Friday, May 31, 2013

How do parties enter into a legally binding arbitration agreement?


The elements of a valid arbitration agreement are: (1) an offer; (2) 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) execution and delivery of the contract with the intent that it be mutual and binding. Advantage Physical Therapy, Inc. v. Cruse, 165 S.W.3d 21, 24 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2005, no pet.). 
The term "meeting of the minds" refers to the parties' mutual understanding and assent to the expression of their agreement. Principal Life Ins. Co. v. Revalen Dev., LLC, 358 S.W.3d 451, 454 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2012, pet. denied). Contracts require mutual assent to be enforceable. Baylor Univ. v. Sonnichsen, 221 S.W.3d 632, 635 (Tex. 2007) (per curiam). Evidence of mutual assent in written contracts generally consists of signatures of the parties and delivery with the intent to bind. Id. Whether the parties reached an agreement is a question of fact. Parker Drilling Co. v. Romfor Supply Co., 316 S.W.3d 68, 72 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2010, pet. denied).
Arbitration clauses generally do not require mutuality of obligation so long as adequate consideration supports the underlying contract. In re Lyon Fin. Servs., Inc., 257 S.W.3d 228, 233 (Tex. 2008) (orig. proceeding) (per curiam). When an arbitration agreement is part of a larger, underlying contract, the remainder of the contract may constitute sufficient consideration for the arbitration provision. In re Palm Harbor Homes, Inc., 195 S.W.3d 672, 676 (Tex. 2006) (orig. proceeding). 
Stand-alone arbitration agreements require binding promises from both sides as they are the only consideration rendered to create a contract. In re Advance PCS Health L.P., 172 S.W.3d 603, 607 (Tex. 2005) (orig. proceeding) (per curiam). 
A promise is illusory if it does not bind the promisor, as when the promisor retains the option to discontinue performance. In re 24R, Inc., 324 S.W.3d 564, 567 (2010) (orig. proceeding) (per curiam). When illusory promises are all that support a purported bilateral contract, there is no mutuality of obligation and, therefore, no contract. Id. An arbitration agreement is not illusory unless one party can avoid its promise to arbitrate by amending the provision or terminating it altogether. Id.

SOURCE: HOUSTON COURT OF APPEALS - 14-12-00263-CV – 2/2/2013 


To create an enforceable contract, there must be (1) an offer, (2) 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) execution and delivery of the contract with the intent that it be mutual and binding. See Parker Drilling Co. v. Romfor Supply Co., 316 S.W.3d 68, 72 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2010, pet. denied). "Meeting of the minds" describes the mutual understanding and assent to the agreement regarding the subject matter and the essential terms of the contract. See Potcinske v. McDonald Property Investments, Ltd., 245 S.W.3d 526, 530 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2007, no pet.) Mutual assent concerning material, essential terms is a prerequisite to formation of a binding contract. See id.

Declarations as a form of judicial relief (under the DJA)

Declaratory relief under the DJA (Declaratory Judgments Act)

Under the declaratory judgment act, "[a] person interested under a . . . written contract. . . may have determined any question of construction or validity arising under the . . . contract . . . and obtain a declaration of rights, status, or other legal relations thereunder." See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 37.004 (West 2008). 

A declaratory-judgment proceeding is "an additional remedy and does not supplant any existing remedy, but is intended as a speedy and effective remedy for the determination of the rights of the parties when a real controversy has arisen." Cobb v. Harrington, 144 Tex. 360, 190 S.W.2d 709, 713 (Tex. 1945). A declaratory-judgment action "is appropriate when a justiciable controversy exists as to the rights and status of the parties and the controversy will be resolved by the declaration sought." Texas Health Care v. Seton Health Plan, Inc., 94 S.W.3d 841, 846 (Tex. App.-Austin 2002, pet. denied). 
A declaratory-judgment action may not be used to obtain an advisory opinion. Transportation Ins. Co. v. WH Cleaners, Inc., 372 S.W.3d 223, 227 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2012, no pet.) (explaining that declaratory-judgment action is proper only when justiciable controversy exists). In other words, the declaratory-judgment statute does not empower courts to comment on "hypothetical or contingent situations, or to determine questions not then essential to the decision of an actual controversy." Texas Health Care, 94 S.W.3d at 846.

SOURCE: AUSTIN COURT OF APPEALS - 03-10-00784-CV - 01/4/2013

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Claim of third-party beneficiary status: two types under Texas law


A third party may recover on a contract made between other parties only if the parties intended to secure some benefit to that third party, and only if the contracting parties entered into the contract directly for the third party's benefit. Stine v. Stewart, 80 S.W.3d 586, 589 (Tex. 2002). The mere fact that a person might receive an incidental benefit from a contract does not give that person a right of action to enforce the contract. Id. In determining whether a third party can enforce a contract, the intention of the contracting parties is controlling. S. Tex. Water Auth. v. Lomas, 223 S.W.3d 304, 306 (Tex.2007). The intention to confer a direct benefit to a third party must be clearly and fully spelled out, or enforcement by the third party must be denied. Id. Courts may not create third-party beneficiary contracts by implication. Stine, 80 S.W.3d at 589. There is a presumption in Texas against third-party beneficiary agreements. Tawes v. Barnes, 340 S.W.3d 419, 425 (Tex.2011).


Texas recognizes two forms of third-party beneficiary: creditor and donee.

A party is a creditor beneficiary if no intent to make a gift appears from the contract (which would make the party a donee beneficiary), but performance will satisfy an actual or asserted duty of the promisee to the beneficiary. Lomas, 223 S.W.3d at 306; Esquivel v. Murray Guard, Inc., 992 S.W.2d 536, 543 (Tex.App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1999, pet. denied).[4] This duty may be an indebtedness, contractual obligation, or other legally enforceable commitment to the third party. Esquivel, 992 S.W.2d at 544. The promisee must intend that the beneficiary will have the right to enforce the contract. Id.

SOURCE: HOUSTON COURT OF APPEALS - Nos. 14-10-00821-CV, 14-10-00856-CV, 14-10-01145-CV – 5/17/12 375 - Garcia v. Bank of America Corporation, 375 S.W.3d 322 (2012)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How do Texas courts resolve disagreements about what the contract means or requires?


"The construction of an unambiguous contract is a question of law for the court," which we review de novo. Tawes v. Barnes, 340 S.W.3d 419, 425 (Tex. 2011). "A contract is not ambiguous simply because the parties disagree over its meaning." Dynegy Midstream Servs., Ltd. P'ship v. Apache Corp., 294 S.W.3d 164, 168 (Tex. 2009). Rather, a contract is ambiguous only when "its meaning is uncertain and doubtful or is reasonably susceptible to more than one interpretation." Heritage Res., Inc. v. NationsBank, 939 S.W.2d 118, 121 (Tex. 1996). "When discerning the contracting parties' intent, courts must examine the entire agreement and give effect to each provision so that none is rendered meaningless." Tawes, 340 S.W.3d at 425.

When performing this review, no single provision will be given controlling effect; instead, all of the provisions must be considered in light of the whole agreement. Id. "In construing a written contract, the primary concern of the court is to ascertain the true intentions of the parties as expressed in the instrument." Valence Operating Co. v. Dorsett, 164 S.W.3d 656, 662 (Tex. 2005). Accordingly, we "give contract terms their plain and ordinary meaning unless the instrument indicates the parties intended a different meaning." Apache Corp., 294 S.W.3d at 168.


The construction of a contract is a question of law that we review de novo in light of the entire agreement. See Chrysler Ins. Co. v. Greenspoint Dodge of Houston, Inc., 297 S.W.3d 248, 252-53 (Tex. 2009).

Contract construction is a question that we review de novo, and when performing that task, we review the entire contract. See Greenspoint Dodge of Houston, Inc., 297 S.W.3d at 252-53.

SOURCE: AUSTIN COURT OF APPEALS - 03-10-00784-CV - 01/4/2013

The interpretation or construction of an unambiguous contract is a matter of law to be determined by the court. Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Schaefer, 124 S.W.3d 154, 157 (Tex. 2003). When interpreting a contract, our primary concern is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the parties as expressed in the agreement. Seagull Energy E & P, Inc. v. Eland Energy, Inc., 207 S.W.3d 342, 345 (Tex.2006). To discern this intent, we examine and consider the entire writing in an effort to harmonize and give effect to all of its provisions so that none will be rendered meaningless. Id. No single provision taken alone will be given controlling effect; rather, all the provisions must be considered with reference to the whole instrument. Id. Interpretation of an insurance policy is governed by the same rules of construction applicable to other contracts. Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co. v. CBI Indus., Inc., 907 S.W.2d 517, 520 (Tex. 1995).

SOURCE: HOUSTON COURT OF APPEALS - Nos. 14-10-00821-CV, 14-10-00856-CV, 14-10-01145-CV – 5/17/12 375 -  Garcia v. Bank of America Corporation, 375 S.W.3d 322 (2012)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Presumption of good faith in pleadings and sanctions for groundless suit and harrassment by litigation


Chapter 10 of the Civil Practices and Remedies Code provides that the signing of a pleading or motion constitutes a certificate by the signatory that, to the best of the signatory's knowledge, "each allegation or other factual contention in the pleading or motion has evidentiary support or, for a specifically identified allegation or factual contention, is likely to have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for further investigation or discovery." Low v. Henry, 221 S.W.3d 609, 614-15 (Tex. 2007) (citing TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE ANN. § 10.001(3) (West 2002)). Each allegation and factual contention in a pleading or motion must have, or be likely to have, evidentiary support after a reasonable investigation. Id. at 615. A trial court may impose sanctions against a party if the court finds that the party has failed to comply with this requirement. Nolte, 348 S.W.3d at 269 (citing TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE ANN. § 10.004(a) (West 2002)).

Rule 13 of the Rules of Civil Procedure allows a court to impose sanctions on a party, counsel, or both for pleadings, motions, or other papers signed and filed that are groundless and brought in bad faith or for the purpose of harassment. Loeffler v. Lytle Indep. Sch. Dist., 211 S.W.3d 331, 348 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2006, pet. denied). The rule defines "groundless" as having no basis in law or fact and not warranted by good faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law. TEX. R. CIV. PROC. 13. Groundlessness turns on the legal merits of a claim. Dike v. Peltier Chevrolet, Inc., 343 S.W.3d 179, 184 (Tex. App.-Texarkana 2011, no pet.). A claim without evidentiary support is groundless for purposes of Rule 13, as it has no basis in fact or law. Nath v. Texas Children's Hosp., 375 S.W.3d 403, 427 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2012, pet. filed). To determine if a pleading was groundless, the trial court uses an objective standard: did the party and counsel make a reasonable inquiry into the legal and factual basis of the claim? Loeffler, 211 S.W.3d at 348; see Robson, 267 S.W.3d at 405. The court will look to the facts available to the litigant and the circumstances at the time the suit was filed. Robson, 267 S.W.3d at 405. There must have been a reasonable inquiry, which means the amount of examination that is reasonable under the circumstances. Robson, 267 S.W.3d at 406 (citing Monroe v. Grider, 884 S.W.2d 811, 817 (Tex. App.-Dallas 1994, writ denied)).

In deciding whether a pleading was filed in bad faith or for the purpose of harassment, the trial court must consider the acts or omissions of the represented party or counsel, not merely the legal merit of a pleading or motion. New York Underwriters Ins. Co. v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 856 S.W.2d 194, 205 (Tex. App.-Dallas 1993, no writ.); see Davila v. World Car Five Star, 75 S.W.3d 537, 544 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2002, no pet.). The party moving for sanctions must prove the pleading party's subjective state of mind. Thielemann v. Kethan, 371 S.W.3d 286, 294 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2012, pet. denied) (citing Mattly v. Spiegel, Inc., 19 S.W.3d 890, 896 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2002, no pet.)). Bad faith does not exist when a party merely exercises bad judgment or is negligent; rather bad faith is the conscious doing of a wrong for dishonest, discriminatory, or malicious purposes. Thielemann, 371 S.W.3d at 294. A party acts in bad faith if he has been put on notice that his claim may be groundless and he does not make reasonable inquiry before pursuing the claim further. See Robson, 267 S.W.3d at 407; Monroe, 884 S.W.2d at 818 (concluding public policy supports lesser standard for bad faith under Rule 13 than under DTPA). A court may therefore find bad faith where a party asserts a claim with knowledge that the evidence fails to support the claim. Nath, 375 S.W.3d at 427. "Harass" is used in a variety of legal contexts to describe words, gestures, and actions that tend to annoy, alarm, and verbally abuse another person. Thielemann, 371 S.W.3d at 294 (citing Elkins v. Stotts-Brown, 103 S.W.3d 664, 669 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2003, no pet.)).

Courts must presume that pleadings are filed in good faith, and the burden is on the party moving for sanctions to overcome that presumption. GTE Commc'n Sys. Corp. v. Tanner, 856 S.W.2d 725, 731 (Tex. 1993). Under some circumstances, the trial court may be able to make such a determination by taking judicial notice of items in the case file. Texas-Ohio Gas, Inc. v. Mecom, 28 S.W.3d 129, 139 (Tex. App.-Texarkana 2000, no pet.). Circumstantial evidence will suffice to allow a trial court to infer bad faith and improper motive. Dike, 343 S.W.3d at 194. A party cannot avoid Rule 13 sanctions by claiming he was not actually aware of the facts making his claim groundless when he had not made reasonable inquiry, nor by claiming he was not acting with malicious or discriminatory purpose in bringing the claim. Robson, 267 S.W.3d at 407.

The imposition of sanctions is within the sound discretion of the trial court, and we set aside the order only upon a clear showing of abuse of discretion.[2] Low, 221 S.W.3d at 614; see Tanner, 856 S.W.2d at 730. The determination whether the court's imposition of sanctions constitutes an abuse of discretion requires an examination of the entire record. Loeffler, 211 S.W.3d at 347. A trial court abuses its discretion in imposing sanctions only if it bases the order on an erroneous view of the law or on a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence. Id. at 347-48. An appellate court, therefore, will view the conflicting evidence in the light most favorable to the trial court's ruling and will draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the trial court's judgment. Id. at 348.

SOURCE: SAN ANTONIO COURT OF APPEALS – 04-11-00444-CV – 3/20/2013 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Statute of frauds not self-executing, must be invoked to serve as defense in lawsuit


The statute of frauds is an affirmative defense to the enforcement of a contract which must be pleaded or it is waived. TEX. R. CIV. P. 94; Swinehart v, Stubbeman, McRae, Sealy, Laughlin & Browder, Inc., 48 S.W.3d 865, 875 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2001, pet. denied).

SOURCE: HOUSTON COURT OF APPEALS – 14-11-00895-CV – 4/30/2013

Because [the Defendant sued on guaranty] failed to plead the statute of frauds as an affirmative defense to the personal guarantee agreement, we conclude that [he] has waived it. See Adams v. H & H Meat Prods., Inc., 41 S.W.3d 762, 776 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 2001, no pet.) (holding the appellant waived the statute of frauds to enforcement of a personal guarantee). 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Testimony, affidavit about contract likely useless in court if it violates the Parol Evidence Rule

Parol Evidence Rule

Parol evidence may not be used to vary or contradict the express or implied terms of an unambiguous written agreement absent a showing of fraud, accident, or mutual mistake. Toler v. Sanders, 371 S.W.3d 477, 481 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2012, no pet.); Hudson Buick, Pontiac, GMC Truck Co. v. Gooch, 7 S.W.3d 191, 198 (Tex. App.-Tyler 1999, pet. denied). Evidence admitted in violation of the parol evidence rule is incompetent and without any probative force. Johnson v. Driver, 198 S.W.3d 359, 364 (Tex. App.-Tyler 2006, no pet.).

SOURCE: HOUSTON COURT OF APPEALS – 14-11-00895-CV – 4/30/2013

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Equitable estoppel based on inconsistent positions taken in court

First he claims this, then he claims that ...


The elements of equitable estoppel arising from inconsistent positions taken in judicial proceedings are (1) a party takes a clearly inconsistent positions in the same or separate proceedings; (2) the position first asserted was successfully maintained or upheld; (3) the other party relied on the position first asserted; (4) adoption of the later position would result in injury or prejudice to the adverse party; and (5) where more than one action is involved, there is an identity of parties. Glattly v. Air Starter Components, Inc., 332 S.W.3d 620, 639 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2010, pet. denied); In re Estate of Loveless, 64 S.W.3d 564, 578 (Tex. App.-Texarkana 2001, no pet.).
SOURCE: HOUSTON COURT OF APPEALS – 14-11-00895-CV – 4/30/2013

[Defendant asserting the defense] bears the burden of proving estoppel, and the failure to prove any one or more of the elements is fatal. See Santa Fe Petroleum, L.L.C. v. Star Canyon Corp., 156 S.W.3d 630, 640 (Tex. App.-Tyler 2004, no pet.).