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Miniex v. Houston Housing Authority

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

June 5, 2019

KAREN MINIEX, Plaintiff,



         Before the Court in this False Claims Act (“FCA”) retaliation lawsuit is Movant The Law Offices of E. Sharon Thornton, LLC's (“LOESTLLC”) Motion to Intervene (“Motion”) [Doc. # 245].[1] Plaintiff Karen Miniex filed a response, [2]and LOESTLLC replied.[3] The Motion is now ripe for decision. Based on the parties' briefing, relevant matters of record, and pertinent legal authority, the Court grants LOESTLLC's Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant Houston Housing Authority (“HHA”), one of the nation's largest public housing authorities, hired Plaintiff Miniex in March 2012 to serve as its general counsel. Miniex served in that role until her employment was terminated in December 2016 following a dispute with HHA's president and CEO, Tory Gunsolley, over the proper handling of a fraud investigation. Miniex sued HHA in February 2017, alleging she was retaliated against and ultimately fired for going outside the chain of command to report her concerns about fraud in violation of the FCA.

         On March 21, 2019, a jury entered a verdict in Miniex's favor on her FCA retaliation claim. Verdict Form [Doc. # 233]. On April 17, 2019, this Court entered Final Judgment [Doc. # 242], awarding Miniex $1, 921, 000, plus attorney fees and costs “to be determined on post-judgment motion.” On April 28, 2019, LOESTLLC requested leave to intervene in this case. LOESTLLC contends that its intervention is necessary to protect its fee interest in any recovery by Miniex. Sharon Thornton, Esq., LOESTLLC's principal, represented Miniex, on an hourly and, later, a contingency fee arrangement, in this employment dispute with HHA, until Miniex terminated their attorney-client relationship in December 2017. See Order dated December 27, 2017 [Doc. # 54]. LOESTLLC is presently engaged in arbitration with Miniex to recover Thornton's fees and costs.

         Miniex opposes LOESTLLC's request to intervene, arguing that she will adequately represent LOESTLLC's interests in recovering attorney fees from HHA. Miniex concedes LOESTLLC is entitled to Thornton's reasonable fees. Miniex, however, “will not attest to the reasonableness of” Ms. Thornton's requested fees “and will not state whether Ms. Thornton exercised good billing judgment.” Response at 11.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a)(2) provides for intervention by right when a movant brings a “timely motion” claiming “an interest relating to the property or transaction that is the subject of the action, and is so situated that disposing of the action may as a practical matter impair or impede the movant's ability to protect its interest, unless existing parties adequately represent that interest.” In the Fifth Circuit, to obtain intervention as of right under Rule 24(a)(2), an intervenor must satisfy a four-prong test:

(1) the application . . . must be timely; (2) the applicant must have an interest relating to the property or transaction which is the subject of the action; (3) the applicant must be so situated that the disposition of the action may, as a practical matter, impair or impede his ability to protect that interest; (4) the applicant's interest must be inadequately represented by the existing parties to the suit.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Tex. Alcoholic Beverage Comm'n, 834 F.3d 562, 565 (5th Cir. 2016) (quoting Texas v. United States, 805 F.3d 653, 657 (5th Cir. 2015)). “Failure to satisfy any one requirement precludes intervention of right.” Edwards v. City of Houston, 78 F.3d 983, 999 (5th Cir. 1996).


         LOESTLLC satisfies Rule 24(a)(2)'s four prongs and is entitled to intervention as a matter of right.

         A. LOESTLLC's Motion Is Timely

         LOESTLLC moved to intervene within a reasonable time after Miniex's attorneys' fee claim against HHA became ripe. “‘Timeliness' is not a word of exactitude or of precisely measurable dimensions. The requirement of timeliness must have accommodating flexibility toward both the court and the litigants if it is to be successfully employed to regulate intervention in the interest of justice.” McDonald v. E.J. Lavino Co., 430 F.2d 1065, 1074 (5th Cir. 1970). LOESTLLC filed its Motion eleven days after the Court entered final judgment in favor of Miniex on her FCA retaliation claim. The Court's entry of final judgment gave rise to Miniex's right to recover her reasonable attorneys' fees. See 31 U.S.C. ยง 3730(h)(2). The entry of final ...

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