Partners for Life
Husband-and-wife duo Caddell & Chapman commit to their clients and their family
Published in 2014 Texas Super Lawyers Magazine — October 2014 on November 3, 2014
Michael Caddell and Cynthia Chapman’s relationship had an unusual pair of catalysts: leaky plumbing and Chapman’s mother.
In 1995, Caddell, a Houston attorney, was lead counsel on a class action involving failing polybutylene plumbing systems. When a settlement conference brought him to Carmel, Calif., he called a friend for dinner: Carol Chapman, a local artist from whom Caddell had bought a painting a decade earlier. She asked to bring along her daughter, a lawyer.
It happened that Cynthia Chapman was on the opposing team in the class action case, with a San Diego corporate defense firm representing a smaller defendant, but she and Caddell had never crossed paths. “My mother guessed that we were working on the same case,” Chapman says.
The case ended with more than $1 billion recovered for Caddell’s plaintiffs, new plumbing for 325,000 homes and, a little over a year later, a wedding.
Today, their six-lawyer Houston firm, Caddell & Chapman, is a powerhouse. This year the couple has handled class actions against Ford Motor Co., LexisNexis Screening Solutions Inc. and Farmers Group Inc. Cases frequently lead to tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in recovery. In a 2012 qui tam case against dialysis provider DaVita, Caddell & Chapman represented a whistleblower who accused the company of over-administering the drug Epogen to exploit Medicare reimbursements. It settled for $55 million.
But the couple’s occupational partnership almost didn’t happen.
When Chapman moved to Houston in 1996, she planned to continue in corporate defense. But soon after her move, her husband was headed to mediation for a Little Caesars franchisee, and Chapman had recently worked a case for a Ramada franchisee. “Mike said, ‘I know we’re not going to work together, but … would you help me out?’” she says.
The mediation grew into a large trial, ending in a $14.9 million verdict. Afterward, “Mike just said, ‘This just makes no sense to hire you out to the competition. We’re too good together,’” Chapman recalls. “‘Just give me one year.’”
Nearly 20 years later, the couple’s individual strengths continue to complement each other. “No one does legal analysis at the same level that Cynthia does,” Caddell says. “My strengths are in the courtroom or in taking depositions.”
In 1999, they took on a wrongful death case after 14 clothing factory workers died in a fiery company bus crash. Three other firms had turned down the case brought by the victims’ families against the factory. “It was this ramshackle bus in poor shape, and there was no safety equipment and it was not maintained properly,” Caddell says. “The brakes failed; it ran off the road and into a ditch, caught on fire.”
The challenge was that the accident happened in Mexico, and the defense—including three former Texas Supreme Court justices—argued that the case shouldn’t be tried in the U.S.
Caddell & Chapman disagreed. “The management of the factory all lived in the U.S. and went across the border every day to the factory and made decisions,” Caddell says. The Texas Supreme Court heard the jurisdictional issue three times before the trial finally began in Eagle Pass.
The plaintiffs were offered $12 million to settle; Caddell told their clients he and Chapman were uneasy about the low amount. He remembers the workers’ spokesperson responding, “Mike stood with us when no one else would, and now we will stand with him.” The case ultimately settled for $30 million.
It also officially launched the couple’s partnership at their firm. “Mike came to me one day and just gave me a piece of paper. I looked at it, and he gave me half the shares of the firm,” Chapman says.
Caddell & Chapman’s cases often are prosecuted outside Texas. So many cases are in California that they’ve started splitting their time between Carmel and Houston, where their two kids—a 10-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son—have grown up calling their roomy apartment on the top floor of the Four Seasons home. “Like Eloise at the Plaza,” Caddell says. He first moved into an apartment in the hotel, across the street from his office, in 1987.
Part of the reason work often takes them out of state is Texas’ resistance to class actions. “Mike and I joint-venture cases with law firms all over the country … and typically we don’t file cases in Texas. It’s really unfortunate,” Chapman says. Caddell recalls a case in which the defense attorney wrote a brief opposing class certification. “[He] started off … saying something like, ‘The last nine times the Texas Supreme Court has decided a motion to reverse class cert, it has done so,’” he says. “It had nothing to do with the particular case, but what they were communicating to the judge is: 'The Texas Supreme Court doesn’t like class action and will absolutely reverse you if you dare to certify a class in this case.'”
Wherever work or life takes their family—their passion for travel has led them to Australia, Peru and Morocco, and soon to Antarctica—Caddell and Chapman know one thing.
“In the last 16 years, we have only spent five nights apart,” Caddell says. “We know that whatever happens during the day, wherever we are or what’s going on, we’ll be together.”