."

The suit concerns a 380-apartment Houston complex called AMLI Towne Square. AMLI bought it in 2001 and sold it to Baron in 2012, but "hid material documents and information" concerning "significant defective conditions on the property of which defendants were fully aware," including chronic water leaks and wood infestations, Baron said in a 2018 pleading. Baron and affiliate TSquare Apts LLC renamed it The Standard on West Dallas.

Heavy rainfall in 2015 caused extensive property damage, Baron said.

Counsel for AMLI and BPMT were not immediately available for comment. Counsel for Baron declined to comment.

Baron is represented by Lynne Liberato, Kent Rutter and Chris Knight of Haynes and Boone LLP, and William Helfand and Shane Kotlarsky of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP.

AMLI and BPMT are represented by Jeremy Fielding, Michael Kalis, Anna Rotman and Sarah Williams of Kirkland & Ellis, and Craig Albert and Kartik Singapura of Cherry Petersen Landry Albert LLP.

The case is Baron v. AMLI, case number 201724217, in the 295th District Court of Harris County, Texas.

--Editing by Adam LoBelia.

Update: This story has been updated to reflect additional counsel.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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