Tag Archives: statute of limitations

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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2009 – Taking the Big Fight to Court

On May 28, 2005, the Championship boxing match between Julio Cesar Chavez and Ivan Robinson was aired as a closed-circuit “pay per view” event, available only to those who had purchased authorization to access and broadcast it.  Special licensing requirements were imposed on commercial establishments who planned to publicize and broadcast the event in their theaters, arenas, bars, clubs and restaurants.  Steps were also taken to prevent unauthorized use by those who didn’t purchase a license or obtain permission to access the event.  The transmission of the event was electronically coded, or “scrambled”, requiring decoding with electronic decoding equipment in order for the signal to be clearly received and telecasted.

On the evening of the match, a Tarrant County business known as “Playmates” broadcast the boxing match to its patrons without obtaining a license to do so, violating federal cable piracy laws. Although J&J Sports Productions, the broadcast licensee of the Chavez/Robinson match, discovered this violation fairly quickly thereafter, they waited three and a half years to file a lawsuit. 

On December 30, 2008, the lawsuit was filed in the 352nd District Court of Tarrant County.  In the lawsuit, J&J sought damages of approximately $200,000, plus attorney’s fees.  They also sought a permanent injunction to prevent any further exhibition of unauthorized or unlicensed broadcasts by Playmates.

Approximately a year after the suit was filed, Playmates filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that J&J had waited too long to bring their action and that the lawsuit was barred by the statute of limitations.  The crux of the summary judgment dispute that presented itself to Judge Bonnie Sudderth was whether the federal 4-year statute of limitations would apply to the case, or whether the 2-year Texas statute of limitations would apply. 

Judge Sudderth ruled that Texas’ 2-year statute of limitations applied to the dispute.  In her ruling, Judge Sudderth explained that by choosing to file the lawsuit in state court, rather than federal court, J&J removed the binding effect of U.S. Fifth Circuit precedent, and, therefore, state law should apply. Therefore, even though Playmates had violated federal cable piracy laws, J&J waited too long to complain about it, and the lawsuit was dismissed.

Judge Sudderth’s decision was affirmed on appeal on September 23, 2010.

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