Texas Causes of Action & Affirmative Defenses

Texas Causes of Action & Affirmative Defenses

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

When can Equitable Subrogation be invoked in Texas?


Equitable subrogation “is a legal fiction” whereby “an obligation, extinguished by a payment made by a third person, is treated as still subsisting for the benefit of this third person, so that by means of it one creditor is substituted to the rights, remedies, and securities of another.” First Nat'l Bank of Houston v. Ackerman, 8 S.W. 45, 47 (Tex. 1888); accord Smart v. Tower Land & Inv. Co., 597 S.W.2d 333, 337 (Tex. 1980). It essentially allows a subsequent lienholder to take the lien-priority status of a prior lienholder. First Nat'l Bank of Houston, 8 S.W. at 46-47; Murray v. Cadle Co., 257 S.W.3d 291, 299 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2008, pet. denied). The general purpose of equitable subrogation is to prevent unjust enrichment of the debtor. First Nat'l Bank of Kerrville v. O'Dell, 856 S.W.2d 410, 415 (Tex. 1993); Murray, 257 S.W.3d at 299.

Texas courts are particularly hospitable to the doctrine of equitable subrogation. Murray, 257 S.W.3d at 299; Interfirst Bank Dallas, N.A. v. U.S. Fid. & Guar. Co., 774 S.W.2d 391, 397 (Tex. App.-Dallas 1989, writ denied). “Texas courts have also given the doctrine 'a liberal application . . . broad enough to include every instance in which one person, not acting voluntarily, has paid a debt for which another was primarily liable and which in equity and good conscience should have been discharged by the latter.'” Murray, 257 S.W.3d at 299 (quoting Forney v. Jorrie, 511 S.W.2d 379, 386 (Tex. Civ. App.-San Antonio 1974, writ ref'd n.r.e.)); see Frymire Eng'g Co., Inc. v. Jomar Int'l, Ltd., 259 S.W.3d 140, 144 (Tex. 2008); Mid-Continent Ins. Co. v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 236 S.W.3d 765, 774 (Tex. 2007); Diversified Mortg. Investors v. Lloyd D. Blaylock Gen. Contractor, Inc., 576 S.W.2d 794, 807 (Tex. 1978) (op. on reh'g).

There are two key elements to equitable subrogation: (1) the person whose debt was paid was primarily liable on the debt, and (2) the claimant paid the debt involuntarily. Murray, 257 S.W.3d at 299. The burden is on the party claiming equitable subrogation to establish he is entitled to it. Id. at 300; Monk v. Dallas Brake & Clutch Serv. Co., Inc., 697 S.W.2d 780, 782 (Tex. App.-Dallas 1985, writ ref'd n.r.e.).

“Additionally, each case turns on its own facts when the issue is one of purely equitable subrogation.” Murray, 257 S.W.3d at 300 (citing Providence Inst. for Sav. v. Sims, 441 S.W.2d 516, 519-20 (Tex. 1969)). The trial court must balance the equities in view of the totality of the circumstances to determine whether a party is entitled to equitable subrogation. Id. Factors a court may consider in conducting this balancing test are the negligence of the party claiming subrogation, whether that party had notice of the intervening lien, and whether the intervening lienholder will be prejudiced if equitable subrogation is allowed. Id.; see also Fleetwood v. Med Ctr. Bank, 786 S.W.2d 550, 555 n. 2 (Tex. App.-Austin 1990, writ denied) (“Fleetwood I”). The determination of whether subrogation prejudices intervening interests is made “as of the time of the transaction supporting subrogation.” Med Ctr. Bank v. Fleetwood, 854 S.W.2d 278, 286 (Tex. App.-Austin 1993, writ denied) (“Fleetwood II”). “The consequences of subsequent transactions or events . . . are not relevant to this inquiry.” Id. A junior lienholder does not suffer prejudice merely because it is not elevated in priority. Id.

SOURCE: 05-09-00726-CV - Dallas Court of Appeals - 5/3/11