Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Claim for LIQUIDATED and UNLIQUIDATED Damages in Default Judgment Context
EFFECT OF DEFAULT BY DEFENDANT WHO WAS PROPERLY SERVED
A defendant who defaults admits all allegations of facts except unliquidated damages. See Holt Atherton Indus., Inc. v. Heine, 835 S.W.2d 80, 83 (Tex. 1992); Stoner v. Thompson, 578 S.W.2d 679, 684-85 (Tex. 1979).
WHEN CAN DEFAULT JUDGMENT BE HAD FOR LIQUIDATED DAMAGES?
When a plaintiff's claim is liquidated, and proven by an instrument in writing, the plaintiff may be awarded damages without the necessity of a hearing or the presentation of evidence. Burrows v. Bowden, 564 S.W.2d 474, 475 (Tex. Civ. App.-Corpus Christ 1978, no writ); Tex. R. Civ. P. 241.
WHAT MAKES A CLAIM "LIQUIDATED"?
A claim is liquidated if the amount of damages caused by the defendant can be accurately calculated from: (1) the factual, as opposed to conclusory, allegations in the petition, and (2) an instrument in writing. Freeman v. Leasing Assocs., Inc., 503 S.W.2d 406, 408 (Tex. Civ. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1973, no writ). A default judgment does not establish allegations pertaining to unliquidated damages. First Nat'l Bank of Irving v. Shockley, 663 S.W.2d 685, 689 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 1983, no writ). If damages are unliquidated or not proved by an instrument in writing, the court must hear evidence as to damages before a default judgment may be granted. Tex. R. Civ. P. 243.
ATTORNEYS FEES ARE UNLIQUIDATED (BUT CAN BE PROVEN UP BY AFFIDAVIT) Attorney's fees are by their very nature unliquidated. The reasonableness of attorney's fees, in the absence of a contract therefore, is a question of fact and is an unliquidated demand for which the trial court entering a default judgment should hear evidence. First Nat'l Bank of Irving, 663 S.W.2d at 691.
DEEMED ADMISSIONS MAY BE USED AS SUBSTITUTE FOR OTHER PROOF
A trial court may be able to ascertain the amount of damages and attorney's fees in a default judgment based on a request for admissions. Sherman Acquisition II LP v. Garcia, 229 S.W.3d 802, 813 (Tex. App.-Waco 2007, no pet.). A plaintiff may serve a request for admissions as part of its petition, and when the defendant fails to file an answer or other response, those requests are deemed admitted. Id. at 811-12 (citing Tex. R. Civ. P. 198.2(c)). Deemed admissions may be employed as proof, and once admissions are deemed admitted by operation of law and where the admissions fully support each element of a cause of action, including damages, they will fully support a judgment based thereon. This is because unanswered requests for admissions are deemed admitted without the necessity of a court order and any matter thus admitted is conclusively established as being true. Id. at 812-13 (citing Tex. Rs. Civ. P. 198.2(c), 198.3). Thus, the facts admitted may not be contradicted by evidence at the trial. Id. at 813 (citing Marshall v. Vise, 767 S.W.2d 699, 700 (Tex. 1989)).
SOURCE: 05-07-01730-CV (Dallas Court of Appeals)(10/26/2009) (credit card debt suit)