Texas Causes of Action & Affirmative Defenses

Texas Causes of Action & Affirmative Defenses

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Monday, February 17, 2014

Mitigation in the context of default on real estate note and foreclosure


Mitigation in the foreclosure and breach of real estate note context: Bank not required to accept offer/consent to sale of secured property that would not have covered the entire indebtedness and would have precluded it from enforcing the note and obtain deficiency judgment against debtors

The doctrine of mitigation of damages prevents a party from recovering for damages resulting from a breach of contract that could be avoided by reasonable efforts on the part of the plaintiff. Great Am. Ins. Co. v. N. Austin Mun. Utility Dist. No. 1, 908 S.W.2d 415, 426 (Tex. 1995). In other words, where a party is entitled to the benefits of a contract and can save himself from the damages resulting from its breach at a trifling expense or with reasonable exertions, it is his duty to incur such expense and make such exertions. Id. (quoting Walker v. Salt Flat Water Co., 96 S.W.2d 231, 232 (Tex. 1936)). Although an injured party is required to exercise reasonable efforts to minimize damages, it is not required to mitigate its losses "by accepting an arrangement with the repudiator if that is made conditional on [its] surrender of [its] rights under the repudiated contract." Cook Composites, Inc. v. Westlake Styrene Corp., 15 S.W.3d 124, 135 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2000, pet. dism'd) (quoting Publicker Chemical Corp. v. Belcher Oil Co., 792 F.2d 482, 488 (5th Cir. 1986)).

Here, the Williams parties, as the breaching parties, had the burden of proving that damages could have been mitigated. See Copenhaver v. Berryman, 602 S.W.2d 540, 544 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 1980, writ ref'd n.r.e.). The Williams parties base their failure to mitigate affirmative defense on testimony from Donald Williams, who found a buyer who was willing to pay "approximately $1,400,000" for one of the parcels at issue, but the Bank refused to give Williams its permission for the sale. If the Bank accepted this side arrangement with the Williams parties, it would have required the Bank to surrender its rights and remedies under the promissory notes, as well as the Agreement with regard to this particular parcel. Because the notes were in default, and the Williams parties failed to pay their indebtedness by June 7, 2011, the Bank was not required to mitigate its damages by forgoing its rights and remedies under the notes and the Agreement. See Cook Composites, 15 S.W.3d at 135. Without other evidence that damages could have been mitigated, the Williams parties failed to raise a question of fact on the Bank's failure to mitigate.[3]

ELEMENTS CREDITOR HAS TO PROVE WHEN SUING ON PROMISSORY NOTE

To recover a debt due and owing under a promissory note, a party must establish that it is the legal holder of an existing note, the debtor's execution of the note, and that an outstanding balance is due and owing. Austin v. Countrywide Homes Loans, 261 S.W.3d 68, 72 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2008, pet. denied).

SOURCE: CORPUS CHRISTI-EDINBURG COURT OF APPEALS - No. 13-12-00704-CV - 1/16/2014 - Williams v. Compass Bank (creditor can't be forced into short sale under duty-to-mitigate-damages doctrine and give up its claim).

Footnote 3: We also note that the Bank had a right under the promissory notes to foreclose on the properties prior to the Agreement reached in 2011 because the Williams parties were in default. The Agreement, by itself, is further conclusive proof of the Bank's attempt to exercise reasonable efforts to minimize damages by forbearing its collection efforts and allowing the Williams parties to pay back its indebtedness.  

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