Texas Causes of Action & Affirmative Defenses

Texas Causes of Action & Affirmative Defenses

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Monday, June 6, 2011

No enforceable contract when essential terms are missing


DEFINITIVENESS REQUIRED  

Breach of contract claim may fail if alleged contract does not include agreement on essential terms Whether an agreement has all the essential terms to be an enforceable agreement is a question of law. See America's Favorite Chicken Co. v. Samaras, 929 S.W.2d 617, 625 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 1996, writ denied). Each contract should be considered separately to determine its material terms. See T. O. Stanley Boot Co., 847 S.W.2d at 221 (citing Bridewell v. Pritchett, 562 S.W.2d 956, 958 (Tex. Civ. App.-Fort Worth 1978, writ ref'd n.r.e.)).
 
To be enforceable, a contract must be sufficiently definite in its terms that a court can understand what the promisor undertook. T. O. Stanley Boot Co. v. Bank of El Paso, 847 S.W.2d 218, 221 (Tex. 1992). The material terms of the contract must be agreed on before a court can enforce it. Id. If an alleged agreement is so indefinite as to make it impossible for a court to fix the legal obligations and liabilities of the parties, it cannot constitute an enforceable contract. University Nat'l Bank v. Ernst & Whinney, 773 S.W.2d 707, 710 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 1989, no writ).
 
A lack of definiteness in an agreement may concern various elements, including time of performance, price to be paid, work to be done, or service to be done. Gannon v. Baker, 830 S.W.2d 706, 709 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 1992, writ denied); Terrell v. Nelson Puett Mortgage Co., 511 S.W.2d 366, 369 (Tex. Civ. enApp.-Austin 1974, writ ref'd n.r.e.).
 
SOURCE: DKH Homes, LP v. Kilgo, No. 03-10-00656-CV - 5/11/11 (no contract formed, essential terms missing) ("We conclude that the Agreement at issue does not include terms essential to an agreement to construct a house.") 

RELATED LEGAL TERMS: enforceability of contract, challenge to contract validity, contention that there is no contract, lack of meeting of the minds on essential terms, contractual rights and duties of the parties not sufficiently defined 

OLDER CASELAW CLIPS ON SUFFICIENCY OF CONTRACTUAL TERMS

Mere Agreement to Agree on some terms yet to be specified is not enough 

It is established law that a writing need not have all the stipulations between the parties to be considered a contract. Osborn v. Moore, 247 S.W.2d 498 (Tex. 1923). Rather, a contract need only have the essential elements. Id. A contract can also exist even though there are terms on which the parties have not agreed and which they expect further negotiation. Scott v. Ingle Bros. Pacific Inc., 489 S.W.2d 554, 555 (Tex. 1972). Nevertheless, when an essential term is left open for future negotiation, there is no binding contract. T.O. Stanley Boot Co., Inc. v. Bank of El Paso, 847 S.W.2d 218, 221 (Tex. 1992). An agreement to make a future agreement is enforceable only if it contains all essential terms. Fort Worth Indep. Sch. Dist. v. City of Fort Worth, 22 S.W.3d 831, 846 (Tex. 2000). Thus, to decide whether the agreement is enforceable, the Court must first determine what the material elements of the contract are, and then whether those elements are included in the Letter Agreement. 

What terms are material may vary depending on the type of contract, subject matter 

 Contracts must be read separately to determine the necessary material terms. T.O. Stanley Boot Co., Inc. v. Bank of El Paso, 847 S.W.2d 218, 221 (Tex. 1992) (citing Bridewell v. Pritchett, 562 S.W.2d 956, 958 (Tex. Civ. App.Fort Worth 1978)). Material terms are those that the parties would reasonably regard as vitally important elements of their bargain. Potcinske v. McDonald Property Investments, Ltd., 245 S.W.3d 525, 531 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2007) (citing Neeley v. Bankers Trust Co., 757 F.2d 621, 628 (5th Cir. 1985)). Additionally, a contract must define its essential terms with enough precision to enable the court to determine the obligations of the parties. Central Texas Micrographics v. Leal, 908 S.W.2d 292, 296-297 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 1995) (citing Weitzman v. Steinberg, 638 S.W.2d 171, 175 (Tex. App.-Dallas 1982)). It is well established that the terms of an oral contract must be clear, certain, and definite. Haden Co. v. Riggs, 84 S.W.2d 789, 798 (Tex.Civ.App.—Galveston 1935), affd, 127 Tex. 314, 94 S.W.2d 152 (1936). If an alleged agreement is so indefinite that it is impossible for a court to fix the legal obligations and liabilities of the parties, it cannot constitute an enforceable contract. Moore v. Dilworth, 142 Tex. 538, 179 S.W.2d 940, 942 (1944); University Nat'l Bank v. Ernst & Whinney, 773 S.W.2d 707, 710 (Tex.App.—San Antonio 1989, no writ). A lack of definiteness in an agreement may concern the time of performance, the price to be paid, the work to be done, the service to be rendered or the property to be transferred. University Nat'l Bank, 773 S.W.2d at 710 With respect to an oral agreement to transfer stock, terms must state the specific quantity of shares and the specific price in order to be considered "clear, certain, and definite." Consolidated Petroleum Indus, v. Jacobs, 648 S.W.2d 363, 366 (Tex.App.— Eastland 1983, writ ref'd n.r.e.). Courts are barred from rewriting a contract for the parties, but if a provision is too vague to be enforced, courts will not enforce it. See John Wood USA, Inc. v. ICO, Inc., 26 S.W.3d 12, 21 (Tex.App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2000, pet. denied); University Nat'l Bank v. Ernst & Whinney, 773 S.W.2d 707, 710 (Tex.App.-San Antonio 1989, no writ) ("If an alleged agreement is so indefinite as to make it impossible for a court to fix the legal obligations and liabilities of the parties, it cannot constitute an enforceable contract.") If an alleged agreement is so indefinite as to make it impossible for a court to fix the legal obligations and liabilities of the parties, it cannot constitute an enforceable contract. Moore v. Dilworth, 142 Tex. 538, 179 S.W.2d 940, 942 (1944); Weitzman v. Steinberg, 638 S.W.2d 171, 175 (Tex.App. —Dallas 1982, no writ). A lack of definiteness in an agreement may concern the time of performance, the price to be paid, the work to be done, the service to be rendered or the property to be transferred. Terrell v. Nelson Puett Mortgage Co., 511 S.W.2d 366, 369 (Tex.Civ.App.—Austin 1974, writ ref'd n.r.e.). There is no authority to ask a jury to supply an essential term in the contract which the parties were unable to complete by mutual agreement. Weitzman, 638 S.W.2d at 175.



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