Photo of Heath Coffman

Heath Coffman is a shareholder at Brackett & Ellis, P.C. in Fort Worth, Texas.  His practice includes commercial litigation, intellectual property, collections, professional malpractice defense, fiduciary litigation, and appeals.  You can contact him directly at hcoffman@belaw.com.

Most cases that have evaluated the Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA) have focused on whether the TCPA applied to the claims.  This isn’t the issue in Neurodiagnostic Consultants, LLC v. v. Nallia, No. 03-18-00609-CV, 2019 WL 4231232 (Tex. App.—Austin Sept. 6, 2019, no pet. h.).  Instead, Nalia focuses on whether the non-movant offered sufficient proof to defeat a TCPA motion to dismiss.
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One of the most difficult things about litigating a trade secrets case is how to handle the introduction of evidence containing the trade secret.  The party obviously does not want this information divulged in open court or filed as a public record.  Thus, to get around this problem, the party must file a motion to seal the records with the trial court.

Many litigators believed that the Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act’s (TUTSA) provision on sealing court records provided an efficient means to obtain such an order:
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Over the past several months, I’ve been tracking the explosion of cases where a defendant uses Texas’s anti-SLAAP statute the Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA) as a defense to a misappropriation of trade secrets claim under the Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act (TUTSA).  The Beaumont Court of Appeals case in Callison v. C&C Pers., LLC, No. 09-19-00014-CV, 2019 WL 3022548(Tex. App.–Beaumont July 11, 2019, no pet. h.) is another one of those cases.  Callison involves the familiar fact pattern of an employee accused of acquiring her former employee’s trade secrets and then using those trade secrets to solicit her former customers.  In defense to those claims, the employee filed a motion to dismiss under the TCPA.  The trial court denied employee’s motion by operation of law.  The Beaumont Court of Appeals affirmed.
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The Dallas Court of Appeals opinion in Damonte v. Hallmark Financial Services, Inc., No. 05-18-00874-CV, 2019 WL 3059884 (Tex. App.–Dallas July 12, 2019) is the latest in a string of cases restricting the application of the Texas’s anti-SLAAP statute the Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA).  In this case, Hallmark sued Damonte, its former employee, for breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, and violations of the Texas Uniform Trade Secret Act (TUTSA) after employees were found to be emailing themselves proprietary information in the weeks immediately before his departure.  In response, Damonte filed a motion to dismiss under the TCPA, alleging that Hallmark’s lawsuit was based on, relates to, or in response to his rights of free speech and association. 
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As previously discussed, the current version of the Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA) can apply in a variety of commercial litigation cases.  One of the exceptions to application of the TCPA, though, is the commercial speech exemption.  Under the commercial speech exemption, the TCPA does not apply if (1) the defendant was primarily engaged in the business of selling or leasing goods, (2) the defendant made the statement or engaged in the conduct on which the claim is based in the defendant’s capacity as a seller or lessor of those goods or services, (3) the statement or conduct at issue arose out of a commercial transaction involving the kind of good or services the defendant provides, and (4) the intended audience of the statement or conduct were actual or potential customers of the defendant for the kind of goods or services the defendant provides.

The new Dallas Court of Appeals case of Clean Energy and Clean Energy Fuels Corp. v. Trillium Transportation Fuels, LLC, No. 05-18-01228, (Tex. App.—Dallas July 9, 2019, no pet. h.) interprets the third prong of this exemption.
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Almost every trade secrets case involves some sort of request for injunctive relief prohibiting the alleged infringer from using the trade secrets at issue.  If the court grants the request for injunctive relief and you are the party accused of misappropriating the trade secret, you want to have some specificity in the court’s order so you can know the specific trade secrets you a prohibiting from using.
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Texas Tech School of Law professor and my former colleague at Brackett & Ellis Rob Sherwin co-wrote a new law review article with Haynes and Boone attorney Laura Lee Prather.   The article discusses the Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA) and the changes to the TCPA that went into effect on September 1, 2019.
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In one of my previous posts, I mentioned how the Fort Worth Court of Appeals restricted the scope of Texas’s anti-SLAAP statute the Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA) by determining that the “common interest” in the definition of “right of association” under the TCPA requires interests that are “shared by the public or at least a group.”  This is a holding that arguably conflicts with other courts of appeals that have held that the “right of association” is implicated in situations where alleged tortfeasors are working together to further a competing business or other interest “common” to the tortfeasors.
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As discussed in previous posts, multiple Texas cases have held that Texas’s anti-SLAAP statute the Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA) applies in most commercial litigation cases. In a recent string of decisions, though, the Dallas Court of Appeals is attempting to restrict the application of the TCPA to commercial litigation cases.
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If you have been following this blog, you know that a frequent topic is the application of Texas’s anti-SLAAP statute–the Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA)–to the Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act.  In cases such as Craig v. Tejas Promotions, LLC, 550 S.W.3d 287 (Tex. App.–Austin 2018, pet. filed) and Elite Auto Body LLC v. Autocraft Bodywerks, Inc., 520 S.W.3d 191 (Tex. App.–Austin 2017, pet. denied), the Austin Court of Appeals held that a petition alleging that two conspirators are working together to misappropriate a competitor’s trade secrets implicates the right of association prong of the TCPA.  In a surprising new opinion, though, the Fort Worth Court of Appeals indicates that it is not going to follow these holdings.
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