Monday, October 5, 2009
Ambiguous vs. Unambiguous Contract: Implications for Summary Judgment, Admissibility of Extrinsic, Parol Evidence
Friday, October 2, 2009
The enforceability of a settlement agreement is determined in the same manner as any other written contract. Anderton v. Schindler, 154 S.W.3d 928, 932 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2005, no pet.). Whether an agreement is legally enforceable or binding is a question of law. Texaco, Inc. v. Penzoil Co., 729 S.W.2d 768, 814 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 1987, writ ref'd n.r.e.).
WHAT IS REQUIRED TO MAKE A SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT ENFORCEABLE?
In order for a court to enforce a contract, the parties must agree to the essential terms of the contract. T.O. Stanley Boot Co. v. Bank of El Paso, 847 S.W.2d 218, 221 (Tex. 1992). An agreement is unenforceable if it is so indefinite that a court cannot fix the legal obligations and liabilities of the parties. Moore v. Dilworth, 179 S.W.2d 940, 942 (Tex. 1944).
WHAT ARE ESSENTIAL TERMS OF A SETTLEMENT?
Our court has determined that essential terms for a settlement agreement are the amount of compensation and the liability to be released. Disney v. Gollan, 233 S.W.3d 591, 595 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2007, no pet.). See also Padilla v. LaFrance, 907 S.W.2d 454, 460-61 (Tex. 1995) (agreement was complete where terms included agreement to pay in exchange for settlement); CherCo Properties, Inc. v. Law, Snakard & Gambill, P.C., 985 S.W.2d 262, 266 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 1999, no pet.) (holding a settlement agreement that includes the terms of payment, and a statement that the parties would execute releases, contained all material terms). When essential terms are open for future negotiation, there is not a binding contract. T.O. Stanley, 847 S.W.2d at 221.
SOURCE: 05-08-01042-CV (Dallas CoA) (9/29/09) (agreement lacked essential term because compensation under the agreement was not yet clear)
A release and an indemnity agreement are different. An indemnity agreement is a promise by the indemnitor to safeguard or hold the indemnitee harmless against existing or future loss or liability, or both. MG Bldg. Materials, Ltd. v. Moses Lopez Custom Homes, Inc., 179 S.W.3d 51, 63 (Tex. App.--San Antonio 2005, pet. denied); see Dresser Indus., Inc. v. Page Petroleum, Inc., 853 S.W.2d 505, 508 (Tex. 1993). An indemnity provision does not apply to claims between the parties to the agreement, but obligates the indemnitor to protect the indemnitee against claims brought by third parties. MG Bldg., 179 S.W.3d at 63. Thus, an indemnity agreement creates a potential cause of action in the indemnitee. Id.
A release, on the other hand, is an agreement by one party to surrender its own cause of action against the other party. Id. at 64; see Dresser Indus., 853 S.W.2d at 508. A release extinguishes any claim the releasor might have against the releasee without regard to the releasee's liability to third parties. MG Bldg., 179 S.W.3d at 64. A release is an affirmative defense and must be pled. Id.; see Tex. R. Civ. P. 94. Thus, typical release language is "release, discharge, relinquish," while typical indemnity language is "indemnify, save, protect, save/hold harmless." MG Bldg., 179 S.W.3d at 64.
SOURCE: SAN ANTONIO COURT OF APPEALS - 04-08-00302-CV (9/15/09)
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Monday, September 28, 2009
Friday, September 25, 2009
Generally, to recover for the breach of a fiduciary duty, a plaintiff must show: 1) the existence of a fiduciary duty, 2) a breach of the duty, 3) causation, and 4) damages. See Abetter Trucking Co. v. Arizpe, 113 S.W.3d 503, 508 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2003, no pet.). When, however, the plaintiff seeks fee restitution or benefit disgorgement, he need not prove actual damages. Burrow v. Arce, 997 S.W.2d 229, 240 (Tex. 1999); Alavi v. MCI Worldcom Network Services, Inc., 2007 WL 274565, at *3 (Tex. App.-Beaumont, Feb. 1, 2007, pet. denied). Because Richard's claim for breach of fiduciary duty sought damages as his remedy, he was required to prove them. See Alavi, 2007 WL 274565, at *3; Lee v. Lee, 47 S.W.3d 767, 780-81 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2001, pet. denied); Longaker v. Evans, 32 S.W.3d 725, 733 n.2 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2000, pet. withdrawn).
ABSENCE OF EVIDENCE ON DAMAGES PROVED FATAL TO CLAIM
Cynthia's no-evidence motion asserted there was no evidence that: 1) she owed a fiduciary duty to Richard, or 2) that damages resulted from the alleged breach. Richard's response contended that a DTA creates a fiduciary relationship by its "very nature," that such beneficiaries typically are unaware of delinquencies until foreclosure proceedings have begun, that beneficiaries often (as in his case) do not have adequate funds to bring the note current, and that the unavoidable foreclosure results in a "major hit" on the beneficiary's credit. Richard further argued that he did not have to prove damages to recover on his breach of fiduciary claim. On appeal, Richard maintains this Court should determine whether a DTA creates a fiduciary duty. We need not reach the issue concerning whether Cynthia owed Richard a duty. Even if we assumed that Cynthia owed Richard a fiduciary duty, which she disputes, Richard is required to have presented evidence raising a genuine fact issue on his damages. See Grant, 73 S.W.3d 215. Because Richard failed to present any evidence proving that he had been damaged, the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment to Cynthia on Richard's breach-of-fiduciary-duty claim. We overrule issue two. Having overruled both of Richard's issues, we affirm the trial court's judgment.
SOURCE: 07-08-08833 CV (7/16/09)
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
BILL OF REVIEW DEFINED - PROCEDURE EXPLAINED
“A bill of review is an independent equitable action brought by a party to a former action seeking to set aside a judgment, which is no longer appealable or subject to motion for new trial.” Baker v. Goldsmith, 582 S.W.2d 404, 406 (Tex. 1979). The judgment may be set aside “for sufficient cause.” Tex. R. Civ. P. 329b(f); Baker, 582 S.W.2d at 406. The complainant files a petition “to invoke the equitable powers of the court.” Baker, 582 S.W.2d at 408; In re K.M.S., 68 S.W.3d 61, 66 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2001), pet. denied, 91 S.W.3d 331 (Tex. 2002) (per curiam).
Generally, the bill of review complainant must prove “‘(1) a meritorious defense to the cause of action alleged to support the judgment, (2) which he was prevented from making by the fraud, accident or wrongful act of the opposite party, (3) unmixed with any fault or negligence of his own.’” Baker, 582 S.W.2d at 406–07 (quoting Alexander v. Hagedorn, 148 Tex. 565, 568–69, 226 S.W.2d 996, 998 (1950)).
If the complainant establishes prima facie proof of a meritorious defense, the court conducts a trial at which the merits of the underlying issue are effectively relitigated. Caldwell v. Barnes, 154 S.W.3d 93, 98 (Tex. 2004); Baker, 582 S.W.2d at 409. During the bill of review trial, “the parties . . . revert to their original status as plaintiff and defendant with the burden on the original plaintiff to prove his or her case.” Caldwell, 154 S.W.3d at 98; accord Baker, 582 S.W.2d at 407–08. The bill of review defendant—the original plaintiff—must prove, and may offer evidence to support, “his original cause of action.” Meece v. Moerbe, 631 S.W.2d 729, 729 (Tex. 1982) (citing Baker, 582 S.W.2d at 409). At the end of the proceeding, if the fact-finder decides the complainant (the original defendant) has proved his case to set aside the judgment, the trial court may vacate the prior judgment. See Baker, 582 S.W.2d at 409. And if the bill of review defendant (the plaintiff in the original proceeding) proves his original case, the trial court may “substitute a new judgment which properly adjudicates the entire controversy.” In re J.B.A., 127 S.W.3d 850, 851 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2004, no pet.); cf. Jordan v. Jordan, 907 S.W.2d 471, 472 (Tex. 1995) (per curiam) (citing Tesoro Petrol. v. Smith, 796 S.W.2d 705, 705 (Tex. 1990) (per curiam)).
SOURCE: 04-09-00040-CV (8/31/09) (San Antonio Court of Appeals)
A Bill of Review is not exactly a substantive cause of action, but nevertheless a means by which a court may grant EQUITABLE RELIEF (setting aside a default judgment that is no longer appealable). The Bill of Review, and its elements, thus fit within the scope of this blawg.
THE NATURE OF A BILL OF REVIEW AND REQUIREMENTS FOR A SUCCESSFUL PETITION IN A BILL-OF-REVIEW SUIT:
A bill of review is an independent equitable proceeding brought by a party to a former action who seeks to set aside a judgment that is no longer appealable or subject to a challenge by a motion for new trial. Caldwell v. Barnes, 154 S.W.3d 93, 96 (Tex. 2004) (per curiam).
ELEMENTS OF BILL OF REVIEW
To prevail, a bill of review plaintiff must prove: (1) a meritorious defense to the cause of action upon which the judgment is based, (2) which he or she was prevented from making by the fraud, accident, or wrongful act of the opposing party or official mistake, (3) unmixed with any fault or negligence on his or her own part. Caldwell, 154 S.W.3d at 96; Baker v. Goldsmith, 582 S.W.2d 404, 406-07 (Tex. 1979).
Additionally, bill of review relief is available only if a party has exercised due diligence in pursuing all adequate legal remedies. Wembley Inv. Co. v. Herrera, 11 S.W.3d 924, 927 (Tex. 1999). This due diligence requirement is distinct from the three bill of review elements and must be established before a complainant is entitled to seek bill of review relief. Narvaez, 127 S.W.3d at 321. “The inquiry traditionally used to determine whether a party has been diligent is whether the litigant and his counsel used such care as that which prudent and careful men would ordinarily use in their own cases of equal importance.” In the Interest of A.L.H.C., 49 S.W.3d 911, 916 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2001, pet. denied).
SOURCE: 04-09-00198-CV (9/23/09) (San Antonio Court of Appeals) (trial court's order granting bill of review reversed because petitioner did not exercise available remedies, i.e., direct appeal).
Default on Installment Payment Plan: SoL and accrual of claim for breach of a contract that requires payments at regular intervals
Monday, September 21, 2009
Friday, September 18, 2009
Thursday, September 17, 2009
If the services of an attorney are retained and/or if any action at law or in equity is brought to enforce or interpret the provisions of this Agreement or to collect any monies due hereunder, the prevailing party shall be entitled to reasonable attorney's fees together with interest thereon at the highest rate provided by law in addition to any other relief to which he may be entitled at law or in equity.
WHAT DOES 'PREVAILING' MEAN? WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO QUALIFY AS PREVAILING PARTY FOR FEE RECOVERY PURPOSES?
A "prevailing party" is a party who successfully prosecutes the action or successfully defends against it, prevailing on the main issue, even if not to the extent of its original contention. See Flagship Hotel, Ltd. v. City of Galveston, 117 S.W.3d 552, 564 (Tex. App.--Texarkana 2003, pet. denied); Dear v. City of Irving, 902 S.W.2d 731, 739 (Tex. App.--Austin 1995, writ denied). Because ADC successfully defended against Hertzberg's suit by obtaining summary judgment on his claims, ADC is the prevailing party. See Robbins v. Capozzi, 100 S.W.3d 18, 27 (Tex. App.--Tyler 2002, no pet.). Thus, [Defendant] is entitled to "reasonable attorney's fees together with interest thereon" as provided by the contract. Accordingly, the trial court's decision to grant [Defendant's] requests for attorney's fees and post-judgment interest was not an abuse of discretion.SOURCE: 03-07-00072-CV (9/11/09)
(1) the time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, and the skill required to perform the legal service properly;
(2) the likelihood that the acceptance of the particular employment will preclude other employment by the lawyer;
(3) the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services;
(4) the amount involved and the results obtained;
(5) the time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances;
(6) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client;
(7) the experience, reputation, and ability of the lawyer or lawyers performing the services; and
(8) whether the fee is fixed or contingent on results obtained or uncertainty of collection before the legal services have been rendered.
Arthur Andersen & Co. v. Perry Equip. Corp., 945 S.W.2d 812, 818 (Tex. 1997).
STANDARD OF REVIEW OF ATTORNEY'S FEES AWARDS ON APPEAL
We review a trial court's decision to either grant or deny attorney's fees under an abuse-of-discretion standard, and we review the amount of attorney's fees awarded under a legal-sufficiency standard. See Ridge Oil Co., Inc. v. Guinn Invs., Inc., 148 S.W.3d 143, 163 (Tex. 2004); Aaron Rents, Inc. v. Travis Cent. Appraisal Dist., 212 S.W.3d 665, 671 (Tex. App.--Austin 2006, no pet.).
A trial court abuses its discretion if it acts without reference to any guiding rules and principles. Downer v. Aquamarine Operators, Inc., 701 S.W.2d 238, 241-42 (Tex. 1985). To determine whether a trial court abused its discretion, we must determine whether the trial court's action was arbitrary or unreasonable. Id. at 242.
Because we review the amount of attorney's fees awarded under a legal-sufficiency review, we must view the evidence in a light that tends to support the disputed finding and disregard evidence and inferences to the contrary. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Canchola, 121 S.W.3d 735, 739 (Tex. 2003). If more than a scintilla of evidence supports the challenged finding, the legal-sufficiency challenge must fail. Id.SOURCE: 03-07-00072-CV (9/11/09)
[Appellee - Defendant] requests that we award it appellate attorney's fees as monetary sanctions against [Appellant - Plaintiff] for bringing a frivolous appeal. See Tex. R. App. P. 45 (authorizing appellate court to award prevailing party "just damages" upon determination that appeal is frivolous).
Standard for Award of Appellate Attorney's Fees as a Sanction
In determining whether an appeal is frivolous, we review the record from the appellant's viewpoint and decide whether the appellant had reasonable grounds to believe the judgment could be reversed. Smith v. Brown, 51 S.W.3d 376, 381 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 2001, pet. denied).
Whether to grant sanctions for a frivolous appeal is a matter of discretion that an appellate court exercises with prudence and caution and only after careful deliberation in truly egregious circumstances. Goss v. Houston Cmty. Newspapers, 252 S.W.3d 652, 657 (Tex. App.--Houston [14th Dist.] 2008, no pet.).
Although we have rejected [Appellant's] arguments on appeal, we cannot characterize the appeal as objectively frivolous. Accordingly, we overrule [Appellee's] request.SOURCE: 03-07-00072-CV (9/11/09)
The statute of limitations for a breach-of-contract action is four years from the date the cause of action accrues. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 16.051 (West 2008); Stine v. Stewart, 80 S.W.3d 586, 592 (Tex. 2002).
As a general rule, a cause of action accrues and the statute of limitations begins to run when facts come into existence that authorize a party to seek a judicial remedy. Provident Life & Accident Ins. Co. v. Knott, 128 S.W.3d 211, 211 (Tex. 2003 ). In most cases, a cause of action accrues when a wrongful act causes a legal injury, regardless of when the plaintiff learns of that injury or if all resulting damages have yet occurred. Id.In order to determine when [Plaintiff's] cause of action accrued, we must first look at the injury on which he based his cause of action and then determine when the facts underlying the cause of action came into existence. See id. SOURCE: 03-07-00072-CV (because there is no genuine issue of material fact that the Plaintiff filed suit more than four years after his cause of action accrued, the Austin Court of Appeals affirms the trial court's summary judgment in favor of the Defendant.)
Sunday, September 13, 2009
HOW DOES THE LAW DEFINE THE AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE OF WAIVER?
Waiver is an intentional relinquishment of a known right. Straus v. Kirby Court Corp., 909 S.W.2d 105, 109 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1995, writ denied).
NON-WAIVER CLAUSE IN CONTRACT MAY PRECLUDE WAIVER DEFENSE
Creech's entire argument is based on Christian's ultimate acceptance of Creech's untimely or replacement payments. But the parties' Agreement contains a non-waiver clause; Christian hired an attorney, and the attorney unequivocally demanded the entire amount due as a result of the default; and there is no evidence in the record that Christian intended to accept a lesser amount than what he had demanded. [...] We will not construe Christian's efforts to collect past-due amounts as a waiver of his right to a full recovery. We overrule Creech's second issue as well.
SOURCE: DALLAS COURT OF APPALS - 05-08-00952-CV
Thursday, September 10, 2009
When Is a Statement Actionable as Defamatory? Defamation defined:A statement is defamatory if the words tend to injure a person's reputation, exposing the person to public hatred, contempt, ridicule, or financial injury. Colson v. Grohman, 24 S.W.3d 414, 421 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 2000, pet. denied). Defense to Defamation Claim: The Statements Made the Basis of the Lawsuit Are Substantially True Truth is an affirmative defense to a claim for defamation. See Associated Press v. Cook, 17 S.W.3d 447, 452 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 2000, no pet.). Similarly, a showing of substantial truth in a summary judgment case will defeat a defamation claim. McIlvain v. Jacobs, 794 S.W.2d 14, 15-16 (Tex. 1990). To determine substantial truth, we consider whether the defamatory statement was more damaging to the plaintiff in the mind of the average reader than a true statement would have been. McIlvain, 794 S.W.2d at 16; Barbouti v. Hearst Corp., 927 S.W.2d 37, 65 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 1996, writ denied). This evaluation involves looking at the "gist" of the statement. McIlvain, 794 S.W.2d at 16; KTRK Television v. Felder, 950 S.W.2d 100, 105 (Tex. App.--Houston [14th Dist.] 1997, no writ). If the underlying facts as to the gist of the libelous charge are undisputed, then we can disregard any variance with respect to items of secondary importance and determine substantial truth as a matter of law. McIlvain, 794 S.W.2d at 16; KTRK Television, 950 S.W.2d at 105-06. As stated previously, the truth of a statement is an absolute defense to a claim for defamation. See Hurlbut v. Gulf Atl. Life Ins. Co., 749 S.W.2d 762, 766 (Tex. 1987). The defense of truth does not require proof that the alleged defamatory statement is literally true in every detail; substantial truth is sufficient. Howell v. Hecht, 821 S.W.2d 627, 631-32 (Tex. App.--Dallas 1991, writ denied). If [Defendant] Pohl established, as a matter of law, the substantial truth of the statements about which the Pedens [Plaintiffs] complain, he is entitled to summary judgment. McIlvain, 794 S.W.2d at 15; Gustafson v. City of Austin, 110 S.W.3d 652, 656 (Tex. App.--Austin 2003, pet. denied). SOURCE OF ALL CASELAW SNIPPETS: Appellate opinion in 01-08-00373-CV (9/10/09) RELATED CONCEPTS: libel, slander, business disparagement, derogatory statements, reputation and reputational damages, standing in the community, goodwill, tortious interference