Difference between Plaintiff’s breach of contract element and agency affirmative defense? It’s all in your head.

it's all in your head

In Tour de Force, Ltd. v. Barr, the plaintiff, Tour de Force, was a Russian tour operator that entered into an agreement by email with Gordon Barr, CEO of Port Promotions. There wasn’t a separate written contract. When Tour de Force stopped receiving payments, it sued Barr individually. The trial court found after a bench trial that Tour de Force did not prove that a contract existed with Barr in his individual capacity. Tour de Force appealed, arguing that the trial court applied the wrong standard because agency is an affirmative defense. The Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed.

On the issue of whether it was the defendant’s burden to prove agency or the plaintiff’s burden to prove a contract with the defendant in his individual capacity, the Court noted that the defendant disclaimed any reliance on an agency defense during closing, meaning he had no burden to establish an affirmative defense. “Rather, the burden remained squarely with [Tour de Force] to prove a ‘meeting of the minds’ between it and Barr to enter into a contract.” The emails forming the contract included a signature line of Gordon Barr as CEO of Port Promotions, invoices were directed at Port Promotions, and payments were made from an account owned by Port Promotions. Thus, though the plaintiff testified that he believed he had contracted with Barr, there was no evidence of a “meeting of the minds” between Tour de Force and Barr in his individual capacity to enter into a contract.

Tour de Force, Ltd. v. Barr

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How to not clothe an auctioneer.

auctioneerWhile the Wilburns submitted the highest price at a real estate auction, it was below the reserve price set by the bank who was auctioning the property. They nevertheless sought to enforce a right to the property.  The Dallas Court affirmed a take-nothing verdict for the defendants.  As to the auctioneer’s actual authority, the Court noted the instructions about reserve price in the “Agreement to Conduct Auction Sale.”  As to his apparent authority, the Court noted the auctioneer’s statements at the start of the auction and the Wilburns’ signatures on two cards that said what a reserve price was and referenced the auctioneer’s contract: “None of the bank’s actions or inactions clothed the auctioneer with the indicia of authority to sell the Property at a price below the reserve without Valliance’s consent.”  Wilburn v. Valliance Bank, No. 05-14-00965-CV (Dec. 21, 2015) (mem. op.)

Fiduciary Shield Doctrine Defeats Specific Jurisdiction

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling that appellees lacked sufficient contacts with Texas in their individual capacities to support the exercise of personal jurisdiction over them. Appellants argued that appellees were subject to specific jurisdiction in Texas because the tortious interference and related conspiracy claims against appellees directly relate to and arise from appellees’ purposeful contacts with Texas. According to the Court, any alleged jurisdictional contacts in furtherance of tortious interference made by appellees in their capacity as corporate officers are subject to the fiduciary shield doctrine and do not constitute contacts with Texas in their individual capacities because there was no proof such contacts were motivated solely by appelees’ personal interest.  Accordingly, the Court found appellees’ evidence that none of their contacts with Texas were in their individual capacities, combined with the fact that appellees could not be liable in their individual capacities for their conduct on behalf of out of state entities, negated appellant’s jurisdictional allegations.

Kaye-Bassman Int’l v. Dankuka

Agency Defense Fails, Interest Going Up

Creation Construction sued Charlie Patel and EZN News Nibbles Necessities for breach of contract after they failed to pay for the construction of a convenience store in NorthPark Mall. After a bench trial, the court entered judgment in favor of Creation for approximately $42,000 in damages and $71,000 in attorney fees. On appeal, Patel argued that he could not be personally liable on the construction contract because he has signed it in his capacity as an agent of EZN. Unfortunately, the contract did not actually say what capacity Patel was signing in, nor had he raised that claim before the trial court. Accordingly, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s finding of liability against Patel. However, the court also reversed on Creation’s cross-appeal, which argued that the trial court had erred by failing to award prejudgment interest, and the case was remanded for consideration of the interest to be added on to the judgment.

Patel v. Creative Construction, Inc., No. 05-11-00759-CV

Slow Down, Homer

The court affirmed a summary judgment against the Poynors in their negligence suit. When shopping for a new car at a BMW dealership, the salesperson, Homer, took them for a test drive and negligently crashed the vehicle. The Poynors sued the North American BMW distributor and BMW’s U.S. holding company for various claims of negligence, including one claim for vicarious liability, contending that BMW was vicariously liable for the dealership’s negligence due to its agency relationship with the dealership. The trial court granted BMW’s summary judgment and the Poynors appealed.

On appeal, the court first noted that the contract between BMW and the dealership specifically disclaimed an agency relationship. The same contract, however, required the dealership to maintain certain standards that the Poynors argues amounted to “control” sufficient to create an agency relationship. Looking to the activity that caused the injury, the court observed that the contract did not provide BMW control over the test drive and, while BMW required the dealership to train its salespeople, BMW was not directly responsible for Homer’s training or supervision. Thus, BMW was entitled to summary judgment on these claims. Finding that BMW also owed no direct duty to train or supervise Homer, the court affirmed the judgment.

Poyner v. BMW, No. 05-10-00724-CV

Your Agent, Your Responsibility

The court affirmed the trial court’s judgment in this commercial real estate lawsuit. Jarvis provided a loan through its loan servicer, NAC, to CAS for the purchase of an apartment complex. The loan documentation identified NAC as the “servicer” and the lender as Jarvis “c/o” NAC. CAS made monthly loan payments directly to NAC, who then disbursed them to Jarvis. CAS later sold the property to K&E through Stewart Title. Stewart Title paid the loan payoff amount directly to NAC for payment to Jarvis, as NAC had done for two other loan payoff transactions to Jarvis in the past. But in this case, NAC did not provide the funds to Jarvis and instead purported to continue making CAS’s monthly payments without notifying Jarvis of the sale. When NAC stopped making those payments, evidently due to insolvency, Jarvis learned of the property sale and sought to foreclose on the property.

K&E filed a declaratory action asserting that the loan was paid off and seeking to prevent foreclosure. Jarvis filed a third-party petition against CAS, Stewart Title asserting negligence and breach of contract claims against Stewart Title for making the loan payment to NAC instead of directly to Jarvis. Jarvis also sought a declaration that the loan was not discharged and sought to quiet title. At trial, Jarvis moved to exclude evidence of the other loans serviced by NAC in which NAC received the payoff amount and disbursed it to Jarvis, which was denied. Based on this evidence, the trial court found that Jarvis and NAC established a procedure where NAC received payoff funds and disbursed them to Jarvis and that NAC had actual and apparent authority to accept the payoff amount here. It entered judgment for K&E, declaring that the loan was fully paid, enjoining Jarvis from attempting to foreclose on the party, and awarding K&E attorney’s fees. The court also granted K&E and Stewart Title summary judgment on Jarvis’s negligence and breach of contract claims and severed out Jarvis’s claims against CAS.

On appeal, Jarvis argued that the trial court erred by denying its motion to exclude because the loan documents dictated the relationship between the parties, and thus the parol evidence rule precluded the evidence of Jarvis and NAC’s other course of dealings. The court held that the loan documents indicated that NAC had authority to act for Jarvis, but the scope of that authority was unclear. Thus, parol evidence showing the scope of NAC’s authority to accept loan payoff amounts and not contradicting the terms of the documents was not barred. Additionally, the evidence was sufficient to show that NAC had implied actual authority to accept the loan payoff. This holding also disposed of Jarvis’s claims against Stewart Title, whose transfer of funds to NAC constituted payment to Jarvis rather than a breach of any duty to Jarvis, and Jarvis’s declaratory action because its lien and deed of trust on the property was discharged. Finally, K&E’s attorney’s fees recovery was warranted because the UDJA permits a declaratory action brought to invalidate a real estate note, as well as any lien securing the note.

Jarvis v. K&E RE One, LLC, et al., 05-11-00341-CV