Showbiz Multimedia LLC v. Mountain States Mortgage Co.
(Tex.App.- Houston [1st Dist.] Oct. 8, 2009)(Sharp)(incurable jury argument)
REVERSE TC JUDGMENT AND REMAND CASE TO TC FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS:
Opinion by Justice Sharp
Before Justices Taft, Bland and Sharp
01-07-00810-CV Showbiz Multimedia, LLC; Showbiz Multimedia Entertainment, LLC; and Vinay Karna v.
Mountain States Mortgage Company; Remington Financial Group, Inc.; and Matthew McManus
Appeal from 387th District Court of Fort Bend County
Concurring Opinion by Justice Taft in Showbiz Multimedia v. Mountain States Mortgage Company
O P I N I O N
The issue in this appeal is whether arguing that a South Asian-American plaintiff committed “judicial terrorism”
and extortion constitutes incurable jury argument. Following the Texas Supreme Court’s 2008 opinion in Living
Centers of Texas, Inc. v. Peñalver, we conclude it is and reverse. See Peñalver, 256 S.W.3d 678 (Tex. 2008).
Appellant Vinay Karna is a naturalized United States citizen who was born in India. Karna wished to purchase a
motel and formed two corporations as part of that plan, appellants Showbiz Multimedia, LLC and Showbiz
Multimedia Entertainment, LLC. Multimedia Entertainment agreed to purchase a motel in Duncanville, Texas,
and Karna discussed financing arrangements with Clay Cushing of appellee Mountain States Mortgage
Cushing allegedly recommended that Karna seek financing with a Costa Rican company called Servicios
Amtek, SA. Karna claims that he paid $40,000 to Servicios Amtek for loan financing fees and that Servicios
Amtek later “disappeared” without providing any financing. Officials at Mountain States denied that Cushing
was authorized to broker a loan for Karna.
Karna next paid a loan broker company, Kilpatrick & Hart, to arrange a loan with appellee Remington Financial
Group, Inc. Remington’s owner is appellee Matthew McManus. Showbiz Multimedia and Showbiz Multimedia
Entertainment signed contracts with Remington, and Karna claims he paid $15,000 to Remington under the
contracts. Karna claims that the contracts obligated Remington to provide funding for a loan to purchase the
motel if his two companies met certain specified conditions.
Karna contends that even though his companies met all the conditions, Remington and McManus did not fund
the loan but instead brokered the loan to yet another company, Meridian Capital Partners, Inc. Karna allegedly
paid Meridian approximately $30,000, yet never received a loan from Meridian or anyone else. Finally, Karna
and his two companies sued Mountain States, Remington, McManus, and others for breach of contract,
breach of fiduciary duty, and fraud.
At trial, Mountain States, Remington, and McManus vigorously countered the plaintiffs’ description of the case.
During closing argument, Mountain States’s counsel stated the following:
[COUNSEL]: Thank you, Judge. . . . This lawsuit [is] wrong. They are asking you to perpetuate an injustice. If
you award Vinay Karna and his companies any money, it’s going to continue in another court with additional
Defendants because it will perpetuate an injustice. And what we’re asking you to do quite simply is to deny an
What Mr. Karna has done has identified just the most recent injustice and that is to use this court in a judicial
terrorism. He has extorted money -- attempted to extort money from 21 different groups.
Karna and his companies did not object to this argument at that time, but complained in their motion for new
The argument was not isolated. Counsel also stated, in reference to Karna, that a witness was “scared to
death of this man. There’s cultural issues. She’s scared to death of him which is why she did not . . . .” Karna’s
counsel objected to this argument. The trial court sustained the objection.
Based on the jury’s verdict, the trial court rendered judgment (1) “in favor of” Mountain States, Remington,
McManus, Secured Capital Resource, LLC, and G. Tyler Hufford and (2) “against” Karna, Showbiz Multimedia,
and Showbiz Multimedia Entertainment. Footnote Karna, Showbiz Multimedia, and Showbiz Multimedia
Entertainment filed a timely notice of appeal. Footnote Only Showbiz Multimedia and Showbiz Multimedia
Entertainment have filed an appellant’s brief, in which they bring three issues against Mountain States,
Remington, and McManus regarding incurable jury argument, legal and factual sufficiency, and the admission
of evidence. Footnote
Showbiz Multimedia and Showbiz Multimedia Entertainment’s first issue asks this Court to decide whether it
was incurable jury argument to say that Karna has committed extortion and “judicial terrorism,” considering the
Texas Supreme Court’s opinion in Living Centers of Texas, Inc. v. Peñalver. In that wrongful-death case, the
court held that the closing argument of plaintiffs’ lawyer was incurable when counsel compared the treatment
of the deceased by a nursing home to the Germans’ World War II treatment of the elderly in the “T-Four”
project. Peñalver, 256 S.W.3d at 680–682. The Texas Supreme Court acknowledged that this comment was
only made once and that no one argued that the nursing home intended to injure or kill the deceased, much
less conduct medical experiments on her. Id. at 681. Nevertheless, the supreme court concluded that the
argument “struck at the integrity of the courts by utilizing an argument that was improper, unsupported, and
uninvited.” Id. at 682. The supreme court further stated that such argument is not subject to the general
harmless error analysis. Footnote Id. at 681.
Mountain States, Remington, and McManus respond that the jury argument was not about Karna committing
“judicial terrorism,” extortion, or Karna’s ethnicity. Instead, they argue that the “judicial terrorism” comment was
a reference to, supported by the evidence, the multiple lawsuits that Karna has filed against numerous
defendants. We agree that counsel was entitled to argue that Karna was aggressively litigious and that he
filed lawsuits that had no merit, in light of the evidence before the jury of such lawsuits, but the question
remains whether the characterization of his conduct as judicial terrorism and extortion, together with the other
comments made by counsel, would reasonably leave an incurable impression on the jury in a manner beyond
that supported by the evidence . Footnote We conclude that it did.
In Peñalver, the supreme court re-emphasized how serious a jury argument is that introduces race or other
extreme personal attacks. Id. at 681 (citing Standard Fire Ins. Co. v. Reese, 584 S.W.2d 835, 840 (Tex.
1979)). Just as the horrible events of World War II still evoke deep passion and emotion, the ongoing War on
Terror colors the interpretation of the word “terrorism.” It is not a word to be used lightly in the context of a
formal proceeding in court. Furthermore, the description of the plaintiff in this case as having committed
extortion and “judicial terrorism” did not stand in isolation—these comments were merely the most egregious.
The lawyer for Mountain States stated, in a reference to Karna that is wholly unsupported by the record, that a
business associate of Karna’s felt “scared to death of this man” due to “cultural issues” and suggested that he
was not “somebody that you would entrust anything to,” including “the safety of your children.” The subject
matter of this case—a commercial lending dispute—does not support this inflammatory sort of appeal to a jury.
The judiciary must at a minimum ensure that a trial is free from improper appeals to race or nationalism that
the introduction of the words “terrorism” and “extortion,” together with a wholly unsupported reference to
“cultural issues” brought into this case. As in Peñalver, this type of argument strikes at the heart of the jury
trial system and was incurable. Courts must guard against such conduct and correct it sua sponte. Tex. R. Civ.
P. 269(g); Peñalver, 256 S.W.3d at 681. Because the trial court did not, we sustain issue one.
In light of our determination of issue one, we do not reach issues two and three. Accordingly, we reverse the
portion of the trial court’s judgment holding that Showbiz Multimedia and Showbiz Multimedia Entertainment
take nothing from Mountain States, Remington, and McManus, and we remand the case to the trial court for
further proceedings limited to Showbiz Multimedia and Showbiz Multimedia Entertainment’s claims against
Mountain States, Remington, McManus. Finally, we dismiss Karna’s appeal for want of prosecution for failure
to file a brief. See Tex. R. App. P. 38.8(a)(1), 42.3.
Panel consists of Justices Bland, Sharp, and Taft. Footnote
Justice Taft, concurring.