Texas Causes of Action & Affirmative Defenses

Texas Causes of Action & Affirmative Defenses

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Legal sufficiency of evidence to support credit card debt claim: Proof of contract terms required


CREDITOR MUST PROVE AGREEMENT ON SPECIFIC TERMS OF GOVERNING EXTENSION OF CREDIT 

In a bench trial in which no findings of fact or conclusions of law are requested by the parties or filed by the trial court, we imply all findings of fact necessary to support the judgment. See, e.g., BMC Software Belg., N.V. v. Marchand, 83 S.W.3d 789, 795 (Tex. 2002). When the appellate record includes the reporter's and clerk's records, these implied findings are not conclusive and may be challenged for legal and factual sufficiency in the appropriate appellate court. Id. We review the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the findings by applying the same standards that we use in reviewing the legal or factual sufficiency of the evidence supporting jury findings. Catalina v. Blasdel, 881 S.W.2d 295, 297 (Tex. 1994); see Dittman v. Cerone, No. 13-11-00196-CV, 2013 WL 5970356, at *3 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi Oct. 31, 2013, no pet.) (mem. op. on reh'g).

The test for legal sufficiency is "whether the evidence at trial would enable reasonable and fair-minded people to reach the verdict under review." City of Keller v. Wilson, 168 S.W.3d 802, 827 (Tex. 2005). In making this determination, we credit favorable evidence if a reasonable fact-finder could, and disregard contrary evidence unless a reasonable fact-finder could not. Id. So long as the evidence falls within the zone of reasonable disagreement, we may not substitute our judgment for that of the fact-finder. Id. at 822. The trier of fact is the sole judge of the credibility of the witnesses and the weight to give their testimony. Id. at 819. Although we consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the challenged findings, indulging every reasonable inference that supports them, we may not disregard evidence that allows only one inference. Id. at 822.

To recover for breach of contract, a plaintiff must show: (1) the existence of a valid contract; (2) the plaintiff performed or tendered performance; (3) the defendant breached the terms of the contract; and (4) the plaintiff suffered damages as a result of the defendant's breach. Woodhaven Partners, Ltd. v. Shamoun & Norman, LLP, 422 S.W.3d 821, 837 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2014, no pet.); Williams v. Unifund CCR Partners Assignee of Citibank, 264 S.W.3d 231, 235-36 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2008, no pet.); McLaughlin, Inc. v. Northstar Drilling Tech., Inc., 138 S.W.3d 24, 27 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2004, no pet.).

Thus, in this case, Pharia had the burden to prove each element of a breach of contract claim at trial. See Preston State Bank v. Jordan, 692 S.W.2d 740, 744 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 1985, no writ) (affirming a take-nothing judgment in a suit to recover a credit card debt when the bank failed to present evidence of the contract between the bank and the credit card holder).

Parties form a binding contract when the following elements are present: (1) an offer; (2) an acceptance in strict compliance with the terms of the offer; (3) a meeting of the minds; (4) each party's consent to the terms; and (5) the execution and delivery of the contract with the intent that it be mutual and binding. Williams, 264 S.W.3d at 236. To be enforceable, a contract must be sufficiently certain to enable a court to determine the rights and responsibilities of the parties. T.O. Stanley Boot Co., Inc. v. Bank of El Paso, 847 S.W.2d 218, 221 (Tex. 1992). The material terms of a contract must be agreed upon before a court can enforce the contract; the interest rate is a material term. Id.


ASSIGNEE OF CREDIT CARD ISSUER FAILED TO PROVE THE CONTRACT TERMS

As noted, the only evidence offered by Pharia of a valid contract was two pages reflecting a copy of a Bank of America cardholder agreement in print so small that the copies are rendered illegible. 

Although the "Affidavit of Indebtedness and Assignment" by Halpin states that the balance due on Uribe's account is "$2,789.70 plus interest per the terms of the agreement between the defendant and the original creditor at the rate of 28.99% per annum," there is no evidence establishing Uribe's specific obligations under the agreement or that Uribe agreed to the interest rate asserted by Halpin. 

Also, there is no evidence explaining how the $2,789.70 balance stated by Halpin became the $4,285.31 balance claimed by Pharia. The several account statements and several pages of text that appear to be a card member agreement were in Spanish, and Pharia provided no translation of the documents. See TEX. R. EVID. 1009(a) (providing that English translations of foreign-language documents are admissible in certain circumstances, not applicable here). 

We conclude that, although there is evidence of a credit-card agreement of some kind, there was no evidence proving the terms of that agreement or Uribe's intent to be bound by a specific agreement. See Williams, 264 S.W.3d at 236 (holding evidence was insufficient to establish the terms of a valid contract as a matter of law where creditor failed to produce actual credit-card agreement or any other document that established the agreed terms, including the applicable interest rate or method for determining finance charges); Tully v. Citibank (S.D.), N.A., 173 S.W.3d 212, 216-17 (Tex. App.-Texarkana 2005, no pet.) (holding evidence insufficient to show interest rate charged was agreed on where the only evidence was the rates specified in monthly statements); Jordan, 692 S.W.2d at 744 (holding evidence insufficient to establish a contract where creditor failed to introduce contract or its terms and conditions); see also Hooper v. Generations Cmty. Fed. Credit Union, No. 04-12-00080-CV, 2013 WL 2645111, at *3 (Tex. App.-San Antonio June 12, 2013, no pet.) (mem. op.) (reversing judgment for creditor where cardholder agreement was not offered into evidence and there was no evidence establishing debtor's specific obligations under an agreement); Colvin v. Tex. Dow Employees Credit Union, No. 01-11-00342-CV, 2012 WL 5544950, at *6 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] Nov. 15, 2012, no pet.) (mem. op.) (reversing summary judgment for creditor where creditor failed to offer the original agreement, monthly statements, or other evidence establishing how it calculated its alleged damages); Martin v. Federated Capital Corp., No. 01-12-00116-CV, 2012 WL 4857835, at **2-3 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] Oct. 11, 2012, no pet.) (mem. op.) (reversing summary judgment for creditor where creditor's evidence failed to explain how it calculated its damages); Ayers v. Target Nat'l Bank, No. 14-11-00574-CV, 2012 WL 3043043, at **2-4 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] July 26, 2012, no pet.) (mem. op.) (reversing summary judgment for creditor where creditor failed to present cardholder agreement and a portion of the form language on the credit-card application was illegible and form language was in Spanish); Wande v. Pharia, No. 01-10-00481-CV, 2011 WL 3820774, at *5 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] Aug. 25, 2011, no pet.) (mem. op.) (reversing summary judgment for creditor where creditor presented the cardholder agreement but important portions of the agreement were illegible, including a section entitled "Finance Charges," and creditor presented no evidence regarding the calculations it used to arrive at claimed outstanding balance); Jaramillo v. Portfolio Acquisitions, LLC, No. 14-08-00938-CV, 2010 WL 1197669, at **5-6 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] March 30, 2010, no pet.) (mem. op.) (holding evidence insufficient to establish a valid contract where card member agreement was entered into evidence, but many of its material terms were missing; "This court and its sister court have drawn a distinction between cases where a card member agreement is entered into evidence and where there is no card member agreement.").

Considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the challenged finding, see City of Keller, 168 S.W.3d at 822, we conclude that no reasonable fact-finder could have found the evidence sufficient to establish the existence of a valid contract. See Williams, 264 S.W.3d at 236; T.O. Stanley Boot Co., 847 S.W.2d at 221. The evidence was therefore legally insufficient to establish the existence of a valid contract. We sustain Uribe's second issue.

CONCLUSION

Because we hold the evidence insufficient to establish the existence of a valid contract, we reverse the trial court's judgment and render judgment that Pharia take nothing.  

SOURCE: CORPUS CHRISTI COURT OF APPEALS - 13-13-00551-C - 7/17/2014 (Uribe v Pharia)