Texas Judge Delays $30M Real Estate Trial Amid Virus Worries

By Cara Salvatore
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Law360 (August 27, 2020, 9:41 PM EDT) -- A Texas judge agreed Thursday to push back a $30 million real estate trial set for early September after the plaintiff raised extensive concerns about holding a jury trial amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a lawyer in the case.

Harris County Judge Donna Roth granted a continuance in the trial over alleged property defects not disclosed in the sale of a large Houston apartment complex, according to William Helfand of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, a lawyer for plaintiff and property buyer Baron Real Property.

Baron had argued in recent weeks that the coronavirus pandemic presented too great a danger to move forward with an in-person trial against property seller AMLI Residential Properties LP.

"Everyone involved has been working hard to get this case to trial," Helfand said Thursday, but "we reached a point at which the experts were telling us it was not safe." The team also had concern about being able to get a representative jury in a situation in which jurors are fearful to show up, according to Helfand, who said, "We appreciate the court's recognition."

The district court clerk was unavailable to confirm the development Thursday because of court disruptions from Hurricane Laura.

Helfand's team had provided supporting evidence from a University of Texas epidemiologist who had told the court in recent filings that, given the current levels of infection in the area and a low likelihood that they would decrease before trial, holding the trial would be a serious risk for all involved.

The trial, when it does happen, is expected to take about three weeks, according to filings. A rescheduled date was not immediately clear.

Virtually all jury trials in the state are halted until Oct. 1 under an order from the Texas Supreme Court, but this one had received an exception.

The suit against AMLI and BPMT Towne Square Partnership concerns the sale of a large apartment complex with allegedly serious property defects. AMLI bought the 380-apartment complex in 2001, naming it AMLI Towne Square, and conveyed it in 2012 to Baron affiliate and TSquare Apts LLC, who renamed it The Standard on West Dallas.

But AMLI allegedly "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. Heavy rainfall in 2015 caused extensive property damage, Baron said.

A representative for AMLI and BPMT was not immediately available for 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 Real Property v. AMLI, case number 201724217, in the 295th District Court of Harris County, Texas.

--Editing by Amy Rowe.

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

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