William Allensworth, attorney and adjunct professor at UT, will become one of the few attorneys in America to present a case before the United States Supreme Court next month.
Allensworth will argue against lawyers from the Atlantic Marine Construction Company in a case concerning forum-selection clauses — agreements between business firms selecting courts where potential legal disputes will be decided. Hearings will begin Oct. 9.
Allensworth said he values what he views as an opportunity not many lawyers encounter.
“There are over 300,000 attorneys in America,” Allensworth said. “But there are only 75-80 Supreme Court cases per year.”
The Atlantic Marine Construction Company’s contract with J-Crew Management — represented by Allensworth — contained a forum-selection clause that said litigation would be held in Virginia. Because the majority of the contract was executed in Texas, Texas courts overruled the clause. Allensworth said the clauses are typically managed by district courts which determine reasonable jurisdiction.
Allensworth said after his case had won in the district court and in the 5th Circuit Appellate Court, his opponent appealed to the Supreme Court. He said he was not expecting the court to take the case.
“That’s the bad news,” Allensworth said. “The good news is that it is the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Allensworth has been practicing law for 35 years and said he is excited and nervous about this opportunity.
“Our case could affect policy,” Allensworth said. “It will affect all venue decisions. We will be sitting 15 feet from the nine Supreme Court Justices. That’s intimidating.”
Allensworth’s assistant, Chad Simon, has been practicing law for seven years and has been with Allensworth’s firm for two years. Simon presented the case at the district and 5th Circuit courts. Simon was once a student in Allensworth’s class.
“I think it’s great that the University brings in professors with real world experience,” Simon said.
Allensworth said his current case has been part of his classroom discussion this semester and that his students have shown interest in the subject.
“The students want to talk more about the case than the usual topics,” Allensworth said.
David Donaldson, journalism lecturer who teaches media law, said the interpretation of the clause can often depend on how it was written.
“If it’s something the parties negotiated over — that’s probably binding,” Donaldson said. “But if it’s just a standard form they always use, then judges might be looking at other factors to determine a reasonable forum selection.”
Donaldson said he was pleased for Allensworth, whom he has known for many years.
“This is an exciting time for him,” he said.