Texas Causes of Action & Affirmative Defenses

Texas Causes of Action & Affirmative Defenses

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Ambiguous vs. Unambiguous Contract: Implications for Summary Judgment, Admissibility of Extrinsic, Parol Evidence

WHEN IS A CONTRACT AMBIGUOUS / UNAMBIGUOUS? A contract is unambiguous if it can be given a definite legal meaning; if it is subject to two or more reasonable interpretations, it is ambiguous, creating a fact issue on the parties' intent. Webster, 128 S.W.3d at 229; Lopez v. Munoz, Hockema & Reed, L.L.P., 22 S.W.3d 857, 861 (Tex. 2000). Lack of clarity, however, does not necessarily create an ambiguity, and neither does a mere disagreement between the parties. See Universal Health Servs., Inc. v. Renaissance Women's Group, P.A., 121 S.W.3d 742, 746 (Tex. 2003) (adding that whether "a contract is ambiguous is a question of law that must be decided by examining the contract as a whole in light of the circumstances present when the contract was entered"); see also City of The Colony v. N. Tex. Mun. Water Dist., 272 S.W.3d 699, 722 (Tex. App.- Fort Worth 2008, pet. filed) (explaining that when "the meaning of a contract is unambiguous, a party's construction is immaterial"). Question of Law vs. Question of Fact When a contract contains an ambiguity, the granting of a motion for summary judgment is improper because the interpretation of the instrument becomes a fact issue. Coker v. Coker, 650 S.W.2d 391, 394 (Tex. 1983). Conversely, the interpretation of an unambiguous contract is a matter of law to be determined by the trial court. Gulf Ins. Co. v. Burns Motors, Inc., 22 S.W.3d 417, 423 (Tex. 2000). Effect of Contract Ambiguity (or Absence thereof) on Admissibility of Extrinsic Evidence / Parol Evidence In its second issue, Vineyard argues that the trial court erred by sustaining Univest's general objection to the purported parol evidence testimony of Collins and by excluding portions of Collins's affidavit because Collins's testimony met the admissibility requirements under the rules of evidence and common law. However, because we have concluded that the terms in the REA are not ambiguous, we must overrule Vineyard's evidentiary issues. See Fiess v. State Farm Lloyds, 202 S.W.3d 744, 747 (Tex. 2006) (recognizing that if the agreement is not ambiguous, courts do not consider extrinsic evidence when interpreting the agreement). Accordingly, we overrule Vineyard's second issue. SOURCE: 02-08-00496-CV (10/1/09) (Fort Worth Court of Appeals)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Moving for SJ based on Limitations as Affirmative Defense to Negligence Claim

WHEN IS A CASE OR CLAIM RIPE FOR DISPOSITION BY SUMMARY JUDGMENT? Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and judgment should be granted in favor of the movant as a matter of law. Diversicare Gen. Partner, Inc. v. Rubio, 185 S.W.3d 842, 846 (Tex. 2005) (citing KPMG Peat Marwick v. Harrison County Hous. Fin. Corp., 988 S.W.2d 746, 748 (Tex. 1999)). DEFENDANT'S USE OF THE SUMMARY JUDGMENT PROCEDURE Summary judgment may be granted on an affirmative defense. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 166a(c). A defendant moving for summary judgment on the affirmative defense of limitations has the burden to conclusively establish that defense. Diversicare, 185 S.W.3d at 846 (citing KPMG Peat Marwick, 988 S.W.2d at 748)); Provident Life & Accident Ins. Co. v. Knott, 128 S.W.3d 211, 220 (Tex. 2003). APPLICABLE EVIDENTIARY STANDARD AND SHIFT IN THE BURDEN OF PROOF A matter is conclusively established if ordinary minds cannot differ as to the conclusion to be drawn from the evidence. Triton Oil & Gas Corp. v. Marine Contractors & Supply, Inc., 644 S.W.2d 443, 446 (Tex. 1982). If the movant establishes that the statute of limitations bars the action, the nonmovant must then present summary judgment evidence raising a fact issue in avoidance of the statute of limitations. Kang v. Hyundai Corp., 992 S.W.2d 499, 501 (Tex. App.-Dallas 1999, no pet.); Palmer v. Enserch Corp., 728 S.W.2d 431, 435-36 (Tex. App.-Austin 1987, writ ref'd n.r.e.). PERSONAL INJURY CLAIMS: 2-YEAR SOL IN TEXAS The statute of limitations expired before appellant filed suit against appellee. The limitations period for this cause of action was two years from the accrual of the cause. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 16.003(a) (Vernon Supp. 2008) (providing a two-year limitations period for personal injury claims). Summary Judgment Based on the Statute of Limitations Was Proper Where Negligence Claim Based on Accident Accrued More Than 2 Years Prior to Date Amended Petition Named Additional Defendant (Movant) In his response to appellee's motion for summary judgment and on appeal, appellant admits the motor vehicle accident occurred on April 15, 2006 and the statute of limitations applicable to a negligence cause of action that arose from the accident expired April 16, 2008. The record confirms on February 27, 2008, appellant filed suit against Insurance Depot, Inc. and on July 22, 2008, appellant filed his amended petition including the negligence claim against the newly- named appellee. We conclude that appellee established its defense of limitations as a matter of law, and the summary judgment in favor of appellee was proper in this case. SOURCE: 05-09-00183-CV (Dallas Court of Appeals) (10/1/09)

Settlement Agreement: Elements essential to enforceability

HOW DO COURTS DETERMINE WHETHER A SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT IS ENFORCEABLE? 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)

COMPARE & CONTRAST: Settlement & Release vs. Indemnity

RELEASE & SETTLEMENT VS. INDEMNITY AGREEMENT COMPARED 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: 04-08-00302-CV (9/15/09)

Meeting of the minds as element of contract formation

Establishing and Disputing the Meeting of the Minds Element of a Contract Claim Whether the parties have come to a “meeting of the minds” is measured objectively according to what the parties said and did. Copeland v. Alsobrook, 3 S.W.3d 598, 604 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 1999, pet. denied). The parties’ subjective thoughts and beliefs do not control. Id. When the “meeting of the minds” element is contested, it is a question for the fact finder. Hallmark v. Hand, 885 S.W.2d 471, 476 (Tex. App.—El Paso 1994, writ denied). What does the "meeting of the minds" mean in the contracting context? “Meeting of the minds” describes the mutual understanding and assent to the agreement regarding the subject matter and the essential terms of the contract. Weynand v. Weynand, 990 S.W.2d 843, 846 (Tex. App.—Dallas 1999, pet. denied). “The parties must agree to the same thing, in the same sense, at the same time.” Id. The essential elements required, in writing, for the sale of real property are the price, the property description, and the seller’s signature. See Rus-Ann Dev., Inc. v. ECGC, Inc., 222 S.W.3d 921, 927 (Tex. App.—Tyler 2007, no pet.); Lynx Exploration & Prod. Co. v. 4-Sight Operating Co., 891 S.W.2d 785, 788 (Tex. App.—Texarkana 1995, writ denied). Meeting of the Minds and enforceability of contracts However, this does not mean that a contract containing these terms would remain enforceable if additional terms are incorporated into the agreement that are so indefinite that the court could not fix the legal obligation and liabilities of the parties. Lynx Exploration, 891 S.W.2d at 788. Here, there is no dispute the Fines agreed to sell and the Pollards agreed to buy the real property that was the subject matter of the Commercial Contract. The parties agreed on all terms essential to that sale, including, but not limited to, the sales price, financing, payment of earnest money, inspection of the property, fees, and details regarding closing and possession of the property. We conclude Stephen did not conclusively establish that there was no meeting of the minds with regard to the contract. SOURCE: 04-08-00745-CV (9/9/09) (San Antonio Court of Appeals)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Contract Ambiguity as a defensive claim

AMBIGUOUS CONTRACT ARGUMENT [Claim that contract sued on is ambiguous as a defense to enforcement of the contract as a matter of law without parol evidence] “Whether a contract is ambiguous is a question of law that must be decided by examining the contract as a whole in light of the circumstances present when the contract was entered.” Columbia Gas Transmission Corp. v. New Ulm Gas, Ltd., 940 S.W.2d 587, 589 (Tex. 1996). Only where a contract is ambiguous may a court consider the parties’ interpretation and “admit extraneous evidence to determine the true meaning of the instrument.” Nat’l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, Penn. v. CBI Indus., Inc., 907 S.W.2d 517, 520 (Tex. 1995) (per curiam). When is a contract provision ambiguous, and when not? A contract is not ambiguous merely because the parties have conflicting interpretations of the contract. Columbia Gas, 940 S.W.2d at 589. A contract is ambiguous only when its meaning is uncertain or it is reasonably susceptible to more than one meaning. Coker v. Coker, 650 S.W.2d 391, 393 (Tex. 1983). Question of law vs. question of fact precluding summary judgment When a contract is not ambiguous, the construction of the written instrument is a question of law for the court that is reviewed de novo. MCI Telecommunications Corp. v. Texas Utilities Elec. Co., 995 S.W.2d 647, 650-51 (Tex. 1999); Coker, 650 S.W.2d at 393. SOURCE: 04-08-00745-CV (9/9/09) (San Antonio Court of Appeals)

Mutual Mistake as a Contract Defense

AVOIDANCE OF CONTRACT BASED ON MUTUAL MISTAKE When parties to an agreement have contracted under a misconception or ignorance of a material fact, the agreement will be avoided under the doctrine of mutual mistake. Williams v. Glash, 789 S.W.2d 261, 264 (Tex. 1990). When can the affirmative defense of mutual mistake be invoked? To prove a mutual mistake, the evidence must show that both parties were acting under the same misunderstanding of the same material fact when the agreement was executed. Seymour v. American Engine & Grinding Co., 956 S.W.2d 49, 58 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 1996, writ denied). “The doctrine of mutual mistake must not routinely be available to avoid the results of an unhappy bargain.” Williams v. Glash, 789 S.W.2d 261, 265 (Tex. 1990). SOURCE: 04-08-00745-CV (9/9/09) (San Antonio Court of Appeals) (defense of mutual mistake not conclusively established)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

No viable civil conspiracy claim in the absence of underlying tort

CIVIL CONSPIRACY To establish civil conspiracy, the appellant must show that the appellees had a meeting of the minds on an object or course of action, and that one of the members committed an unlawful, overt act in furtherance of the object or course of action. Tri v. J.T.T., 162 S.W.3d 552, 556 (Tex. 2005). FAILURE OF UNDERLYING CAUSE OF ACTION DOOMED CIVIL CONSPIRACY CLAIM But since conspiracy is a derivative tort, [Plaintiff] must show that the appellees were also liable for some underlying tort in order to prevail on this claim. See Baty v. ProTech Ins. Agency, 63 S.W.3d 841, 864 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2001, pet. denied) (citing Trammell Crow Co. No. 60 v. Harkinson, 944 S.W.2d 631, 635 (Tex. 1997)). Because we have already affirmed the trial court's summary judgment as to both tortious interference and breach of fiduciary duty, [Plaintiff] is without a tort claim upon which to base a cause of civil conspiracy. Therefore we overrule [Plaintiff's] issue on the summary judgment against his conspiracy claim. SOURCE: 14-08-00093-CV (9/29/09) (Houston Court of Appeals - 14th Dist.)

The elements of tortious interference [not spelled tortuous]

PROVING A TORTIOUS INTERFERENCE CLAIM (interference with contract) A party alleging tortious interference must prove that a contract subject to interference exists; that the alleged act of interference was willful and intentional; that the willful and intentional act proximately caused damage; and that actual damage or loss occurred. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am. v. Fin. Review Servs., Inc., 29 S.W.3d 74, 77 (Tex. 2000); Four Bros. Boat Works, Inc. v. Tesoro Petroleum Cos., 217 S.W.3d 653, 668 (Tex. App.- Houston [14th Dist.] 2006, pet. denied). SOURCE: 14-08-00093-CV (9/29/09) (Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston)

UDJA claim: When is declaratory judgment appropriate?

CLAIM FOR DECLARATION(S) UNDER THE UNIFORM DECLARATORY JUDGMENTS ACT (UDJA) What is the Declaratory Judgment Act (DJA) and what purpose does it serve? The Texas Declaratory Judgment Act is a remedial statute the purpose of which is to afford relief from uncertainty and insecurity with respect to rights, status, and other legal relations. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 37.002(b) (Vernon 2008); Bonham State Bank v. Beadle, 907 S.W.2d 465, 467 (Tex.1995); WesternGeco, L.L.C. v. Input/Output, Inc., 246 S.W.3d 776, 781 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2008, no pet.). [Courts] must construe and administer this statute liberally. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 37.002(b); Bonham State Bank, 907 S.W.2d at 467. A court of record, acting within its jurisdiction, has power to declare rights, status, and other legal relations whether or not further relief is or could be claimed. WesternGeco, L.L.C., 246 S.W.3d at 781. Limitations on Availability of Declaratory Relief A declaratory judgment is appropriate only if a justiciable controversy exists as to the rights and status of the parties and the controversy will be resolved by the declaration sought. Bonham State Bank, 907 S.W.2d at 467; WesternGeco, L.L.C., 246 S.W.3d at 781. For a justiciable controversy to exist, there must be a real and substantial controversy involving a genuine conflict of tangible interests and not merely a theoretical dispute. Bonham State Bank, 907 S.W.2d at 467; WesternGeco, L.L.C., 246 S.W.3d at 781. SOURCE: 14-08-00093-CV (9/29/09) (Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Eviction Lingo: Forcible Detainer Action Explained

WHAT IS A FORCIBLE DETAINER ACTION? A forcible detainer action, which is a special proceeding governed by particular statutes and rules, "was created to provide a speedy, simple, and inexpensive means for resolving the question of the right to possession of premises." Rice v. Pinney, 51 S.W.3d 705, 709 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2001, no pet.); see Tex. Prop. Code Ann. §§ 24.001-24.011 (Vernon 2000 & Supp. 2008); Tex. R. Civ. P. 738-755. Generally, the "sole issue" in the suit is "who has the right to immediate possession of the premises." Rice, 51 S.W.3d at 709; see Tex. R. Civ. P. 746. "To prevail in a forcible detainer action, a plaintiff is not required to prove title, but is only required to show sufficient evidence of ownership to demonstrate a superior right to immediate possession." Rice, 51 S.W.3d at 709. The Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, however, specifically allow a claim for rent to be brought with a forcible detainer action. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 738; Carlson's Hill Country Beverage L.C. v. Westinghouse Road Joint Venture, 957 S.W.2d 951, 954 (Tex. App.-Austin 1997, no pet.). SOURCE: 09-08-00422-CV (8/27/09) (Beaumont Court of Appeals)

Elements of Adverse Possession Claim

ADVERSE POSSESSION To support a claim for adverse possession, a claimant must prove: (1) actual possession of the disputed property; (2) under a claim of right; and (3) that is adverse or hostile to the claim of another person and that it was consistently and continuously so for the duration of the statutory period. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 16.021 (Vernon 2002); Martin v. McDonnold, 247 S.W.3d 224, 235 (Tex. App.--El Paso 2006, no pet.); Cherokee Water Co. v. Freeman, 145 S.W.3d 809, 817 (Tex. App.--Texarkana 2004, pet. denied). The test for hostility is whether acts performed by the claimant on the land, and the use made of the land, were of such a nature and character as to reasonably notify the true owner of the land that a hostile claim was being asserted to the property. Martin, 247 S.W.3d at 235; Cherokee Water Co., 145 S.W.3d at 817. Possession must not only be actual, but also visible, continuous, notorious, distinct, hostile (i.e., adverse), and of such a character as to indicate unmistakably an assertion of a claim of exclusive ownership in the occupant. Martin, 247 S.W.3d at 235; Cherokee Water Co., 145 S.W.3d at 817. "Possession of land by adverse claimants who began their entry upon the disputed land with the permission of the record owner cannot establish adverse possession unless and until they give notice of the hostile nature of their possession. Wright v. Wallace, 700 S.W.2d 269, 271 (Tex. App.--Corpus Christi 1985, writ ref'd n.r.e.); see also Commander v. Winkler, 67 S.W.3d 265, 269 (Tex. App.--Tyler 2001, pet. denied). "Where the original use of the land in controversy is permissive, it is presumed that the continued use thereof is also permissive in the absence of notice to the true owner of the repudiation of such permissive use and the assertion of an adverse claim." Commander, 67 S.W.3d at 270. SOURCE: 04-08-00171-CV (7/8/09) (San Antonio Court of Appeals)

Trespass on Land: Elements of the Tort

WHAT IS TRESPASS TO REAL PROPERTY? Trespass to real property occurs when a person enters another's land without consent. Rankin v. FPL Energy, LLC, 266 S.W.3d 506, 509 n.4 (Tex. App.--Eastland 2008, pet. denied); Wilen v. Falkenstein, 191 S.W.3d 791, 797-98 (Tex. App.--Fort Worth 2006, pet. denied). SUING FOR DAMAGES FOR TRESPASS ON LAND To recover damages, a plaintiff must prove that: (1) the plaintiff owns or has a lawful right to possess real property; (2) the defendant entered the plaintiff's land and the entry was physical, intentional, and voluntary; and (3) the defendant's trespass caused injury to the plaintiff. Rankin, 266 S.W.3d at 509 n.4; Wilen, 191 S.W.3d at 798. SOURCE: 04-08-00171-CV (7/8/09) (San Antonio Court of Appeals)

Res Judicata: Purpose and Elements of this Affirmative Defense

WHAT IS RES JUDICATA AND WHAT PURPOSE DOES THE DOCTRINE SERVE? Res judicata, or claims preclusion, prevents the relitigation of a claim or cause of action that has been finally adjudicated, as well as related matters that, with the use of diligence, should have been litigated in the prior suit. Barr v. Resolution Trust Corp. ex rel. Sunbelt Fed. Sav., 837 S.W.2d 627, 628-29 (Tex. 1992). "The doctrine is intended to prevent causes of action from being split, thus curbing vexatious litigation and promoting judicial economy." Ingersoll-Rand Co. v. Valero Energy Corp., 997 S.W.2d 203, 207 (Tex. 1999) (citing Barr, 837 S.W.2d at 629). WHAT ESTABLISHES THE AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE OF RES JUDICATA? The elements of res judicata are: (1) a prior final judgment on the merits by a court of competent jurisdiction; (2) identity of parties or those in privity with them; and (3) a second action based on the same claims that were raised or could have been raised in the first action. Igal v. Brightstar Info. Tech. Group, Inc., 250 S.W.3d 78, 86 (Tex. 2008); Amstadt v. U. S. Brass Corp., 919 S.W.2d 644, 652 (Tex. 1996). "The scope of res judicata is not limited to matters actually litigated; the judgment in the first suit precludes a second action by the parties and their privies not only on matters actually litigated, but also on causes of action or defenses which arise out of the same subject matter and which might have been litigated in the first suit." Barr, 837 S.W.2d at 630 (quoting Tex. Water Rights Comm'n v. Crow Iron Works, 582 S.W.2d 768, 771-72 (Tex. 1979) (emphasis added)). To determine what constitutes the subject matter of a suit, we analyze the factual matters that make up the gist of the complaint, without regard to the form of action; any cause of action which arises out of those same facts should, if practicable, be litigated in the same lawsuit. Barr, 837 S.W.2d at 630; Crow Iron Works, 582 S.W.2d at 772. SOURCE: 04-07-00727-CV (7/8/09) (San Antonio Court of Appeals)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Res judicata as affirmative defense and bar to re-litigation of claims

THE CONCEPT OF RES JUDICATA AND THE LEGAL EFFECT WHEN IT APPLIES "Res judicata precludes relitigation of claims that have been finally adjudicated, or that arise out of the same subject matter and that could have been litigated in the prior action." Amstadt v. U.S. Brass Corp., 919 S.W.2d 644, 652 (Tex. 1996). HOW TO ESTABLISH THE AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE OF RES JUDICATA To prove res judicata, a party must establish: (1) a prior final judgment on the merits by a court of competent jurisdiction; (2) identity of parties or those in privity with them; and (3) a subsequent action based on the same claims as were raised or could have been raised in the first action. Id. PARTY STATUS OR IN PRIVITY WITH A PARTY IN THE PRIOR SUIT As a general rule, people are not bound by a judgment in a suit to which they were not parties. Id. Josephina does not contend that Jesus and Norma were parties to the prior divorce suit but rather that they were in privity with Juan and, therefore, are bound by the trial court's judgment in the prior suit. WHEN DOES PRIVITY APPLY? The Texas Supreme Court has said that people can be in privity in three ways: (1) by controlling the action even if they are not parties to it; (2) by having their interests represented by a party to the action; or (3) by acting as "successors in interest, deriving their claims through a party to the prior action." Id. at 653. PRIVITY DEFINED "Privity connotes those who are in law so connected with a party to a judgment as to have such an identity of interest that the party to the judgment represented the same legal right." Maxson v. Travis Co. Rent Account, 21 S.W.3d 311, 316 (Tex. App.--Austin 1999, pet. dism'd). SOURCE: 04-08-00394-CV (7/29/09) (San Antonio Court of Appeals)

Breach of Fiduciary Duty: The Damages Element

Establishing Breach of Fiduciary Duty

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)

The Discovery Rule: When does it apply?

THE DISCOVERY RULE: WHEN CAN IT BE INVOKED TO GOOD EFFECT TO AVOID LIMITATIONS BAR ? "The discovery rule has been applied in limited categories of cases to defer accrual of a cause of action until the plaintiff knew or, exercising reasonable diligence, should have known of the facts giving rise to a cause of action." HECI Exploration Co. v. Neel, 982 S.W.2d 881, 886 (Tex. 1998). The application of the discovery rule is generally limited to those cases where the nature of the injury is inherently undiscoverable and the evidence of the injury is objectively verifiable. Id. The applicability of the discovery rule is determined categorically, i.e., not based on whether the particular injury in the case at hand may not have been discovered but whether the injury is of a type that generally is discoverable by the exercise of reasonable diligence. Id. INHERENTLY UNDISCOVERABLE INJURY & EXISTENCE OF FIDUCIARY DUTY A variation to the inherently undiscoverable element arises when applying the discovery rule to a fiduciary relationship. Computer Assocs. Int'l, Inc. v. Altai, Inc., 918 S.W.2d 453, 456 (Tex. 1996); see also S.V. v. R.V. , 933 S.W.2d 1, 8 (Tex. 1996). In the fiduciary context, "a person to whom a fiduciary duty is owed is either unable to inquire into the fiduciary's actions or unaware of the need to do so." S V., 933 S.W.2d at 8. When a trustee breaches its duty to a beneficiary, the nature of the injury is considered inherently undiscoverable because of the fiduciary nature of the relationship. See id. However, the person owed a fiduciary relationship still must exercise reasonable diligence "when the fact of misconduct becomes [so] apparent it can no longer be ignored." (1) Id.; see also Computer Assocs. Int'l, 918 S.W.2d at 456; Slay v. Burnett Trust, 187 S.W.2d 377, 394 (Tex. 1945); G. Prop. Mgmt., Ltd. v. Multivest Fin. Servs. of Tex., Inc., 219 S.W.3d 37, 48-49 (Tex. App.--San Antonio 2006, no pet.). FIDUCIARY DUTY CONTEXT Because Jones owed fiduciary responsibilities to Polk Mechanical, the inherently undiscoverable requirement for applying the discovery rule is satisfied. See S V., 933 S.W.2d at 8. Moreover, the injury in this case is objectively verifiable as it can be objectively established through bank records and cancelled checks. See HECI Exploration Co., 982 S.W.2d at 886. Accordingly, we hold the discovery rule applied to Polk Mechanical's claim against Jones, and Jones was required to conclusively negate its application to be entitled to summary judgment. See Pustejovsky, 35 S.W.3d at 646. NEGATING THE DISCOVERY RULE To conclusively negate the discovery rule, Jones was required to prove as a matter of law that there was no genuine issue of fact about when Polk Mechanical discovered or should have discovered the nature of the injury. See Potter, 137 S.W.3d at 704. Inquiries involving the discovery rule usually entail questions for the trier of fact because when a plaintiff knew or should have known of an injury is generally a fact question. Childs v. Haussecker, 974 S.W.2d 31, 44 (Tex. 1998); Cadle Co. v. Wilson, 136 S.W.3d 345, 352 (Tex. App.--Austin 2004, no pet.). However, if reasonable minds could not differ about the conclusion to be drawn from the facts in the record, the start of the limitations period may be determined as a matter of law. Childs, 974 S.W.2d at 44; Cadle Co., 136 S.W.3d at 352; Zacharie v. U.S. Nat. Resources, Inc., 94 S.W.3d 748, 753 (Tex. App.--San Antonio 2002, no pet.). SOURCE: 04-08-00509-CV (7/1/09) (San Antonio Court of Appeals)

Lawsuit involving a trust: Statute of Limitations and Accrual

Civil Actions involving Trusts: Statute of Limitations and the Discovery Rule A suit involving a trust is governed by the four-year statute of limitations. Hicks v. Hoover, 422 S.W.2d 613, 614 (Tex. Civ. App.--Waco 1967, writ ref'd n.r.e.). The statute of limitations begins to run when the all assets have been distributed. See In re Estate of McGarr, 10 S.W.3d 373, 376 (Tex. App.--Corpus Christi 1999, pet. denied). The discovery rule, however, tolls the running of the statute of limitations until the plaintiff discovers or should have discovered the nature of the injury. Houston Endowment, Inc. v. Atlantic Richfield Co., 972 S.W.2d 156, 159 (Tex. App.--Houston [14th Dist.] 1998, no pet.). In order for the discovery rule to apply, the injury must be inherently undiscoverable and objectively verifiable. Id. SOURCE: 04-08-00601-CV (7/8/09) (San Antonio Court of Appeals)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Successful Bill of Review entails retrial of claim(s) on which underlying judgment was based

  
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)

EQUITABLE RELIEF: What is a Bill of Review in Texas Courts?

  
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

ACCRUAL OF DEBT CLAIM WHEN CONTRACT REQUIRES PERIODIC PAYMENTS: EACH MISSED PAYMENT DATE TRIGGERS RUNNING OF LIMITATIONS SEPARATELY A four-year statute of limitations applies to contract actions. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 16.004 (Vernon 2002). A breach of contract claim accrues at the time of breach. Stine v. Stewart, 80 S.W.3d 586, 592 (Tex. 2002). When recovery is sought on an obligation payable in installments, the statute of limitations runs against each installment from the time it becomes due. Intermedics, Inc. v. Grady, 683 S.W.2d 842, 845 (Tex.App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 1984, writ ref'd n.r.e.). Thus, a suit for the breach of a contract requiring payment in periodic installments may include all payments due within the four-year statute of limitations period, even if the initial breach was beyond the limitations period. Recovery of any payment more than four years overdue is barred. Hollander v. Capon, 853 S.W.2d 723, 726-27 (Tex.App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 1993, writ denied). RELATED TERMS: Retail Installment Contract, financing, closed-ended consumer loan requiring monthly payments in equal amounts, monthly payment-due dates, missing monthly loan repayment, payment schedule SOURCE: 05-08-00458-CV (9/18/09) (Dallas Court of Appeals)

Fraud Cause of Action under Texas Law

WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS OF FRAUD? "The elements of fraud are a material misrepresentation, which was false, and which was either known to be false when made or was asserted without knowledge of the truth, which was intended to be acted upon, which was relied upon, and which caused injury." DeSantis v. Wackenhut Corp., 793 S.W.2d 670, 688 (Tex. 1990). HOW DOES FRAUD DIFFER FROM FAILURE TO PERFORM CONTRACTUAL OBLIGATION? A promise to do an act in the future is actionable fraud when made with the intention, design and purpose of deceiving, and with no intention of performing the act. See Spoljaric v. Percival Tours, Inc., 708 S.W.2d 432, 434 (Tex. 1986). SOURCE: 09-08-00296-CV (8/27/09) The essential elements of his claim of fraud against the [defendants] were: (1) the [defendants] made a false representation to [plaintiff]; (2) the representation was material; (3) when the [defendants] made the representation, they knew the representation was false; (4) the [defendants] made the representation with the intent that [plaintiff] act on it; (5) [Plaintiff] relied on the representation; and (6) the representation caused [plaintiff] injury. Ernst & Young v. Pacific Mut. Life. Ins. Co., 51 S.W.3d 573, 577 (Tex. 2001). SOURCE: 07-08-0213-CV (9/11/09)

Proving a conversion claim in Texas (as to personal property)

HOW DO YOU ESTABLISH THE ELEMENTS OF TEXAS COMMON-LAW CONVERSION CLAIM? "To prove a claim for personal property-conversion, a plaintiff must show that: (1) the plaintiff owned or legally possessed the property or was entitled to its possession; (2) the defendant unlawfully and without authorization assumed and exercised dominion and control over the property to the exclusion of, or inconsistent with, the plaintiff's ownership rights; (3) the plaintiff demanded the property's return; and (4) the defendant refused to return it." Small v. Small, 216 S.W.3d 872, 877 (Tex. App.-Beaumont 2007, pet. denied). ). SOURCE: 09-08-00433-CV (8/27/09) (Beaumont Court of Appeals) RELATED CAUSE OF ACTION: STATUTORY CAUSES OF ACTION FOR CIVIL THEFT: TEXAS THEFT LIABILITY ACT

Monday, September 21, 2009

Illegal Contract Defense

ILLEGALITY AS AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE TO BREACH-OF-CONTRACT CLAIM The validity of a contract is generally a question of law. Farah v. Mafrige & Kormanik, P.C., 927 S.W.2d 663, 678 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 1996, no writ). ILLEGAL CONTRACT DEFINED - VOID CONTRACTS An illegal contract is one in which the parties undertake what the law forbids. Franklin v. Jackson, 847 S.W.2d 306, 309 (Tex.App.--El Paso 1992, writ denied). A contract to do a thing which cannot be performed without a violation of the law is void. Id. Because the contract violates the law, it imposes no legal obligation on the parties. Miller v. Long-Bell Lumber Co., 148 Tex. 160, 222 S.W.2d 244, 246 (Tex. 1949); Franklin, 847 S.W.2d at 309. However, a contract which could have been performed in a legal manner will not be declared void simply because it may have been performed in an illegal manner. Franklin, 847 S.W.2d at 309, citing Lewis v. Davis, 145 Tex. 468, 199 S.W.2d 146, 148-49 (1947); Wade v. Jones, 526 S.W.2d 160, 162-63 (Tex.Civ.App.--Dallas 1975, no writ). PRESUMPTION OF LEGALITY - BURDEN OF PROOF TO SHOW ILLEGALITY The law presumes that contracts are legal, and the burden to prove illegality is on the party asserting it, in this case, Appellants. See Franklin, 847 S.W.2d at 310. Unless the face of the contract shows it is illegal, the party asserting illegality must present evidence demonstrating the illegality before a court may declare the contract void. See Lewis, 199 S.W.2d at 149; Franklin, 847 S.W.2d at 310. SOURCE: 08-07-00071-CV (7/29/09)

What is required to win a breach of contract case?

PROVING AND COLLECTING DAMAGES FOR BREACH OF CONTRACT To prevail on his breach of contract claim, [Plaintiff] was required to prove: (1) the existence of a valid contract; (2) performance or tendered performance by [Plaintiff]; (3) breach of contract by the [Defendants]; and (4) damages sustained as a result of the breach. Paragon General Contractors, Inc. v. Larco Const., Inc., 227 S.W.3d 876, 882 (Tex.App.–Dallas 2007, no pet.); Valero Marketing & Supply Co. v. Kalama Int’l, 51 S.W.3d 345, 351 (Tex.App.–Houston [14th Dist.] 2006, pet. denied). Conner’s response does not point to evidence of any of these elements. SOURCE: 07-08-0213-CV (9/11/09)

The Parol Evidence Rule: Not just a rule about admissibility of testimony, extraneous evidence

THE NATURE OF THE PAROL (NOT PAROLE) EVIDENCE RULE The parol evidence rule is a rule of substantive contract law, not evidence. Hubacek v. Ennis State Bank, 159 Tex. 166, 317 S.W.2d 30, 31 (1958); DeClaire v. G & B McIntosh Family Limited Partnership, 260 S.W.3d 34, 45 (Tex.App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 2008, no pet. h.). STANDARD OF REVIEW ON APPEAL We review parol evidence questions de novo, as questions of law. DeClaire, 260 S.W.3d at 45. PAROL EVIDENCE AND INTERGRATION OR MERGER CLAUSE IN CONTRACT When the parties have concluded a valid, integrated agreement, the parol evidence rule precludes enforcement of a prior or contemporaneous inconsistent agreement. Edascio, L.L.C. v. NextiraOne L.L.C., 264 S.W.3d 786, 796 (Tex.App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 2008, pet. filed); ISG State Operations, Inc. v. National Heritage Insurance Company, 234 S.W.3d 711, 719 (Tex.App.--Eastland 2007, pet. denied). The execution of a written contract presumes that all prior negotiations and agreements relating to the transaction have been merged into the written contract. Edascio, 264 S.W.3d at 796; ISG State Operations, 234 S.W.3d at 719. Consequently, the agreement will be enforced as written and cannot be added to, varied, or contradicted by parol evidence. Edascio, 264 S.W.3d at 796; ISG State Operations, 234 S.W.3d at 719. The parol evidence rule is particularly applicable when the written contract contains a recital that it contains the entire agreement between the parties or a similarly-worded merger provision. Edascio, 264 S.W.3d at 796. Evidence that violates the rule is incompetent and without probative force, and cannot properly be given legal effect. Garner v. Fidelity Bank, N.A., 244 S.W.3d 855, 859 (Tex.App.--Dallas 2008, no pet.). Parol evidence may be admissible to show collateral, contemporaneous agreements that are consistent with the underlying agreement. Gary E. Patterson & Associates, P.C. v. Holub, 264 S.W.3d 180, 197 (Tex.App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 2008, pet. denied); DeClaire, 260 S.W.3d at 45. But this exception does not permit parol evidence that varies or contradicts either the express terms or the implied terms of the written agreement. Gary E. Patterson, 264 S.W.3d at 197; DeClaire, 260 S.W.3d at 45. A collateral agreement is one the parties might naturally make separately, i.e., one not ordinarily expected to be embodied in, or integrated with the written agreement and not so clearly connected with the principal transaction as to be part and parcel of it. Garner, 244 S.W.3d at 859. An agreement is integrated if the parties intended a writing to be a final and complete expression of agreed terms. Morgan Buildings and Spas, Inc. v. Humane Society of Southeast Texas, 249 S.W.3d 480, 486 (Tex.App.--Beaumont 2008, no pet.). The inclusion of a merger or integration clause does not conclusively establish that the written contract is fully integrated. Id. A fully integrated written agreement is a final and complete expression of all the terms agreed upon by the parties. Id. A partially integrated agreement is a final and complete expression of all the terms addressed in that written agreement, but is not a final and complete expression of all the terms the parties have agreed upon. Id. A court considers the surrounding circumstances in determining whether, and to what degree, an agreement is integrated. Id. SOURCE OF ALL SNIPPETS: 08-07-00071-CV (7/29/09)

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Discovery Rule as a limitations tolling tool for breach of fiduciary duty claim in Texas

SOL FOR BREACH OF FIDUCIARY DUTY & DISCOVERY RULE The statute of limitations for a claim for breach of fiduciary duty is four years from the day the cause of action accrued. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 16.004(a)(5) (Vernon 2002). The discovery rule defers the accrual of a cause of action until the plaintiff knows, or by exercising reasonable diligence, should know of the facts giving rise to the claim. Barker v. Eckman, 213 S.W.3d 306, 311-12 (Tex. 2006). WHEN CAN THE DISCOVERY RULE BE INVOKED? For the discovery rule to apply, the injury must be inherently undiscoverable and objectively verifiable. Id. at 312; Via Net v. TIG Ins. Co., 211 S.W.3d 310, 313 (Tex. 2006). Injuries that arise from a breach of fiduciary duty are generally considered inherently undiscoverable. S.V. v. R.V., 933 S.W.2d 1, 8 (Tex. 1996); Computer Assocs. Int'l, Inc. v. Altai, Inc., 918 S.W.2d 453, 456 (Tex. 1996). However, once the fiduciary's misconduct becomes apparent, the claimant cannot ignore it, regardless of the fiduciary nature of the relationship. S.V., 933 S.W.2d at 8; see also Computer Assocs., 918 S.W.2d at 456. SOURCE: 09-08-00398-CV (7/16/09) (Beaumont Court of Appeals)

Asserting Fraudulent Concealment to Counter Affirmative Defense of Limitations (SoL)

FRAUDULENT CONCEALMENT AS COUNTER-DEFENSE TO LIMITATIONS DEFENSE A defendant is entitled to summary judgment on the affirmative defense of limitations by conclusively proving all the elements of the defense as a matter of law. Pustejovsky v. Rapid-American Corp., 35 S.W.3d 643, 646 (Tex. 2000). This requires conclusively proving the date the cause of action accrued. See Rubio, 185 S.W.3d at 846. When a defendant conclusively establishes a limitations defense and the plaintiff resists summary judgment by asserting fraudulent concealment, the plaintiff has the burden to present evidence raising a fact issue with respect to its claim. Am. Petrofina, Inc. v. Allen, 887 S.W.2d 829, 830 (Tex. 1994). The elements of fraudulent concealment are 1) the existence of the underlying tort, 2) the defendant's knowledge of the tort, 3) the defendant's use of deception to conceal the tort, and 4) the plaintiff's reasonable reliance on the deception. Malone v. Sewell, 168 S.W.3d 243, 252 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2005, pet. denied). SOURCE: 09-08-00433-CV (8/27/09) (Beaumont Court of Appeals)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Can prevailing defendant get attorney's fees in breach-of-contract suit?

PREVAILING DEFENDANT MAY RECOVER ATTORNEY'S FEES IF AUTHORIZED BY CONTRACT The trial court's decision to award attorney's fees and post-judgment interest is supported by the contract, which states:

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)

Reasonable Attorney's Fees in Texas State Court: The Arthur Anderson Factors

FACTORS TO BE CONSIDERED BY THE TRIAL COURT IN AWARDING REASONABLE ATTORNEY'S FEES (Arthur Andersen Factors) Regarding the amount of attorney's fees the trial court awarded, there are several factors a fact finder should consider in determining the reasonableness of a fee. (2) Arthur Andersen & Co. v. Perry Equip. Corp., 945 S.W.2d 812, 818 (Tex. 1997). The factors include:

(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)

TRAP 45 Appellate Attorneys Fees as a Sanction for Frivolous Appeal

Attorney's Fees for bringing an unmeritorious appeal

[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)

SoL and Accrual Date for Breach of Contract Actions

What is the limitations period for bringing suit for breach of contract in Texas? When does the claim accrue for purposes of starting the running of limitations? How long does the Plaintiff have time to file suit without running in limitations problems?

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

Waiver Defense Can Be Waived (Non-Waiver Clause in Contract or Settlement Agreement)

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: 05-08-00952-CV

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Defamation & Truth as Defense

The Elements of Defamation Cause of Action in Texas: The elements of the [Plaintiff's] defamation claim are that: (1) [Defendant] published a statement, (2) the statement was defamatory concerning the [Plaintiff], and (3) [Defendant] acted with negligence regarding the truth of the statement. See WFAA-TV, Inc. v. McLemore, 978 S.W.2d 568, 571 (Tex. 1998).

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

Quasi-Estoppel defined

What is quasi-estoppel and when does it apply? "Quasi-estoppel precludes a party from asserting, to another's disadvantage, a right inconsistent with a position previously taken." Lopez v. Munoz, Hockema & Reed, L.L.P., 22 S.W.3d 857, 864 (Tex. 2000) "The doctrine applies when it would be unconscionable to allow a person to maintain a position inconsistent with one to which he acquiesced, or from which he accepted a benefit." Id. SOURCE: 01-08-00373-CV (9/10/09)

Judicial Estoppel: Purpose and Applicability

Judicial Estoppel is an equitable doctrine Judicial estoppel generally prevents a party who has succeeded in maintaining a certain position in a proceeding from assuming a contrary position "simply because his interests have changed." New Hampshire v. Maine, 532 U.S. 742, 749, 121 S. Ct. 1808, 1814 (2001) (quoting Davis v. Wakelee, 156 U.S. 680, 689, 15 S. Ct. 555 (1895)). The purpose of judicial estoppel and the cirumstances when it is properly applied The purpose of judicial estoppel is "to protect the integrity of the judicial process." Id., 121 S. Ct. at 1814. Judicial estoppel is an equitable doctrine, and as such, all the circumstances of the case may be relevant. See id. at 750, 121 S. Ct. at 1815. The factors that "typically inform the decision whether to apply the doctrine" are: (1) a party's position must be "clearly inconsistent" with its earlier positions, (2) whether the parties urging of inconsistent positions threatens judicial integrity by creating a "risk of inconsistent court determinations," and (3) whether the party seeking to assert an inconsistent position would gain an unfair advantage or impose an unfair detriment on the opposing party. Id. at 750-51, 121 S. Ct. at 1815. SOURCE: 01-08-00373-CV (9/10/09)

The Elements of Collateral Estoppel

What are the Elements of Collateral Estoppel? When does collateral estoppel (not) apply? The elements of collateral estoppel are: (1) the facts sought to be litigated in the second action were fully and fairly litigated in the first action, (2) those facts were essential to the judgment in the first action, and (3) the parties were cast as adversaries in the first action. Case Funding Network, L.P. v. Anglo-Dutch Petroleum Int'l, Inc., 264 S.W.3d 38, 52 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 2007, pet. denied) (citing Tex. Dep't of Pub. Safety v. Petta, 44 S.W.3d 575, 579 (Tex. 2001)). It is undisputed that the Pedens were not "cast as adversaries" against South Texas and Lawton in the earlier suit. Therefore, collateral estoppel does not apply. The trial court erred if it granted summary judgment on this ground. SOURCE: 01-08-00373-CV (9/10/09)

Exemplary Damages: Which causes of action support award of punitive damages?

WHEN, UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES MAY EXEMPLARY DAMAGES BE AWARDED? Exemplary damages are "levied against a defendant to punish the defendant for outrageous, malicious, or otherwise morally culpable conduct." Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 41.001(5) (Vernon 2008); Transportation Ins. Co v. Moriel, 879 S.W.2d 10, 16 (Tex. 1994). Unless otherwise provided by statute, exemplary damages may be awarded only if the claimant proves by clear and convincing evidence that the harm with respect to which the claimant seeks recovery of exemplary damages results from (1) fraud; (2) malice; or (3) gross negligence. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 41.003(a) (Vernon 2008); see also In re Barnes, 369 B.R. 298 (Bankr. W.D. Tex. 2007). STANDARD OF REVIEW FOR EXEMPLARY DAMAGES Whenever the standard of proof at trial is elevated, the standard of appellate review must likewise be elevated. S.W. Bell Tel. Co. v. Garza, 164 S.W.3d 607, 627 (Tex. 2004) (citing In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d 256, 266 (Tex. 2002)). In reviewing the evidence for legal sufficiency to support a finding that must be proved by clear and convincing evidence, we must look at all the evidence in the light most favorable to the finding to determine whether a reasonable trier of fact could have formed a firm belief or conviction that its finding was true. Diamond Shamrock Ref. Co v. Hall, 168 S.W.3d 164, 170 (Tex. 2005); Garza, 164 S.W.3d at 627. To give appropriate deference to the fact-finder's conclusions and the role of a court conducting a legal sufficiency review, we must assume that the fact-finder resolved any disputed facts in favor of its finding if a reasonable fact-finder could have done so. Hall, 168 S.W.3d at 170. SOURCE: 01-07-00792-CV (9/9/09)

How does fraudulent inducement differ from fraud plain and simple?

FRAUD CAUSE OF ACTION VS. FRAUDULENT INDUCEMENT Fraudulent inducement is a particular species of fraud that arises only in the context of a contract and requires the existence of a contract as part of its proof. Haase v. Glazner, 62 S.W.3d 795, 798 (Tex. 2001); Clark v. Power Mktg. Direct, Inc., 192 S.W.3d 796, 799 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 2006, no pet.). That is, with a fraudulent inducement claim, the elements of fraud must be established as they relate to an agreement between the parties. Haase, 62 S.W.3d at 798-99. SOURCE: 01-07-00792-CV (9/10/09)

The Elements of Fraud (Common Law Cause of Action) | Proving Causation

The Elements of Common Law Fraud [per 1st CoA] Elements of common-law fraud are that (1) a material representation was made; (2) the representation was false; (3) when the speaker made it he knew it was false or made it recklessly without any knowledge of its truth and as a positive assertion; (4) the speaker made it with the intention that it should be acted upon by the party; (5) the party acted in reliance on it ; and (6) he thereby suffered injury. In re FirstMerit Bank, N.A., 52 S.W.3d 749, 759 (Tex. 2001). Proving the Element of Causation To establish the element of causation in a fraud claim, a plaintiff must show that the defendant's acts or omissions were a cause-in-fact of foreseeable losses. Prospect High Income Fund, ML CBO IV v. Grant Thorton, LLP, 203 S.W.3d 602, 618 (Tex. App.--Dallas 2006, pet. denied) (citing Marathon Corp. v. Pitzner, 106 S.W.3d 724, 727 (Tex. 2003)). The defendant's acts or omissions are a cause-in-fact if the plaintiff can show, beyond mere conjecture, guess, or speculation, that an act or omission was a substantial factor in bringing about an injury which would not otherwise have occurred. Id. A plaintiff establishes reliance in a fraud claim by showing that the defendant's acts and representations induced it to either act or refrain from acting, to its detriment. Id. SOURCE: 01-07-00792-CV (9/10/09)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fraudulent Concealment as SoL Tolling Theory

Pleading and Proving Fraudulent Concealment to Avoid Limitations Although similar in effect to the discovery rule, the fraudulent-concealment doctrine is an affirmative defense to limitations that resembles equitable estoppel. Trousdale v. Henry, 261 S.W.3d 221, 235 (Tex. App.- Houston [14th Dist.] 2008, rule 53.7(f) motion granted); Autry v. Dearman, 933 S.W.2d 182, 192 (Tex. App.- Houston [14th Dist.] 1996, writ denied). This doctrine estops a defendant from relying on the defense of limitations if the defendant was under a duty to make a disclosure but fraudulently concealed the existence of a cause of action from the party to whom it belongs. Ponder v. Brice & Mankoff, 889 S.W.2d 637, 645 (Tex. App.- Houston [14th Dist.] 1994, writ denied). To prove fraudulent concealment, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant had (1) actual knowledge that a wrong occurred, (2) a duty to disclose the wrong, and (3) a fixed purpose to conceal the wrong. McMahan v. Greenwood, 108 S.W.3d 467, 493 (Tex. App.- Houston [14th Dist.] 2003, pet. denied). The estoppel effect of fraudulent concealment ends when a party learns of facts, conditions, or circumstances that would cause a reasonably prudent person to make inquiry which, if pursued, would lead to the discovery of the concealed cause of action. Ponder, 889 S.W.2d at 645. This is the same standard that applies to the discovery rule. Trousdale, 261 S.W.3d at 235. SOURCE: Seureau v. Exxon Mobil Corp (Tex.App.- Houston [14th Dist.] Oct. 16, 2008) SEE ALSO: the discovery rule as a counterdefense to limitations, equitable tolling theories

The Discovery Rule as Counter-Defense to Limitations

Discovery Rule In rare cases where the nature of the injury is inherently undiscoverable and evidence of the injury is objectively verifiable, courts have recognized the discovery rule as an exception to the general accrual rule. See, e.g., Computer Assocs. Int'l, Inc. v. Altai, Inc., 918 S.W.2d 453, 455 (Tex. 1996). The discovery rule is a very limited exception to limitations and is construed strictly. See id.; S.V., 933 S.W.2d at 25 (noting that applications of discovery rule “should be few and narrowly drawn"). The rule has been limited to matters that are properly characterized as inherently undiscoverable. Johnson v. Abbey, 737 S.W.2d 68, 69-70 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1987, no writ). An injury is inherently undiscoverable if, by its very nature, it is unlikely to be discovered within the prescribed limitations period despite the exercise of due diligence. Wagner & Brown, Ltd. v. Horwood, 58 S.W.3d 732, 734-35 (Tex. 2001). Whether an injury is inherently undiscoverable is determined on a categorical basis, because such an approach “brings predictability and consistency to the jurisprudence." See Apex Towing Co. v. Tolin, 41 S.W.3d 118, 122 (Tex. 2001). Thus, the focus is on whether a type of injury, rather than a particular injury, was discoverable. Via Net v. TIG Ins. Co., 211 S.W.3d 310, 314 (Tex. 2006). Where the discovery rule applies, the cause of action accrues when the plaintiff knows, or through the exercise of reasonable care and diligence should have discovered, the nature of his injury and the likelihood that it was caused by the wrongful acts of another. See Childs, 974 S.W.2d at 40. Thus, accrual is not delayed until the plaintiff learns of actual causes and possible cures for his injuries. PPG Indus., Inc. v. JMB/Houston Ctrs. Partners Ltd. P'ship, 146 S.W.3d 79, 93 (Tex. 2004). Instead, a plaintiff who invokes the discovery rule still must have sought information about his injuries and their likely cause once apprised of facts that would prompt a reasonably diligent person to make an inquiry that would lead to discovery of the cause of action. Pirtle v. Kahn, 177 S.W.3d 567, 571 (Tex. App.- Houston [1st Dist.] 2005, pet. denied). If, as here, the plaintiff pleads the discovery rule as an exception to limitations, the defendant moving for summary judgment must negate it. KPMG, 988 S.W.2d at 748. This may be done by demonstrating that the discovery rule does not apply or by proving, as a matter of law, that there is no genuine issue of material fact as to when the plaintiff discovered, or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should have discovered, the nature of his injury. Childs, 974 S.W.2d at 44. SOURCE: Seureau v. Exxon Mobil Corp (Tex.App.- Houston [14th Dist.] Oct. 16, 2008)(Brown) SEE ALSO: fraudulent concealment as a basis for tolling running of limitations

Nature of Conversion and Elements of Claim

What is converson and how is a successful conversion claim established in court? Conversion is the unauthorized and wrongful assumption and exercise of dominion and control over another's personal property to the exclusion of, or inconsistent with, the owner's rights. Small v. Small, 216 S.W.3d 872, 877 (Tex. App.-Beaumont 2007, pet. denied)(citing Waisath v. Lack's Stores, Inc., 474 S.W.2d 444, 447 (Tex.1971)). To prove a claim for personal property-conversion, a plaintiff must show that: (1) the plaintiff owned or legally possessed the property or was entitled to its possession; (2) the defendant unlawfully and without authorization assumed and exercised dominion and control over the property to the exclusion of, or inconsistent with, the plaintiff's ownership rights; (3) the plaintiff demanded the property's return; and (4) the defendant refused to return it." Small v. Small, 216 S.W.3d 872, 877 (Tex. App.-Beaumont 2007, pet. denied). The statute of limitations applicable to a conversion claim requires suits to be brought within two years. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 16.003(a). SOURCE: 09-08-00433-CV (Beaumont Court of Appeals) (8/27/09) SEE ALSO: Texas Theft Liability Act (statutory civil cause of action for theft)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Fiduciary Relationships: Formal vs. Informal Fiduciary Relationship

Breach of fiduciary duty requires the existence of a fiduciary relationship. Without such a relationbship, there cannot be the requisite duty, and hence no breach. As explained by the Dallas Court of Appeals, a fiduciary duty can arise in different contexts: There are two types of fiduciary relationships: formal fiduciary relationships that arise as a matter of law, such as partnerships and principal-agent relationships, and informal fiduciary relationships or “confidential relationships” that may arise from moral, social, domestic, or personal relationships. Crim Truck & Tractor Co. v. Navistar Int'l Transp. Corp., 823 S.W.2d 591, 593-94 (Tex. 1992). But a fiduciary relationship is an extraordinary one and will not be created lightly. In re Estate of Kuykendall, 206 S.W.3d 766, 771 (Tex. App.-Texarkana 2006, no pet.). The mere fact that one party to a relationship subjectively trusts the other does not indicate the existence of a fiduciary relationship. Id.; see also Crim Truck & Tractor Co., 823 S.W.2d at 595 (“[M]ere subjective trust alone is not enough to transform arms-length dealing into a fiduciary relationship.”). A person is justified in believing another to be his fiduciary “only where he or she is accustomed to being guided by the judgment and advice of the other party, and there exists a long association in a business relationship, as well as a personal friendship.” Pabich v. Kellar, 71 S.W.3d 500, 505 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2002, pet. denied). The marital relationship is a fiduciary one, Solares v. Solares, 232 S.W.3d 873, 881 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2007, no pet.), but we have already concluded that Smith and Deneve were not spouses. The question is whether the evidence of their longstanding cohabitation, their joint bank account, and their sharing of expenses is sufficient to raise a fact issue as to the existence of an informal fiduciary relationship. SOURCE: Dallas Court of Appeals opinion in No. 05-07-01407-CV

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