Tag Archives: judgment

2002 – Reviving the Cullen Davis Case

In August of 1976, a lone gunman dressed in black entered the mansion owned by millionaire oilman T. Cullen Davis and shot four people, including Davis’ estranged wife Priscilla, who had legal possession of the home at the time, according to the terms of their pending divorce proceedings.  Two people survived the shootings, but Priscilla’ daughter, Andrea Willborn, and her boyfriend, Stan Farr, did not.

Cullen Davis, who was then said to be worth approximately $400 million, was indicted for the murders.  The next year, after a change of venue moved the case to Amarillo, Texas, Davis, at the time reported to be the “the richest man to stand trial on murder charges,” was acquitted of murder in one of the most notorious and globally-televised events of the decade. (Davis was also later acquitted of murder-for-hire charges in a separate case where it was alleged that he attempted to arrange for the presiding judge of his divorce action to meet an untimely and violent death as well.)

Davis was never tried in Farr’s death, but in 1990, he agreed to settle the wrongful death civil action which had been filed on behalf of Farr’s two teenage children.  In the settlement agreement, Davis agreed to pay the children $250,000.  The agreed judgment based on the settlement was entered on February 15, 1990, but the settlement was amended three years later to include a provision requiring Davis to pay the balance of the judgment by 1997.  The judgment was never paid.

On September 27, 2002, the children, who were by this time adults, filed a suit to recover the debt in the 352nd District Court, Judge Bonnie Sudderth presiding.  Davis responded by claiming that the statute of limitations barred the children’s claims against him – that he no longer legally owed the judgment because the children had waited too long to collect it.

Davis argued that the original judgment had become “dormant” on February 14, 2000 (ten years after the original judgment was signed) because the children had not sought a writ of execution of the judgment during the 10-year period of time. Texas law provides that judgments become dormant after 10 years if no writ of execution is issued.

However, Texas law also provides that a dormant judgment may be “revived” by filing a lawsuit on the debt if not brought later than the second anniversary of the date the judgment becomes dormant.  The problem, Davis pointed out, was that the children waited two years and seven months to bring the debt action, and, therefore, he contended, the debt was no longer owed.

The Farr children sought summary judgment, asking Judge Sudderth to rule that their claims were not time-barred, since they were both minors at the time the settlement was entered into.   Texas law stops the clock on limitations during a child’s minority years, if they are under the age of 18 at the time a cause of action accrues.

Judge Bonnie Sudderth agreed with the Farr children that their claims against Davis were not time-barred.  The effect of Judge Sudderth’s ruling affirmed that Davis still owed the Farr children $125,000 each, plus interest as provided by law.

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1999 – Parvin vs. Dean: Lawsuit for Death of Unborn Child

Judge Bonnie Sudderth granted summary judgment in favor of parents who suffered the death of their unborn child as the result of a car accident, on the following facts:  The mother of the child was struck by another vehicle while driving through an intersection.  The other driver stipulated that he was negligent in causing the collision and the woman was not at fault. 

Immediately after the collision, the woman, who was 9-months pregnant at the time, felt her baby kicking in the womb.  Although her water did not break and she had no bleeding, an ambulance took her from the accident scene to a hospital as a precautionary measure.  Her unborn child died in the womb en route to the hospital. 

The next day, knowing that her child was no longer alive and with her husband by her side, she endured more than nine hours of labor to deliver her stillborn daughter.  The undisputed medical evidence proved that the child was fully developed, viable and could have lived outside the womb immediately before the collision, she had the capacity to cry at the time of the collision, she was alive at the time of the collision but survived only for a short period of time thereafter, and, finally, that the collision was the cause of the child’s death.

 The law at the time this case was filed in the 352nd District Cout was that while Texas parents could recover for the wrongful death of a child who died only moments after birth, parents could not sue for the wrongful death for a child who was not born alive.  The law also provided that while the mother could recover for her own mental anguish due to the death of her daughter, the father could not recover for his mental anguish.

Judge Sudderth granted summary judgment, ruling that a viable unborn child was an “individual” within the scope of the Wrongful Death Act, and should not be excluded under the statute because she was not born alive.  Judge Sudderth also ruled that the father was entitled to the same rights as a mother to recover mental anguish damages for the loss of his child.

Judge Sudderth’s decision was appealed to the Second Court of Appeals, who, sitting en banc, upheld Judge Sudderth’s ruling.  Justice Dixon Holman authored the opinion, which can be found at:  Parvin v. Dean, 7 S.W.3d 264 (Tex. App. – Ft  Worth 1999).  In a subsequent unrelated case, the Texas Supreme Court criticized the Parvin v. Dean decision, but shortly thereafter the Texas Legislature amended the statute to codify this result.

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