LEON COUNTY JUDGE RULES BULLET TRAIN COMPANY CAN’T USE EMINENT DOMAIN ON ACCOUNT OF IT’S NOT REALLY A ‘RAILROAD’ YET
On Friday, the judge for Texas’s 87th District Court declared that Texas Central, the company planning a high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas, cannot use eminent domain to snatch up land within Leon, Freestone, or Limestone counties — 3 of the 10 counties that the train’s proposed 240-mile route is set to traverse. Texas law does allow “railroads” to use eminent domain in seizing land for projects, it’s just that Texas Central doesn’t actually count as a one in the court’s view because it hasn’t actually laid any track yet and doesn’t currently operate any trains. “Texas Central is appealing the Leon County judge’s decision,” the company tells the Chronicle‘s Dug Begley, “and meanwhile, it is moving forward on all aspects of the train project.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Map of proposed bullet train route: Texas Central
Think your street’s drainage is bad? Listen to this: In 2015, Kris Handoyo was heading north on Travis St. in the backseat of a Mazda when the downtown storm drain cover pictured above came loose and punched through the floorboard of the car, severing half of his right foot. Handoyo, a digital content employee of the Houston Rockets, filed a lawsuit against the city asking for up to $1.25 million in recompense. And this morning the city voted to give it to him. Well, some of it: After mediation, the parties had settled on $200,000.
The drain in question — shown above in the Travis St. bus lane just north of Clay St. — is still there, although the particular grate that impacted Handoyo has been removed and patched over with concrete. Many of its relatives remain in their asphalt habitats however, where they’ve been since the late ’90s and early 2000s.
And where neighbors in Downtown and Midtown have been complaining about them for at least a decade:
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The 2016 lawsuit that just last week resulted in a multi-million dollar judgment against Houston developer Urban Living isn’t the only litigation the firm’s caught up in right now. Since the beginning of the year, the same plaintiff, Preston Wood & Associates, has filed 4 more suits against the developer and its partners, alleging that at least 6 more Urban Living projects were based of derivatives of the design firm’s copyrighted townhome plans.
One of the projects, dubbed The Modern on Sabine, is shown at top on the corner of Sabine and Bingham streets. Another, The Modern on Austin, went up in place of a few row houses torn down at Austin and Tuam near the end of 2013:
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How exactly did lawyers for Preston Wood & Associates — the firm awarded $29 million from Urban Living and its partners yesterday for copyright infringement — come up with such a pricetag for the developer’s misdeeds? It all boils down to the number of times Urban Living shared versions of Preston Wood’s townhouse plans without including a credit to the firm.
Urban Living’s principal Vinod Ramani said in deposition that “somewhere between 8,000 and 15,000 emails” containing copycat images of Nagle Park Place — shown above — had been sent out. And a Google analytics report tallied up the number of times visitors had accessed the Urban Living website where Nagle marketing materials were presented to them. Each email and each transmission of a website image to viewer counts as a distinct violation under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. By the jury’s accounting, Urban Living distributed uncredited versions of Preston Wood’s work 11,516 times. Multiply that by the statutory penalty of $2,500 per violation, and you’ve got your grand total: $28,790,000.
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Show Your Work
Just this morning, a federal judge ordered developer Urban Living to pay nearly $28 million to Houston home design firm Preston Wood & Associates. Preston Wood sued Urban Living in 2016, claiming that the developer and its business partners made unauthorized use of copyrighted townhome plans Preston Wood had provided 2 years earlier.
The plans were used to build and market 5 developments — including Patterson Street Landing, shown at top just north of Wash Ave. Another, EaDo Place, went up on Polk between Nagle and Live Oak. in 2015:
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NINE HARRIS COUNTY POLLING PLACES MAKING UP FOR LATE STARTS WITH LATE ENDINGS
Texas civil rights groups wasted no time suing the county today over delays that kept polling places closed past their mandated 7 a.m openings. At John Marshall Middle School on Quitman St., “poll workers were locked out of the building until 6:47 a.m.,” reports the Texas Tribune‘s Alexa Ura. And when they got inside, technical problems stalled things even further. As decreed by a county judge, the location will now remain open an extra hour — until 8 p.m. — along with 8 other problem spots: Iglesia Trinidad church off Cypress Creek Pkwy., Metcalf Elementary at Queenston and Little York, Evelyn Thompson Elementary near Greenspoint, the Hampton Inn at Wash Ave and the Katy Fwy., the Fiesta Mart between Kirby and OST, the Allen Parkway Village community building, Lone Star College’s Cypress Center campus on Clay Rd., and HCC’s Alief Center on Bissonnet St. [Texas Tribune] Photo: Houston ISD
In a lawsuit it filed Friday against the City of Houston, the government contractor tasked with housing thousands of child immigrants across Texas, Arizona, and California says it’s got until October 28 to open the building it leased at 419 Emancipation Ave. — now preemptively dubbed Casa Sunzal — otherwise the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement will pull its funding for the planned facility.
The nonprofit’s biggest beef with the city (and in particular the Mayor, who grinned in June at the idea of a permitting “slow-walk” for the center) is that the compound shouldn’t be classified as a detention facility but rather a residential one. Yes, the company says in its filing, “children are verbally discouraged from leaving,” the campus, but they “are not physically restrained if they try to.” 240 kids ages “0 to 17,” were originally slated to shack up in the compound, according to the Chronicle’s Lomi Kriel. The majority of them — Southwest Key says now — would be minors that crossed the border by themselves, as opposed to those separated from their parents upon arrival in the U.S.
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Buc-ee’s scored a sweeping victory in Texas federal court last month when a judge found rival rest stop chain Choke Canyon guilty of 4 wrongs: trademark infringement, dilution, unfair competition, and unjust enrichment. But the battle might not be over: “Choke Canyon is expected to appeal,” reports Law360, “and Texas intellectual property experts say the store has a strong case that it was wrongly barred at trial from presenting key defense evidence.”
Among the facts unheard during the 4-day trial: findings from an expert Choke Canyon commissioned to ask 300 people what they thought of the logos’ similarity. 99 percent of them “said there was no likelihood of confusion,” between the two.
Then there are the images that went unseen during the jury’s deliberation. Within that 6-hour period, jurors’ first question to Judge Keith P. Ellison was whether they should compare the set of logos pictured above — which includes the brands’ names — or picture-only versions, like the ones shown below:
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Anatomy of the Case
BUC-EE’S VS. CHOKE CANYON: BATTLE OF THE ROADSIDE MASCOTS
The jury trial began yesterday in a federal lawsuit Buc-ee’s filed 3 years ago against Choke Canyon, a rival, San Antonio rest-stop chain with a cartoon alligator mascot Buc-ee’s claims is too similar to its own trademark grinning beaver. Buc-ee’s’s lawyer Tracy Richardson (who’s also on the legal team for the chain’s other ongoing infringement suit against Nebraska-based Bucky’s), reports the Chronicle’s Gabrielle Banks, kicked things off with a digital slideshow that chronicled the evolution of Choke Canyon’s gator species over time: “‘They put a human hat on the alligator,’ he said, ‘they opened his mouth. Then they made him stand, which — I’ve never seen an alligator stand.'” Couple that with the animals’ big eyes, red tongue, yellow background, and associated aquatic environs — said Richardson — and the likeness is confusing. (“You’re driving down the road at 80 miles per hour and you see a sign,” he said. “Did you really see what the logo was?”) Also at issue: Choke Canyon’s use of Buc-ee’s-like design elements in its stores, including a vaguely Alamo-like parapet front, stone siding, khaki-colored paint, and oversized bathrooms. (“We have large, clean bathrooms,” said Choke Canyon’s lawyer. “The last time I looked that’s not illegal.”) The jurors will be asked to decide “whether Choke Canyon set out to or actually did confuse customers with the overlap.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Logos: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas
A LAWSUIT OVER RIVERSTONE’S VANISHED LEVEE
More than 400 residents of Fort Bend County’s Riverstone development — between Hwy. 6 and the Brazos River — are suing the engineering firm that designed their stormwater systems, alleging that the design left one portion of the community flooded by the runoff from the other during Harvey. The roughly 3,700-acre area is divided into 2 Levee Improvement Districts — LID 19 (shaded blue on the map) and 15. “It became very clear when we passed into LID 15 that something was not right,” one LID 19 homeowner said in a press conference. “We were inundated with water in our neighborhood, and just on the other side of the street everything seemed to be perfectly fine.” Both LIDs were designed by Costello, Inc. the company founded by Houston’s flood czar Steve Costello. (He’s said he divested from it in 2015.) That firm’s failure to consider what would happen when a levee that ran between the 2 districts — along Hagerson Rd. — was removed is what downstreamers say is to blame for much of their soggy state. In total, reports the Chronicle’s Rebecca Elliott, about a third of the 1,760 homes in LID 19 flooded. [Houston Chronicle] Map of Riverstone LIDs 15 and 19: Riverstone LIDs
GARDEN OAKS MAINTENANCE ORGANIZATION LIKELY TO FILE FOR BANKRUPTCY ON ACCOUNT OF ALL THAT MONEY IT HAS IN THE BANK
The Garden Oaks Maintenance Organization has hired a law firm to handle an anticipated bankruptcy filing — which could come as soon as Monday, reports The Leader’s Jonathan McElvy. Two years ago, a lawsuit that the organization had filed to enforce its deed restrictions against a pair of homeowners backfired when the court ruled that GOMO itself had not been formed legally. (An appeals court has since ruled that it does still have power to enforce the neighborhood’s bylaws.) As a result, in the wake of the initial ruling, “every dollar GOMO spends now could be challenged in court,” writes McElvy. With close to $600,000 in its bank account, GOMO now appears to face 2 options, he notes: “Either the board disbands and lets a judge tell them how to disburse that money, or they try a legal maneuver that seeks a judge’s permission to reorganize, so they can continue operations as the gatekeeper of Garden Oaks.” If this story sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it is. GOMO’s predecessor entity was disbanded before the current organization began in 2001 because it was, McElvy says, “formed illegally, as well.” [The Leader; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Swamplot inbox
MONTROSE DISTRICT APPEALING JUDGE’S ORDER TO RETURN $6.6 MILLION IT COLLECTED FROM LOCAL BUSINESSES The new judge now in charge of the 5-year-old lawsuit against the 6-year-old Montrose Management District earlier this week affirmed the decision announced by his predecessor late last year — that the taxes the group imposed on the West Montrose Management District were not validly assessed, and that all $6.6 million should be returned to its payers — and parceled off a dispute about attorneys’ fees into a separate case. The final judgment clears the way for the district to appeal the ruling in state court, which it did yesterday. “The district stands by its position that it is operating within its legal charter granted by the State of Texas,” a statement put out by the organization reads. “No refunds for assessments collected in the West Montrose Management District (the only portion of the district under dispute in this legal action) will be made, pending the outcome of the current appeal.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Montrose Management District
2100 MEMORIAL’S EVICTION ORDER, COMPLETELY TRANSFORMED A statement from the Houston Housing Authority yesterday says it “is making every effort to comply” with a judge’s temporary restraining order issued last week ordering the public agency to fix the fire-safety systems at the 14-story 2100 Memorial senior living apartment complex, test the building’s electrical transformers, and replace them if necessary. Judge Daryl Moore also prohibited the authority from terminating the leases of any of its tenants without demonstrating better cause than it has. An estimated 80 percent of the former Holiday Inn’s residents have already moved out. [Houston Chronicle; more; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Realtor.com
2100 MEMORIAL RESIDENTS PROTEST BY PAYING THEIR RENT, STAYING HOME Singing “We shall not be moved,” a group of residents remaining at the 2100 Memorial senior-living apartments just west of Downtown marched into the 14-story building’s leasing office one by one today to deliver their rent checks, Florian Martin reports. A notice delivered 15 days ago to residents of the tax-credit facility owned by the Houston Housing Authority gave them 5 days to move out of the building, but a spokesperson later told Swamplot that the authority would not enforce that deadline. In the meantime, a lawsuit filed just before the move-out date seeking to force the authority both to make repairs to the electrical system and to allow residents to remain in their homes has been revised and expanded to 17 named resident plaintiffs. Flooding compromised the former Holiday Inn building’s fire-safety and electrical systems; the Housing Authority says it is working with residents to find them new places to live. [Houston Public Media; previously on Swamplot] Photo: 2100 Memorial
2100 MEMORIAL LAWSUIT: LET THESE PEOPLE STAY Three tenants of the Sixth Ward senior housing facility known as 2100 Memorial filed suit against the Houston Housing Authority on Friday, a day before Saturday’s unenforced deadline for all residents to leave the building. Acting for the tenants, Lone Star Legal Aid claims the agency violated the rights of the building’s residents by failing to hold a hearing in which tenants could contest the decision. The agency has not given residents “any evidence to support any of the allegations of unreasonable danger which rendered the apartments uninhabitable,” the lawsuit claims. Although the building’s first floor flooded, the tenants’ apartments suffered “little, or no, damage” from the storms, the lawsuit states. Lone Star Legal Aid claims the lawsuit means the HHA will now have to “produce the facts that support its decision.” [Lone Star Legal Aid; KHOU; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Realtor.com