Winter Storm Windfall: Big Law Gets the Work to Defend Flood of Litigation

Bizar Male

Winter storm litigation that has hit Texas’ electric grid operator and power companies has brought work for Big Law firms, like Baker Botts, Winstead and Latham & Watkins.

In the latest example, Latham & Watkins on Tuesday entered appearances for Symmetry Energy Solutions in litigation by a business, Certified Roses Inc., which alleged the natural gas company charged it nearly $249,000 for gas in February.

The defense representation—by partner Johanna Spellman of Chicago, and Washington, D.C.-based partner Nicholas Boyle and associate Jessica Bratten—first surfaced on Radar. Lawyers from Jackson Walker in Texas also represent Symmetry.

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Big names

A search of court records for the flood of litigation over Winter Storm Uri shows other Big Law firms getting work.

Courts are transferring much of the litigation to the Texas Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation for the case, In Re Winter Storm Uri Litigation.

The most high-profile defendant, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas Inc., has tapped a team from Winstead for the defense of at least 57 lawsuits filed across the state. ERCOT runs the Texas electric grid—a grid that is different than others because it is independent in Texas, instead of being part of larger multi-state electric grids.

Winstead Shareholder Elliot Clark of Austin has taken the lead to defend ERCOT. He’s the one who asked for the MDL panel to handle the winter storm litigation in early April.

Since then, electric and gas power companies across the state have given notice that they have related cases for the MDL panel to handle. Court records in the MDL reveal the Big Law firms backing the defendants.

For example, 10 defendants facing 37 winter storm lawsuits have hired these attorneys:

  • Mike Raiff of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Dallas is leading a team to defend Luminant Generation Co. and Vistra Corp.
  • John Anaipakos, partner in Baker Botts in Houston, is defending NRG Energy Inc. and NRG Texas Power.
  • Calpine Corp. has tapped George Fibbe, partner in Baker Botts in Houston.
  • Joseph “Tré” Fischer, partner in Jackson Walker in Houston, is leading a defense team for Exelon Generation Co. and ExGen Handley Power.
  • Brad Benoit, partner in Bracewell in Houston, is lead counsel for Tenaska Gateway Partners Ltd., Tenaska Inc. and Kiowa Power Partners.

Oncor Electric Delivery Co., which is facing 18 lawsuits from 132 plaintiffs in 15 Texas state courts, hired John Wander of Vinson & Elkins in Dallas and a team of five other attorneys there to defend it. Other lawyers from Dykema Gossett are on the defense team.

And Joel Z. Montgomery of Shipley Snell Montgomery in Houston is lead defense counsel for CenterPoint Energy Houston Electric and CenterPoint Energy Inc. A filing in the MDL said 138 plaintiffs sued CenterPoint in 54 lawsuits in 22 state district courts.

Julia Mann of Jackson Walker is leading a team of two other lawyers at her firm to defend CPS Energy, which is facing at least eight lawsuits over the winter storm, according to a court filing.

Plaintiffs counsel

Patterns have also emerged in the plaintiffs law firms and attorneys who are filing litigation over the snow storm.

Jason Itkin of Arnold & Itkin in Houston is leading a team from his firm that is representing a group of plaintiffs who have filed five lawsuits in the Houston area.

The plaintiffs alleged that ERCOT and power companies never weatherized their facilities, which caused power outages and water system failures. The plaintiffs claim they suffered property damage and personal injuries. Some died, and their families are suing for wrongful death.

Similar cases are being filed by attorneys at Fears Nachawati in Dallas and Watts Guerra in San Antonio.

A different line of litigation is being filed by businesses who allege that power companies overcharged them for gas or electricity during the winter storm. Potts Law Firm in Houston has represented at least three plaintiffs bringing these claims.

Related stories:

Texas Utility ERCOT Hit With 2 Lawsuits Over Winter Storm Damages