Justice Put Out of Reach

   I recently filed a personal injury case in Grimes County against the Navasota Walmart. The facts are that an elderly Grimes Co. Resident shopping at Walmart for her Church fell and sustained a very serious closed head injury from which she will never recover. Prior to suit being filed, I tried my very best to open a dialogue with Walmart and I asked repeatedly to see its surveillance video footage. This was to no avail. There was no alternative other than to file suit.
    What was Walmart’s response to the suit? They “removed” the case from state district court in Grimes County to federal district court in Houston. How did they do this? How did they take a case out of the place it logically belongs and have it sent to a distant place that has no connection to the accident, the victim and all of the witnesses? Its called federal diversity jurisdiction. Put simply, if there is a case between citizens of different states and the amount in controversy is greater than $75,000, the defendant can remove the case from a state court to a federal court and the plaintiff (my client) can do nothing about it. Walmart and all of its various corporate entities are not citizens of Texas. The amount of the claim is far more than $75,000. My client is almost certainly stuck with the daunting task of having to litigate her case in Houston. I will have to travel to and from Houston. All of the witnesses including my client’s doctors, will have to travel to and from Houston. Costs will increase substantially. The inconvenience and hassle will increase dramatically. The judge in charge of the case will be a political appointee rather than a locally elected official. It’s just not fair and, of course, Walmart knows that, which is why they did it.
    There is much more to this story. One should logically ask why Brazos Co. doesn’t have its own federal court. After all, Brazos Co. and the immediately surrounding counties have several hundred thousand citizens. Why should places such as Lufkin, Tyler, Marshall, Texarkana, Victoria, Pecos, and Waco have federal courts and not us? The answer is plain and simple: politics.
    In the 1980's, the Brazos Co. Bar Association approached Senator Phil Gramm about a federal court. We got absolutely nowhere, even though his Democratic counterpart, Senator Lloyd Bentson, was not opposed. Subsequent attempts have, likewise, been in vain. We are being treated like the proverbial red-headed step-child.
    The U.S. Congress sets the minimum jurisdictional amount, i.e., the $75,000. That amount is a pittance in today’s world and, in our globalized economy, many of the corporations and individuals you do business with are not citizens of Texas. If you have a dispute with one of them over more than $75,000, you’re probably headed to Houston. You even have to go to Houston for bankruptcies. I should also mention that our clients have to serve on federal juries in Houston.
    Paradoxically, Republicans are all about local control and protecting states’ rights-yet they do nothing about raising the federal jurisdictional amount or getting us a federal court, even though Democrats would agree. Go figure.