Our Team

Bobby Debelak

Partner

Phone: (713) 337-8853

Fax: (713) 333-5986

Email: bobby.debelak@mhllp.com

Office: Houston


Bobby's practice focuses on property and sophisticated retail energy and life insurance litigation. He is a highly versatile advocate who has built a practice around complex, multi-state class action and insurance fraud litigation. Since joining MH he has represented clients of all sizes, from individuals and small businesses to national insurance and energy companies. He has twice been seconded to work as a litigator inside a large, publicly traded company, so he understands client needs from the inside and how to best serve them. He has tried dozens of cases to judges and juries everywhere from JP to District to Federal Courts, and has briefed and argued appeals defending his victories. He has first-chaired more than fifty special commissioner hearings.

Bobby is a first-choice lawyer and resident expert on the intricacies of civil RICO litigation, having successfully defended expansive RICO cases. He is also a go-to property litigator who represents public and private clients, including commercial and residential property owners, condemning authorities, and financial servicers in all aspects of property, landlord-tenant, construction, and eminent domain proceedings.

Professionally, Bobby is routinely invited to speak at conferences and trainings where he presents on legal history and writing. He has strong opinions on the proper use of Powerpoint and the Oxford comma.

Outside the office, Bobby stays active and reads a book a week (and he occasionally sends recommendations on his favorite recent books here). He is an avid boxing fan, budding SCUBA diver, and has mastered the art of the long weekend with his wife, Ashley. His music taste ranges from Rachmaninoff to the Grateful Dead and he is a seasonal subscriber to the Houston symphony. He and his dog Erwin are both committed Texas Longhorns.


REPRESENTATIVE EXPERIENCE

RICO, CLASS ACTION, AND COMPLEX LITIGATION

  • In re: ZF-TRW Airbag Control Units Products Liability Litigation (Central District of California)Represents a leading electronics and semiconductor company in an MDL comprised of over twenty putative class actions. Plaintiffs brought claims for RICO violations, fraud, unjust enrichment, and numerous state consumer protection act violations against five leading vehicle manufacturers and two component part suppliers relating to allegedly defective vehicle airbag units.
  • Ulti-Mate Connectors, Inc. v. American General Life Ins. Co., et al.; Cause No. 14-1051 (C.D. Cal.). Represented American General and a former employee in a putative class action suit brought against American General, former employees, several individual advisors, Welfare Benefit plans, and the plans’ administrator. Alleging fraudulent misrepresentations in the sale of the Plans based on certain tax and financial representations, Plaintiffs brought RICO, common law, and statutory claims against all Defendants. Bobby was a core member of the team that defeated Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification, after which the case resolved on mutually agreeable terms. See Ulti-Mate Connectors, Inc. v. Am. Gen. Life Ins. Co., No. CV-141051, 2016 WL 2968046 (C.D. Cal. May 18, 2016) (slip copy) (denying class cert.).
  • Asokan, et al. v. American General Life Ins. Co., et al.; Case No. 6:15-cv-2048 (M.D. Fla.). Represented American General in a sixteen-plaintiff mass action brought against American General in Florida. Plaintiffs alleged fraudulent misrepresentations in the sale of the Voluntary Employee Benefit Plans based on certain tax and financial representations. Plaintiffs initially brought RICO claims, which were successfully dismissed. The case proceeded to a jury trial and, after six days of trial, resolved prior to verdict.
  • Smith, et al. v. American General Life Ins. Co., et al.; Case No. 5:16-cv-1893 (C.D. Cal.). Represented American General and a former employee in a fourteen-plaintiff mass action brought against American General, a former employee, and several individual advisors. Plaintiffs allege there were fraudulent misrepresentations in the sale of the Voluntary Employee Benefit Plans based on certain tax and financial representations, bringing RICO, common law, and statutory claims against the Defendants.
  • Wilmington Savings Fund Society, FSB et al. v. PHL Variable Insurance Company, et al., Cause No. 13-499 (D. Del.). Represented The Phoenix Companies in a mass action lawsuit brought by the trustee of approximately sixty life insurance trusts alleging that Phoenix violated RICO, various state consumer protection statutes, and committed fraud in allegedly issuing life insurance policies that it intended to rescind. After several rounds of dismissal briefing and a successful forum transfer, the Court granted in part Phoenix’s motion to dismiss and eliminated Plaintiffs’ RICO claims.
  • Richards v. Direct Energy Services, LLC, No. 14-1724 (D. Conn.). Represented Direct Energy in a class action lawsuit relating to Direct Energy’s variable rate pricing practices to its Connecticut consumers. After briefing, Direct Energy successfully eliminated other states from Plaintiffs’ class definition. At summary judgment, the District Court granted Direct Energy’s summary-judgment motion and denied class certification. Bobby was also a core member of the team that represented Direct Energy on the Plaintiff’s appeal to the Second Circuit, where the District Court’s decision was affirmed.
  • Consulted on numerous other class and mass actions involving RICO claims brought against insurers and their officers and directors.

EMINENT DOMAIN

  • Ball, et al. v. The City of Pearland (412th District Court, Brazoria County, Trial Court Cause No. 104288-CV). Represented the City of Pearland in a dispute with two former property owners sued to repurchase a property condemned by the City of Pearland 18 years prior. MH successfully had the claims dismissed through special exceptions and a dismissal motion, arguing that the repurchase statute and the equitable principles that the plaintiffs relied on did not apply to the taking at issue. Plaintiffs appealed, and the Houston Court of Appeals affirmed the summary judgment in favor of Bobby's client.
  • Represents various municipalities and condemning authorities in the greater Houston area in condemnation proceedings. Bobby has handled more than seventy special commissioner hearings and is a go-to condemnation lawyer for major suburban infrastructure projects.


PROPERTY, CONSTRUCTION, AND LANDLORD-TENANT LITIGATION

  • Represented a property owner in a suit by a tenant claiming health problems stemming from alleged mold issues. The trial court granted a no-evidence summary judgment in full in favor of the property owner. Bobby represented the property owner in the trial court, and then briefed and argued the case to the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, which affirmed the summary judgment for Bobby's client.
  • Represented a landlord and property owner in a dispute where the Court eventually found that the occupants forged deeds. After multiple evictions, state district court suits, appeals, and the occupant’s bankruptcy filing, all courts that heard the matter sided with the property owner, granting clear title and possession of the property to Bobby's client.
  • Represented a life insurance company in a roofing contract dispute where the roof of their customer service facility bubbled and cracked, creating leaks and exposing the roof structure. The case was mediated to the mutual satisfaction of the parties.
  • Represented a multi-national commercial property owner, in disputes in Texas and New Jersey relating to a roof leak in one of its 400,000 sq ft. Texas facilities. The highly technical and expert-heavy dispute involved a half-dozen parties, including the architect, general contractor, roofing subcontractor, and parts manufacturers and suppliers. The case was successfully resolved to the mutual satisfaction of the parties.

COMMERCIAL & OTHER LITIGATION

  • Won a seven-day jury trial in Houston for an energy company and one of its employees who were sued by a former contractor for nearly $10,000,000. The jury returned a no-liability verdict on all five of the plaintiff's causes of action. Bobby sat second chair in the trial, cross examined third-party witnesses, and argued outcome-determinative trial motions to the Court.
  • Represents law firm in dispute with former client regarding quality of services performed, and succeeded in obtaining a take-nothing judgment disposing of all the former client’s claims (December 2016). After the former client appealed, Bobby handled briefing and oral argument to Houston’s 1st Court of Appeal in December 2017. Following the appeal, Bobby successfully tried the remaining part of the case to the Court (Fall 2019).
  • Represented law firm in dispute with a board member who alleged a conflict of interest and an expanded attorney-client relationship in complex, multi-year litigation involving rescission of rights in an investment in a hospital.
  • Represented multiple former employees and small businesses in Title VII and discrimination claims, both defending and prosecuting the claims under Texas state and federal law.
  • Represented Olympic gold medalist Chad Hedrick in an employment dispute.

PUBLICATIONS & SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS

  • Robert Moses & the Taking of New York City presented to CLE International's Texas Eminent Domain Conference (August 2021); ALI-CLE National Eminent Domain Conference (January 2022); Houston Bar Association Litigation Section (April 2022).
  • Texas Legislative Update: Changes from the 87th Legislature, published in The Houston Lawyer, July/August 2021 Issue
  • The Fork in the Road: Litigating Civil RICO Claims for Insurers – Part 1, Basics of Civil RICO. One hour CLE explaining the basics of Civil RICO litigation and its relationship to ordinary common law fraud claims. (Mar. 2017)
  • The Fork in the Road: Litigating Civil RICO Claims for Insurers – Part 2, Advanced Topics for Insurers. Building on the basics, this hour-long presentation emphasized the unique challenges and defenses available to insurers and other consumer-facing industries that often use independent sales or distribution networks. (2017)
  • From Complaint to Answer: The First 30 Days (CLE 2016)

LEGAL WRITING PRESENTATIONS

  • The Brief as a Presentation: Using Visuals in Letters, Briefs, and Written Work Product (March 2022)
  • Legal Writing in the Firm: Process and Expectations for Writing with Others (December 2021)
  • Better Legal Research: Beyond Law School (August 2020)
  • MH Lunch and Learn. Organized and hosted monthly series on legal writing and training for junior associates. (2018 to 2020)

AWARDS

  • Super Lawyers: Texas Rising Star, 2021-22 (Awarded to Top 2.5% Texas Attorneys)

ADMISSIONS

  • Texas
  • United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas
  • United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas
  • United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas
  • United States District Court for the Western District of Texas
  • United States District Court for the District of Colorado
  • United States Courts of Appeals for the Second Circuit

EDUCATION

  • The University of Texas School of Law, J.D., cum laude, 2011
  • Lee University, B.A., Political Science, summa cum laude, 2008