Saturday, November 14, 2009
In order to succeed on a breach of contract claim, [Plaintiff] would have had to prove that: (1) a valid contract existed; (2) it performed or tendered performance; (3) [Defendant] breached the contract; and (4) [Plaintiff] sustained damages as a result of the defendant's breach. Adams v. H & H Meat Prods., Inc., 41 S.W.3d 762, 771 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 2001, no pet.).
Netrana contends that it performed its obligations under the contract by "standing ready, willing, and able to perform professional services" and that TXU breached the guaranteed minimum payment provision of the contract. Thus, we look to the contract under our well recognized rules of contract construction to determine if a minimum payment provision existed in the amended agreement.
CONTRACT CONSTRUCTION RULES
In construing a written contract, the primary concern is to ascertain and to give effect to the parties' intentions as expressed in the document. Frost Nat'l Bank v. L & F Distribs., Ltd., 165 S.W.3d 310, 311-12 (Tex. 2005). We consider the entire writing and attempt to harmonize and to give effect to all of the contract's provisions. Id. at 312.
We construe contracts "'from a utilitarian standpoint bearing in mind the particular business activity sought to be served'" and "'will avoid when possible and proper a construction which is unreasonable, inequitable, and oppressive.'" Id. (quoting Reilly v. Rangers Mgmt., Inc., 727 S.W.2d 527, 530 (Tex. 1987)). "
The language in a contract is to be given its plain grammatical meaning unless doing so would defeat the parties' intent." Amtech Elevator Servs. Co. v. CSFB 1998-P1 Buffalo Speedway Office Ltd. P'ship, 248 S.W.3d 373, 379 (Tex.App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2007, no pet.).
UNAMBIGUOUS CONTRACT CONSTRUED AS A MATTER OF LAW
If, after the pertinent rules of construction are applied, the contract can be given a definite or certain legal meaning, it is unambiguous, and we construe it as a matter of law. Frost Nat'l Bank, 165 S.W.3d at 312. However, if after such rules are applied, the meaning of the contract remains uncertain or is susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation, it is ambiguous. Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co. v. CBI Indus., Inc., 907 S.W.2d 517, 520 (Tex. 1995); Coker v. Coker, 650 S.W.2d 391, 393-94 (Tex. 1983).
AMBIGUOUS CONTRACT CALLS FOR CONSIDERATION OF OTHER EVIDENCE TO ESTABLISH THE PARTIES' INTENT
If a contract is ambiguous, the contract's interpretation becomes a fact issue to be resolved by deciding the parties' true intent, for which the fact finder may consider extraneous evidence of intent. See Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co., 907 S.W.2d at 520; Coker, 650 S.W.2d at 394-95.
Whether a contract is ambiguous is a question of law to be determined "by looking at the contract as a whole in light of the circumstances present when the contract was entered." Coker, 650 S.W.2d at 394.SOURCE: 13-08-00264-CV (13th Court of Appeals) (Nov. 12, 2009)
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Section 27.01 of the business and commerce code provides:
(a) Fraud in a transaction involving real estate . . . consists of a
(1) false representation of a past or existing material fact, when the false representation is
(A) made to a person for the purpose of inducing that person to enter into a contract; and
(B) relied on by that person in entering into that contract . . . .
Tex. Bus. & Com. Code Ann. § 27.01 (West 2009).
Monday, November 9, 2009
Theft as defined in Section 31.03 constitutes a single offense superseding the separate offenses previously known as theft, theft by false pretext, conversion by a bailee, theft from the person, shoplifting, acquisition of property by threat, swindling, swindling by worthless check, embezzlement, extortion, receiving or concealing embezzled property, and receiving or concealing stolen property.Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 31.02 (West 2003). CONVERSION - COMMON-LAW CAUSE OF ACTION Conversion is [...] a cause of action similar to theft or one means by which a person "unlawfully appropriates property with intent to deprive the owner of property." See id. § 31.03. Even though Karbach did not expressly allege a violation of the theft liability act in his original petition, he did allege conversion, and the district court granted summary judgment on that claim. As Karbach's amended petitions merely asserted the same claim in a different form, the district court's judgment was effective against Karbach's later-pleaded theft liability act claim. See Wortham, 179 S.W.3d at 202; Lampasas, 988 S.W.2d at 435-37. SOURCE: 03-06-00636-CV (3rd CoA - Austin) (Nov. 6, 2009)
STATUTORY CAUSE OF ACTION UNDER THE TEXAS CONSTRUCTION TRUST FUND ACT
The Texas Construction Trust Fund Act makes construction funds "trust funds" if the payments are made to a contractor or subcontractor or to an officer, director, or agent of a contractor or subcontractor, under a construction contract for the improvement of specific real property in this state. Tex. Prop. Code Ann. § 162.001 (West Supp. 2009). Beneficiaries of the trust fund include artisans, laborers, mechanics, contractors, subcontractors, or materialmen who furnish labor or material for the construction or repair of an improvement. Id. § 162.003 (West Supp. 2009).
CIVIL LIABILITY FOR VIOLATION OF CONSTRUCTION TRUST FUND ACT
A party who misapplies trust funds under the Trust Fund Act is subject to civil liability to trust fund beneficiaries whom the Act was designed to protect. Id. § 162.031 (West Supp. 2009); Dealers Elec. Supply Co. v. Scoggins Constr. Co., 52 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 1088, 2009 Tex. LEXIS 475, at *16-17 (Tex. July 3, 2009).
SOURCE: 03-06-00636-CV (Austin Court of Appeals (11/6/09)
The elements of a cause of action on a sworn account are (1) a sale and delivery of the goods; (2) that the amount of the account is just, that is, that the prices are charged in accordance with an agreement or, in the absence of an agreement, they are the usual customary and reasonable prices for those goods; and (3) that the amount is unpaid. See Site Work Group, Inc., 171 S.W.3d at 513–14; PennWell Corp., 123 S.W.3d at 766.
ELEMENTS IN SUIT ON ACCOUNT CAN BE PROVEN IN SUMMARY JUDGMENT WHEN DEFENDANT FILES A SWORN DENIAL AND THUS CONTROVERTS PLAINTIFF'S PRIMA-FACIE CASE
“A defendant’s verified denial of the correctness of a plaintiff’s sworn account, in the form required by Rule 185, destroys the evidentiary effect of the itemized account and forces the plaintiff to put on proof of its claim.” Site Work Group, Inc. v. Chem. Lime Ltd., 171 S.W.3d 512, 513 (Tex. App.—Waco 2005, no pet.) (citing Rizk v. Fin. Guardian Ins. Agency, Inc., 584 S.W.2d 860, 862 (Tex. 1979)). However, even when a defendant verifies its sworn denial to a suit on a sworn account, a plaintiff may properly obtain a summary judgment on its sworn account claim by filing “legal and competent summary judgment evidence establishing the validity of its claim as a matter of law.” PennWell Corp. v. Ken Assocs., Inc., 123 S.W.3d 756, 765 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2003, pet. denied) (citing United Bus. Machs. v. Entm’t Mktg., Inc., 792 S.W.2d 262, 264 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 1990, no writ)).
SOURCE: 01-08-00890-CV (Houston Court of Appeals - 1st District) (11/5/09)
|Texas of Rule 185 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure|
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Friday, November 6, 2009
"The unauthorized and wrongful assumption and exercise of dominion and control over the personal property of another, to the exclusion of or inconsistent with the owner's rights, is in law a conversion." Waisath v. Lack's Stores, Inc., 474 S.W.2d 444, 447 (Tex. 1971).
HOW TO PROVE CONVERSION OF PERSONAL PROPERTY
To establish a claim for conversion of personal property, a plaintiff must prove that: (1) the plaintiff owned or had legal possession of the property or entitlement to 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 rights as an owner; (3) the plaintiff demanded return of the property; and (4) the defendant refused to return the property. See Smith v. Maximum Racing, Inc., 136 S.W.3d 337, 341 (Tex. App.--Austin 2004, no pet.).SOURCE: 03-09-00114-CV (Austin Court of Appeals) (11/6/09)
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
A cause of action for negligence arises when an actor breaches a legal duty and the breach proximately causes damages. Columbia Med. Ctr. of Las Colinas, Inc. v. Hogue, 271 S.W.3d 238, 246 (Tex. 2008). Texas law generally imposes no duty to control the acts of another person to prevent harm to third parties absent certain special relationships or circumstances. Providence Health Ctr. v. Dowell, 262 S.W.3d 324, 331 (Tex. 2008); Torrington Co. v. Stutzman, 46 S.W.3d 829, 837 (Tex. 2000); see also Restatement (Second) of Torts § 315 (1965).
Examples of relationships that have been recognized as giving rise to a duty to control include employer/employee, parent/child, and independent contractor/contractee. Greater Houston Transp. Co. v. Phillips, 801 S.W.2d 523, 525 (Tex. 1990). A party who agrees to attempt to help someone else has a duty to provide that help without negligently harming the person in need. Torrington, 46 S.W.3d at 837-38; see also Restatement (Second) of Torts § 323. (2)
A party who negligently creates a dangerous situation has a duty to attempt to prevent injury to others if it reasonably appears or should appear to him that others in the exercise of their lawful rights may be injured thereby. SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Doe, 903 S.W.2d 347, 353 (Tex. 1995) (citing Buchanan v. Rose, 159 S.W.2d 109, 110 (Tex. 1942)). However, a mere bystander who did not create a dangerous situation generally is not required to intervene and prevent injury to others. See id.; see also Restatement (Second) of Torts § 314 ("The fact that [an] actor realizes or should realize that action on his part is necessary for another's aid or protection does not of itself impose upon him a duty to take such action.").
Whether a legal duty exists is a question of law for the court. Trammell Crow Cent. Tex., Ltd. v. Gutierrez, 267 S.W.3d 9, 12 (Tex. 2008). In determining whether the defendant was under a duty, the court will consider several interrelated factors, including the risk, foreseeability, and likelihood of injury weighed against the social utility of the actor's conduct, the magnitude of the burden of guarding against the injury, and the consequences of placing the burden on the defendant. Phillips, 801 S.W.2d at 525.
Courts have also considered whether one party has superior knowledge of the risk, and whether a right to control the actor whose conduct precipitated the harm exists. Graff v. Beard, 858 S.W.2d 918, 920 (Tex. 1993). Appellants do not cite any authority establishing a legal duty by individuals to control the actions of a companion who is under the influence of drugs or similar behavior-altering substances. (3) Therefore, to hold that there is a duty in this case, we must interpret an existing duty to include the behavior described in the plaintiffs' pleadings or recognize a new duty under Texas law.SOURCE: 03-07-00251-CV (Austin Court of Appeals)(11/4/09)
Monday, November 2, 2009
UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES IS DECLARATORY RELIEF WARRANTED?
A declaratory judgment is appropriate only where there is a justiciable controversy about the rights and status of the parties and the declaration will resolve the controversy. Bonham State Bank, 907 S.W.2d at 467.
To constitute a justiciable controversy, there must exist a real and substantial controversy involving genuine conflict of tangible interests and not merely a theoretical dispute. Id. The Act does not empower courts to issue advisory opinions. Brooks v. Northglen Association, 141 S.W.3d 158, 164 (Tex. 2004).
In any proceeding under this chapter, the court may award costs and reasonable and necessary attorney's fees as are equitable and just.
Tex.Civ.Prac.&Rem.Code Ann. § 37.009.
In a declaratory judgment action, the decision to grant or deny attorney's fees is solely within the discretion of the trial court. Neeley v. West Orange-Cove Consolidated Independent School District, 176 S.W.3d 746, 799 (Tex. 2005).
Under Section 37.009, a trial court may exercise its discretion to award attorney's fees to either the prevailing or the nonprevailing party. See Barshop v. Medina County Underground Water Conservation District, 925 S.W.2d 618, 637-38 (Tex. 1996). The requirements that fees be reasonable and necessary are matters of fact, while the requirements that fees be equitable and just are matters of law. Bocquet v. Herring, 972 S.W.2d 19, 21 (Tex. 1998).
UNCLEAN HANDS MAY PRECLUDE EQUITABLE RELIEF
One who seeks equity must do equity and must come to court with clean hands. See Dunnagan v. Watson, 204 S.W.3d 30, 41 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2006, pet. denied); Flores v. Flores, 116 S.W.3d 870, 876 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 2003, no pet.). Whether equitable relief should be denied based on unclean hands is left to the discretion of the trial court. Dunnagan, 204 S.W.3d at 41; Flores, 116 S.W.3d at 876. Mustang argues that Sinclair has unclean hands because he purportedly owned the Carter liens through prior dealings with Carter and that he also solicited perjured testimony regarding whether he was ready, willing, and able to perform under the contract.
WHEN IS INVOCATION AND APPLICATION OF THE UNCLEAN HANDS DOCTRINE PROPER?
The clean hands doctrine should not be applied unless the party asserting the doctrine has been seriously harmed and the wrong complained of cannot be corrected without the application of the doctrine. Dunnagan, 204 S.W.3d at 41. Even if we agreed that Sinclair had unclean hands, Mustang has made no claim or argument to this Court regarding any serious harm due to the misconduct, if any, of Sinclair. Therefore, Mustang’s claim of unclean hands must fail.
SOURCE: 10-07-00362-CV (Waco Court of Appeals) (10/28/09)
When is a broken promise actionable as fraud, rather than merely as a breach of contractual obligation?
Thursday, October 29, 2009
AND (SUBSTANTIAL) TRUTH DEFENSE UNDER TEXAS LAW
To maintain a cause of action for defamation, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant (1) published a statement about the plaintiff; (2) that was defamatory; (3) while acting with either actual malice, if the plaintiff was a public official or public figure, or negligence, if the plaintiff was a private individual, regarding the truth of the statement. WFAA-TV v. McLemore, 978 S.W.2d 568, 571 (Tex. 1998); Henriquez v. Cemex Management, Inc., 177 S.W.3d 241, 251 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 2005, pet. denied); Grotti v. Belo Corp., 188 S.W.3d 768, 774 (Tex. App.--Fort Worth 2006, pet. denied). "
ESTABLISHING TRUTH AND SUBSTANTIAL TRUTH TO DEFEAT DEFAMATION CLAIM
The truth of the statement in the publication on which an action for libel is based is a defense to the action." Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 73.005 (Vernon 2005).
A defendant may also defeat a libel claim by establishing the substantial truth of the statement. Grotti, 188 S.W.3d at 774 (citing McIlvain v. Jacobs, 794 S.W.2d 14, 15-16 (Tex. 1990)).
SUBSTANTIAL TRUTH ANALYSIS LOOK FOR "GIST" OF THE COMPLAINED-OF STATEMENT
To determine if a publication is substantially true, "we consider whether the alleged defamatory statement was more damaging to the plaintiff's reputation, in the mind of the average person, than a truthful statement would have been," and "[w]e look at the 'gist' of the publication "to determine whether it is substantially true." Id. (citations omitted).
The defense of truth does not require proof that the alleged defamatory statement is literally true in every detail; substantial truth is sufficient. Gustafson v. City of Austin, 110 S.W.3d 652, 656 (Tex. App.--Austin 2003, pet. denied); Howell v. Hecht, 821 S.W.2d 627, 631-32 (Tex. App.--Dallas 1991, writ denied).
SOURCE: 01-08-00856-CV (First Court of Appeals-Houston)(10/29/09) (ample evidence substantiating the "gist" of the complained-of statements contained in the internet article)(defamation claim barred by the affirmative defense of substantial truth)
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
EFFECT OF DEFAULT BY DEFENDANT WHO WAS PROPERLY SERVED
A defendant who defaults admits all allegations of facts except unliquidated damages. See Holt Atherton Indus., Inc. v. Heine, 835 S.W.2d 80, 83 (Tex. 1992); Stoner v. Thompson, 578 S.W.2d 679, 684-85 (Tex. 1979).
WHEN CAN DEFAULT JUDGMENT BE HAD FOR LIQUIDATED DAMAGES?
When a plaintiff's claim is liquidated, and proven by an instrument in writing, the plaintiff may be awarded damages without the necessity of a hearing or the presentation of evidence. Burrows v. Bowden, 564 S.W.2d 474, 475 (Tex. Civ. App.-Corpus Christ 1978, no writ); Tex. R. Civ. P. 241.
WHAT MAKES A CLAIM "LIQUIDATED"?
A claim is liquidated if the amount of damages caused by the defendant can be accurately calculated from: (1) the factual, as opposed to conclusory, allegations in the petition, and (2) an instrument in writing. Freeman v. Leasing Assocs., Inc., 503 S.W.2d 406, 408 (Tex. Civ. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1973, no writ). A default judgment does not establish allegations pertaining to unliquidated damages. First Nat'l Bank of Irving v. Shockley, 663 S.W.2d 685, 689 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 1983, no writ). If damages are unliquidated or not proved by an instrument in writing, the court must hear evidence as to damages before a default judgment may be granted. Tex. R. Civ. P. 243.
ATTORNEYS FEES ARE UNLIQUIDATED (BUT CAN BE PROVEN UP BY AFFIDAVIT) Attorney's fees are by their very nature unliquidated. The reasonableness of attorney's fees, in the absence of a contract therefore, is a question of fact and is an unliquidated demand for which the trial court entering a default judgment should hear evidence. First Nat'l Bank of Irving, 663 S.W.2d at 691.
DEEMED ADMISSIONS MAY BE USED AS SUBSTITUTE FOR OTHER PROOF
A trial court may be able to ascertain the amount of damages and attorney's fees in a default judgment based on a request for admissions. Sherman Acquisition II LP v. Garcia, 229 S.W.3d 802, 813 (Tex. App.-Waco 2007, no pet.). A plaintiff may serve a request for admissions as part of its petition, and when the defendant fails to file an answer or other response, those requests are deemed admitted. Id. at 811-12 (citing Tex. R. Civ. P. 198.2(c)). Deemed admissions may be employed as proof, and once admissions are deemed admitted by operation of law and where the admissions fully support each element of a cause of action, including damages, they will fully support a judgment based thereon. This is because unanswered requests for admissions are deemed admitted without the necessity of a court order and any matter thus admitted is conclusively established as being true. Id. at 812-13 (citing Tex. Rs. Civ. P. 198.2(c), 198.3). Thus, the facts admitted may not be contradicted by evidence at the trial. Id. at 813 (citing Marshall v. Vise, 767 S.W.2d 699, 700 (Tex. 1989)).
SOURCE: 05-07-01730-CV (Dallas Court of Appeals)(10/26/2009) (credit card debt suit)
Monday, October 26, 2009
DEFERRING CLAIM ACCRUAL DATE THROUGH THE DISCOVERY RULE
The discovery rule is a very limited exception to limitations and is construed strictly. See Computer Assocs. Int'l, Inc. v. Altai, Inc., 918 S.W.2d 453, 455 (Tex. 1994) (“the discovery rule, in application, proves to be a very limited exception to statutes of limitation.”); S.V. v. R.V., 933 S.W.2d 1, 25 (Tex. 1996) (“exceptions to the legal injury rule should be few and narrowly drawn”). [U]nder Texas law, the discovery rule applies when “the nature of the injury incurred is inherently undiscoverable and the evidence of injury is objectively verifiable.” See Computer Assocs. Int'l, Inc., 918 S.W.2d at 456.
HOW IS 'INHERENTLY UNDISCOVERABLE' CONSTRUED AND APPLIED BY COURTS IN TEXAS?
As the Texas Supreme Court explained in Wagner & Brown, Ltd. v. Horwood, 58 S.W.3d 732, 734-35 (Tex. 2001): An injury is inherently undiscoverable if it is, by its nature, unlikely to be discovered within the prescribed limitations period despite due diligence. S.V. v. R.V., 933 S.W.2d 1, 7 (Tex.1996) (citing Altai, 918 S.W.2d at 456). “Inherently undiscoverable” does not mean that a particular plaintiff did not discover his or her particular injury within the applicable limitations period. Id. Instead, we determine whether an injury is inherently undiscoverable on a categorical basis because such an approach “brings predictability and consistency to the jurisprudence.” Apex Towing Co. v. Tolin, 41 S.W.3d 118, 122 (Tex.2001) (citing S.V. v. R.V., 933 S.W.2d at 6); see also HECI Exploration Co. v. Neel, 982 S.W.2d 881, 886 (Tex.1998). Accordingly, the question [...] is not whether [parties] detected the alleged improper charges and resulting underpayment within the limitations period. Rather, we must decide whether theirs is “the type of injury that generally is discoverable by the exercise of reasonable diligence.” HECI, 982 S.W.2d at 886. The court also explained in Via Net, U.S. v. TIG Insurance Co., 211 S.W.3d 310, 314 (Tex. 2006), that whether an injury is inherently undiscoverable is a legal question “decided on a categorical rather than case-specific basis; the focus is on whether a type of injury rather than a particular injury was discoverable.” (Emphasis in original).
SOURCE: DALLAS COURT OF APPEALS - 05-07-01553-CV (Dallas CoA)(10/19/09)