Posts By: Gregory Cokinos

Texas Bar Foundation Elects Three Cokinos | Young Attorneys to Fellowship

Cokinos | Young is pleased to congratulate Peter Wells IV, Stephanie Cook, and Lauren Aldredge on their election as fellow of the Texas Bar Foundation.

Fellows of the Foundation are selected for their outstanding professional achievements and their demonstrated commitment to the improvement of the justice system throughout the state of Texas. Selection as a Fellow of the Texas Bar Foundation is restricted to members of the State Bar of Texas. Each year one-third of one percent of Texas attorneys are invited to become Fellows. Election is a mark of distinction and recognition of Peter and Stephanie’s contributions to the legal profession.

The Texas Bar Foundation is the largest charitably funded bar foundation in the country. Founded in 1965 by lawyers determined to assist the public and improve the profession oflaw, the Texas Bar Foundation has maintained its mission of using the financial contributions of its membership to build a strongjustice system for all Texans. To date, the Texas Bar Foundation has distributed more than $23 million throughout Texas to assist nonprofit organizations with a wide range of justice-related programs and services. For more information, contact the Texas Bar Foundation at www.txbf.org.

Parker Fauntleroy and Marshall Holmes Secure Jury Trial Victory

Parker Fauntleroy and Marshall Holmes recently conducted a five day jury trial in Waller County, Texas wherein they defended a Mississippi based construction company.  Plaintiff, represented by a formidable and aggressive Houston personal injury firm, alleged their client suffered severe injuries as a result of a motor vehicle accident, including undergoing neck fusion surgery and knee surgery with a planned future back surgery.  Plaintiff demanded that the jury return a 2.4 million dollar verdict.  After closing arguments, the jury returned a defense verdict and awarded no damages. Congratulations on a great win to a deserving client!

Twelve Super Lawyers® Recognized at Cokinos | Young; Gregory Cokinos Named On The Top 100 Texas & Houston Super Lawyers List

We are excited to announce that twelve Cokinos | Young attorneys are recognized as 2021 Super Lawyers® and Gregory Cokinos being named on the Top 100 Super Lawyers® list for both Texas and Houston. This distinction is held by less than five percent of Texas lawyers and selections are made on a state-by-state basis.  Independent research consisting of an evaluation of 12 varying indicators of professional achievement combined with peer nominations and evaluations are employed to determine this accolade.

The full list of Super Lawyers will be published in:
– Texas Super Lawyers Magazine, in October 2021
– Texas Monthly, in October 2021
– Gregory Cokinos will be featured in The Top 100 Texas and Top 100 Houston lists

Our Super Lawyers include:

Cokinos | Young Continues to Grow New Jersey Practice with New Hire, Robbie MacPherson

It is with great pleasure we welcome Robbie MacPherson, serving the New Jersey and New York construction markets. Robbie is an excellent addition to our growing New Jersey team, bringing outstanding credentials counseling clients in construction matters. 

Robbie’s MacPherson has been practicing construction law exclusively since 1981 and is a Fellow of the American College of Construction Lawyers and former Chair of the American Bar Association’s Forum on Construction Law. Robbie acts as construction contract and disputes counsel for contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, and owners involved in building and heavy civil construction for public and private work. In addition to his practice counseling clients in construction matters, Robbie regularly serves as an arbitrator and mediator of construction disputes. He is a pro bono mediator for the Southern District of New York and the Supreme Court of New York, New York County and was a pro bono mediator for the Tinton Falls NJ Municipal Court.

Robbie MacPherson is a key name in the New Jersey and New York construction communities and is widely respected. He is an important strategic hire with focus and robust experience in construction matters. His practice is firmly aligned with our strong industry focus and represents our continued growth and ability to serve our clients more effectively from coast to coast.

Robert J. MacPherson

Court Ruling on Pipeline Dispute Warns Contractors Against Using Work Stoppages to Gain the Upper Hand in Negotiations

Real Clear Energy’s recent article focuses on the case U.S. Pipeline, Inc. v. Rover Pipeline, LLC in which Cokinos | Young successfully defended Energy Transfer against contractor’s $100+ Million claim. Reposted below:

A Texas court set an important precedent for contract law recently when it held that U.S. Pipeline, Inc. was responsible for ignoring its contract and abandoning a job to protest a dispute.

U.S. Pipeline was contracted to construct a portion of Energy Transfer LP’s Rover Pipeline. The natural gas pipeline, which was completed in 2018, runs 713 miles from the Ohio/West Virginia border to Michigan.

According to court filings and legal analysis, much of the dispute between the two parties revolved around which company was to pay to fix a botched restoration project that resulted in a series of small landslides or “slips.” Tensions further escalated when U.S. Pipeline wanted to recategorize and increase the charges for work that had already been invoiced by U.S. Pipeline and paid for by Energy Transfer.

Both matters were already clearly addressed within the existing contract, which was specific and carefully defined. In fact, the contract between U.S. Pipeline and Energy Transfer was negotiated and fine-tuned over the course of two years.

While the project continued, the two companies engaged in dispute resolution to resolve their differences, but they failed to come to terms on a solution.

At one point, Energy Transfer offered U.S. Pipeline $55 million to set the issues aside and complete the work. U.S. Pipeline rejected the offer and instead decided to pack up, go home and sue Energy Transfer.

The company’s mic-drop backfired.

U.S. Pipeline was awarded a small fraction of the more than $100 million the company sought in damages, additionally, the court ordered that U.S. Pipeline pay Energy Transfer’s attorneys’ fees and court costs.

The Houston-based state District Court’s decision indicated that U.S. Pipeline’s walkout came across as more of a case of ignoring the terms of the contract and choosing to hold its labor for ransom, rather than a good faith effort to solve a problem.

Further, the case established that walking off a job should be the last resort for a contractor, rather than a tactic to protest an agreed-upon contract or a scheme to unfairly extract money from a project owner.

While the decision is a victory for Energy Transfer, it has much wider ramifications. It affirms the notion that contracts are the ultimate authority during a dispute. The case also serves as a warning to contractors that work stoppages or walking off the job should be avoided when possible.  

The case highlights the importance of the contract negotiation process, as well as the consequences of failing to properly understand the contents of the contract once the document is signed.

U.S. Pipeline’s lawyers and upper management apparently did not anticipate issues that could arise during the project. The company also clearly failed to understand, or refused to accept, its responsibility related to a number of issues clearly covered within the contract.

As a result, the outcome of the case reads like a guide of “what not to do” when it comes to creating and abiding by a contract.

Perhaps most importantly of all, the court decision will force contractors to carefully consider the ramifications of walking off a jobsite during a dispute.

Before engaging in a work stoppage, contractors must take into account the wording of their contract, as well as state and federal laws related to the abandonment of work.

While contractors may view stopping work as a way to create leverage during a dispute, it is often a losing proposition. The potential legal ramifications of a work stoppage, alongside the multitude of other options available for resolving disputes, should encourage contractors to avoid abandoning a worksite. And the outcome of this case will only make it less likely that any benefit will come of a contractor walking off a worksite.

U.S. Pipeline’s devastating fiasco, in which the company paid a hefty price for flouting its contract then rejecting an eight-figure settlement, should serve as a cautionary tale for other companies considering work stoppages and abandonment.

By Drew Johnson
Real Clear Energy
September 01, 2021

Gregory Cokinos & Robert Naudin Featured in Texas Lawyer Article

Gregory M. Cokinos and Robert J. Naudin Jr., both Principals in the Houston office, were featured in Texas Lawyer’s article, “When Considering Litigation: Prudence is, at times, the Better Part of Valor,” published on August 23, 2021. Gregory and Robert are featured as Energy Transfer’s litigation team in the article that focuses on the case U.S. Pipeline, Inc. v. Rover Pipeline, LLC in which Cokinos | Young successfully defended Energy Transfer against contractor’s $100+ Million claim. This was a hard fought case with tireless support from Roger Townsend, Russell Smith, Christopher Wan, and Alfredo Montelongo.  A remarkable win and team effort for a deserving client

You can read the full article by clicking here.

30 Cokinos | Young Attorneys Honored in the 2022 Edition of Best Lawyers

17 Named Best Lawyers in America; 13 Named “Ones to Watch”

Congratulations to the 30 Cokinos | Young attorneys for being honored in the 2022 edition of Best Lawyers in America. This year’s list recognizes 17 Cokinos | Young attorneys as Best Lawyers in America and 13 attorneys as “Ones to Watch.” Best Lawyers is the oldest and most respected lawyer ranking service in the world. For almost 40 years, Best Lawyers has assisted those in need of legal services to identify the lawyers best qualified to represent them in distant jurisdictions or unfamiliar specialties. Best Lawyers lists are published in leading local, regional, and national publications across the globe.

2022 Best Lawyers in America

2022 Ones to Watch

The Good, The Dangerous, and The Unknown: Three Recent Employment Law Updates for Texas Employers

Between a change in power at the White House and a new Legislative Session in Texas, significant changes in employment law for companies here in Texas were to be expected in 2021. Ultimately, those changes have resulted in a bit of a mixed bag for employers, as briefly described below. 

The Good: Texas SB 6, a.k.a. Texas Pandemic Liability Shield Act

Arguably the best news to come out of the 87th Texas Legislature earlier this year was the passage of SB 6 into law, which some have referred to as the Texas Pandemic Liability Shield Act. SB 6 amends the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code to specifically address the potential liability of numerous actors for injuries or death related to “pandemic disease,” including physicians, first responders, products manufacturers, and educational institutions. While precisely how courts will apply the new law to employers has yet to be determined, assuming it does apply, the law creates additional procedural hurdles and requirements of proof for a plaintiff asserting that she suffered injury or damages due to a workplace exposure to COVID-19.

For example, SB 6 requires such a plaintiff to, within 120 days of the employer filing its answer, serve the employer with a report “authored by at least one qualified expert that provides a factual and scientific basis for the assertion that the defendant’s failure to act caused the individual to contract a pandemic disease.” The sufficiency of this report can then be challenged by the defendant employer, just like any other expert report. Perhaps most importantly, however, if the plaintiff ultimately fails to provide such a timely and sufficient expert report, the trial court “shall,” upon a motion by the defendant, dismiss the plaintiff’s claim with prejudice and award the defendant its reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs incurred in defending the action.

While SB 6 also places limits on the number of depositions that a plaintiff may take before serving the required expert report, it is the potential financial hammer of holding a plaintiff liable for the defendant’s legal fees that makes this a useful weapon in situations where it applies. Another protection SB 6 provides is that, for a defendant to be liable for the alleged workplace exposure, the defendant must have knowingly failed to take appropriate measures or actions rather than to have merely acted in a negligent manner. Importantly, SB 6 went into effect immediately upon being signed by Governor Abbott and applies retroactively to any active lawsuit commenced on or after March 13, 2020.

The Dangerous: Texas SB 45 & HB 21 Expand Employer Liability for Sexual Harassment

The news out of the 87th Legislature wasn’t all good for employers, though. The Texas Legislature also passed SB 45 and HB 21, which Governor Abbott signed into law and which will become effective September 1, 2021. SB 45 amends the Texas Labor Code to significantly increase the liability of Texas employers AND those in managerial and supervisory roles for sexual harassment, while HB 21 extends the time claimants have to file an administrative charge for sexual harassment.

SB 45 marks a substantial expansion of the Texas Labor Code’s reach with respect to sexual harassment claims by exponentially increasing the number of entities and even individuals who qualify as an “employer” for purposes of a sexual harassment claim under Texas state law. While most provisions of the Texas Labor Code dealing with discrimination and harassment only apply to employers with at least 15 employees, SB 45 defines an “employer” for sexual harassment purposes as any person or entity who employs “one or more” employees. Additionally, SB 45 appears to create individual liability for those who act “directly in the interests of an employer in relation to an employee.” This language is so vague and broad that it could arguably apply to business owners, managers, supervisors, human resources professionals, and even others who merely exercise some level of control over the plaintiff’s work. Furthermore, SB 45 requires an employer that becomes aware of potential sexual harassment to take “immediate” action to remedy it rather than “prompt” action, which had been the standard previously applied by Texas courts.

Meanwhile, HB 21 adds to employers’ headaches and further separates sexual harassment claims under Texas law from all other discrimination and harassment claims by extending the deadline to file an administrative charge with the Texas Workforce Commission from 180 days after the alleged harassment to 300 days after.

Given these very significant expansions to the reach of and potential liability for sexual harassment under Texas law, all Texas employers would be well advised to engage legal counsel to review and update their company policies on sexual harassment and other forms of harassment and discrimination, and also to conduct annual training on sexual harassment for any supervisory-level employees, at the very least (though training for the entire workforce is ideal, if feasible).

The Unknown: White House Executive Order 14036

At the federal level, President Joe Biden made clear during the 2020 election his intention to be the most labor-friendly commander-in-chief in history. While only time will tell how successful he is in meeting that campaign promise, one recent act that generated headlines was the issuance of Executive Order 14036 on July 9, 2021. It has been widely – and erroneously – reported that EO 14036 bans or will ban the use of non-competes nationwide. In fact, this order does nothing of the sort.

EO 14036 does, however, essentially demonize the use of non-competes outside of limited circumstances. Typically, those limited circumstances involve highly-compensated executives and managers with access to sensitive trade secrets and the like. As for what the order actually does, it merely requests that the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) consider using its rulemaking powers to “curtail the unfair use of noncompete clauses.” The FTC is likely to try to follow President Biden’s request, but before any actual changes to non-compete law can be implemented at the federal level, there are many hurdles that would have to be overcome:

  • First, the FTC has to decide that it has authority to address non-competes, which have traditionally been governed by state law.The FTC’s enforcement abilities are limited by federal statute to acts or practices that are likely to cause substantial injury to “consumers,” and it is far from clear that non-competes fit under that authority.
  • Then, the FTC would be required to create and publish a proposed rule, solicit public comments on the rule, and consider making changes to the proposed rule based on those comments; this process typically takes at least one year.
  • Finally, after going through all of the above steps, any rule the FTC adopted would be certain to face numerous legal challenges in court that would almost certainly delay actual implementation of the rule, if not block it completely.

Bottom line, EO 14036 makes clear the Biden Administration’s hostility toward non-competes, but that’s about it. Any action at the federal level will take years to be put into place, and that is only if it survives the court battles it would be sure to face. So, for now employers are free to continue business as usual with regard to non-competes, but they will also need to closely monitor developments at the federal and state levels because more and more states are taking steps on their own to limit the use of non-competes.

Cokinos | Young Is Here to Help!

The one constant with labor and employment laws is that they are always changing, and with the current climate of politics and the pandemic, changes happen faster than ever! Fortunately, employers can seek wise counsel from the labor and employment team at Cokinos | Young, led by Board Certified employment attorneys J. Shannon Gatlin and M. Wilson Stoker, who stand ready to answer any questions and to offer advice and solutions related to the above topics and any other employment law questions or concerns your company may have.

Cokinos | Young Principal & Founder Gregory M. Cokinos has been named one of the Houston Business Journal’s 2021 Most Admired CEOs

On Tuesday, June 29th, the Houston Business Journal honored our  Principal and Founder Gregory M. Cokinos as one of the 2021 Most Admired CEOs. Gregory is one of the 30 Houston-area CEOs to receive the award. In selecting the CEO honorees, a panel of judges looked for characteristics such as contribution to company success, civic involvement, career achievement and more. The Most Admired CEO honorees are divided into for-profit and nonprofit categories. The honorees represent several of Houston’s prominent industries, with CEOs from health care systems, law firms, real estate firms.

Gregory and two colleagues founded Cokinos | Young in Houston in 1989 with only three lawyers. The vision was to grow the firm by providing quality service to the construction industry. And he has done just that. Cokinos | Young has remained fully committed to providing the highest level of legal knowledge, skill, and expertise to achieve the best possible outcomes for our clients. Throughout the life of the firm, Cokinos | Young adapted and evolved with our clients’ needs into a true full-service business law firm. More than 31 years later, the firm has expanded to six coast-to-coast offices, over 90 lawyers, and recognized by some of the most respected national and international legal ranking and review services. All of that occurred under the leadership of Gregory Cokinos. 

Gregory was the first Houston lawyer inducted into the prestigious American College of Construction Lawyers, an invitation associated only with the top 1% of construction lawyers in North America. He has been named one of the Top 100 Super Lawyers in the State of Texas each year since 2007 and a Texas Super Lawyer each year since 2005 by Thompson Reuters. Since 2006, Gregory has been listed in the Best Lawyers in America and received the 2018 Lawyer of the Year Award from Best Lawyers. These are only a few examples of his many recognitions and achievements.

“Gregory is among the most well-known and accomplished lawyers in Houston. His name and brand are synonymous with complex construction disputes.” says Houston Principal Russell Smith. 

Gregory devotes considerable time to the community. It only takes a short conversation with Gregory to learn his priorities outside of work: his family, the Greek Orthodox Church, and of course, Texas A&M University, where he teaches Advanced Topics in Construction Law.

Congratulations, Gregory, on a well-deserved award. We are thankful for you and all you do! 

More on Gregory M. Cokinos

Roland F. Gonzales, Javier T. Duran and Karen L. Landinger forged new law by securing a ruling from the Fourth Court of Appeals.

The Court held a sanctions motion constitutes a legal action protected by the Amended Texas Citizens Participation Act. 

The Court distinguished motions for sanctions that seek monetary relief and motions for sanctions which merely seek a procedural remedy. This distinction is now precedent in the Fourth Court and resolves a conflict with other intermediate courts of appeals that a sanctions motion was procedural and not subject to dismissal under the Act.

The Fourth Court of Appeals reversed and rendered the trial court and awarded attorney’s fees for Mr. Gonzales’ client.

To read the full opinion, click here.

     

Roland F. Gonzales
Javier T. Duran
Karen L. Landinger