Monday, October 5, 2009
Ambiguous vs. Unambiguous Contract: Implications for Summary Judgment, Admissibility of Extrinsic, Parol Evidence
Friday, October 2, 2009
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)
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)
A "meeting of the minds" is a phrase that nobody uses in ordinary discourse, or even in business correspondence. But that does not change the fact that the matter of "whether the minds met" can make or break a breach-of-contract claim when it ends up in court (or in arbitration, for that matter).
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.
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).
SOURCE: 04-08-00745-CV (9/9/09) (San Antonio Court of Appeals)
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)
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)
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
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).
ELEMENTS OF PROOF FOR BILL OF REVIEW TO VACATE PRIOR JUDGMENT
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)).
EFFECT OF TRIAL COURT'S GRANT OF THE RELIEF SOUGHT IN A BILL-OF- REVIEW PROCEEDING
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
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)
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
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)
Monday, September 21, 2009
Friday, September 18, 2009
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)
Thursday, September 17, 2009
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: THIRD COURT OF APPEALS IN AUSTIN - 03-07-00072-CV - 9/11/2009
(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)
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: AUSTIN COURT OF APPEALS - 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
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: 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
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
THE DISCOVERY RULE TO COUNTER ASSERTION OF LIMITATIONS BY THE OPPONENT
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