Legal Blog ("Blawg") on Causes of Action and Affirmative Defenses in Texas -- with Caselaw Snippets from Appellate Opinions, and Occasional Commentary on Decisions
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Effect of Absence of MATERIAL TERM from CONTRACT on enforceability
OMISSION OF MATERIAL TERM WOULD RENDER CONTRACT UNENFORCEABLE
A contract that lacks a material term is not an enforceable contract. T.O. Stanley Boot Co., Inc. v. Bank of El Paso, 847 S.W.2d 218, 221 (Tex. 1992) (stating that "[i] n order to be legally binding, a contract must be sufficiently definite in its terms so that a court can understand what the promisor undertook" and that "[w]here an essential term is open for future negotiation, there is no binding contract"); Sadeghi v. Gang, 270 S.W.3d 773, 776 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2008, no pet.) ("If a contract is not clear and certain as to all essential terms, it will fail for indefiniteness."); Miga v. Jensen, 25 S.W.3d 370, 376 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2000), aff'd in part and rev'd in part, 96 S.W.3d 207 (Tex. 2002). Thus, a party may defend a breach of contract action by asserting that the contract on which the claim is based is not enforceable as a matter of law and therefore cannot support a breach of contract action. See T.O. Stanley Boot Co., 847 S.W.2d at 221-22.
NATURE OF THE LEGAL ARGUMENT THAT ESSENTIAL TERMS IS MISSING FROM THE CONTRACT SUED ON
An assertion that the contract lacked a material term does not establish an independent reason why a plaintiff should not recover and is therefore not an affirmative defense. See Phillips v. Phillips, 820 S.W.2d 785, 791 (Tex. 1991) (stating that affirmative defense does not rebut facts asserted by plaintiff but rather seeks to establish independent reason why plaintiff should not recover).
QUESTION OF LAW NOT FOR THE JURY TO DECIDE
[T]he question of whether the contract contained all essential terms for it to be enforceable is a question of law. Beal Bank, S.S.B., 124 S.W.3d at 654 n.8; Am.'s Favorite Chicken Co., 929 S.W.2d at 622. [T]he jury's answer to the question is therefore not determinative. Alcorn v. Brown, 536 S.W.2d 80, 82 (Tex. Civ. App- Fort Worth 1976, writ ref'd n.r.e.); see also Se. Pipe Line Co., Inc. v. Tichacek, 997 S.W.2d 166, 172 (Tex. 1999) (noting that a jury's answer to a question may be disregarded if question calls for a finding on a question of law). Alcorn, 536 S.W.2d at 82 (stating that trial court may disregard jury's answer to erroneously submitted question of law).
SOURCE: 02-07-00355-CV (Fort Worth Court of Appeals) (5/28/09, pet. denied 10/16/09) (finding that the contract for sale/purchase of interest in house boat at issue contained all the material terms necessary for it to be enforceable).
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