Monday, November 2, 2009
When is a broken promise actionable as fraud, rather than merely as a breach of contractual obligation?
TEXAS SUPREME COURT FINDS OCCASION TO RESTATE FRAUD ELEMENTS: The elements of fraud are: (1) that a material representation was made; (2) the representation was false; (3) when the representation was made, the speaker knew it was false or made it recklessly without any knowledge of the truth and as a positive assertion; (4) the speaker made the representation with the intent that the other party should act upon it; (5) the party acted in reliance on the representation; and (6) the party thereby suffered injury. In re FirstMerit Bank, N.A., 52 S.W.3d 749, 758 (Tex. 2001) (citing Formosa Plastics Corp. v. Presidio Eng’rs & Contractors, Inc., 960 S.W.2d 41, 47 (Tex. 1998)). BROKEN PROMISES: BREACH OF CONTRACT VS. FRAUD "A promise of future performance constitutes an actionable misrepresentation if the promise was made with no intention of performing at the time it was made.” Formosa Plastics, 960 S.W.2d at 48. “Proving that a party had no intention of performing at the time a contract was made is not easy, as intent to defraud is not usually susceptible to direct proof.” Tony Gullo Motors I, L.P. v. Chapa, 212 S.W.3d 299, 305 (Tex. 2006) (citing Spoljaric v. Percival Tours, Inc., 708 S.W.2d 432, 435 (Tex. 1986)). While breach of the contract alone is not evidence that a party did not intend to perform, “breach combined with ‘slight circumstantial evidence’ of fraud” is some evidence of fraudulent intent, enough to support a verdict. Id. “[A] party’s intent is determined at the time the party made the representation, [but] it may be inferred from the party’s subsequent acts after the representation is made.” Spoljaric, 708 S.W.2d at 434 (citing Chicago, T. & M.C. Ry. Co. v. Titterington, 19 S.W. 472, 474 (1892)). SOURCE: Aquaplex, Inc v. Rancho Law Valencia, Inc., No. 08-0280 (Tex. Oct 30, 2009) (per curiam) (fraud damages, proving amount of damages, remittiture by court of appeals or new trial)