Multilevel Marketing Scheme Promises Barred By Parol Evidence Rule

AmeriPlan Corporation’s customers pay a monthly membership fee in order to access a network of healthcare professionals who have agreed to provide discounted medical services.  Anderson worked as an independent contractor for AmeriPlan, and recruited its customers, healthcare professionals, and other independent contractors.  AmeriPlan’s business model is based on multilevel direct marketing, and Anderson was compensated through commissions and bonuses.  After AmeriPlan terminated his employment, Anderson sued AmeriPlan claiming that he was promised “lifetime residual income,” but did not receive any commissions or bonuses after his termination.  The trial court rendered judgment for Anderson, and AmeriPlan appealed.

The issue on appeal was whether the evidence was legally sufficient to support the jury’s finding that AmeriPlan breached Anderson’s written sales contract.  AmeriPlan argued that the contract unambiguously required it to pay commissions and bonuses only during the continuation of the contract.  Anderson alleged that the jury was entitled to consider AmeriPlan’s promise of “lifetime vested benefits” contained in AmeriPlan’s marketing materials in deciding whether AmeriPlan breached the written contract.  The court of appeals concluded that the parol evidence rule barred the jury from considering the statements made in AmeriPlan’s marketing materials because the alleged promises were not a collateral consistent agreement.  The court also found that the fraud exception to the parol evidence rule was inapplicable because Anderson was not the defendant, and was not seeking to avoid the contract.  Because the jury was precluded from giving weight to AmeriPlan’s alleged promises, the court of appeals held that the evidence was legally insufficient to support Anderson’s breach of contract claim.  The court reversed and remanded to the trial court for consideration of the jury’s alternative liability and damages findings.

AmeriPlan Corp. v. Anderson, No. 05-11-00628-CV

Possession is Nine-Tenths of the Law

In the mid-1990s, Hydroscience Technologies, Inc. (“HTI”) sold shares of its preferred stock to Hydroscienc, Inc. (“HSI”).  HTI alleges that in 2001, in order to settle an unrelated dispute between Whitehall Corporation (HSI’s parent corporation) and itself, Whitehall orally agreed during a mediation session to transfer the HTI shares held by HSI back to HTI.  But the parties never reduced this agreement to writing and HSI never transferred the original stock certificate back to HTI.  The parties didn’t raise the question of HSI’s stock ownership  again until 2010, when HSI, as purported shareholder, requested to inspect the books and records of HTI.  When HTI refused, HSI filed a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that HSI remained an HTI shareholder.  After the trial court granted HSI’s motions for summary judgment, HTI appealed.

The Court of Appeals addressed a number of issues in its opinion.  Most relevant, however, was its holding that while delivery of a stock certificate was not required to show a transfer of stock, the fact that HSI still possessed the certificate establishes its ownership unless HTI can present evidence of the stock transfer agreement the parties purportedly came to during the 2001 mediation.  But the Court found that HTI could not demonstrate that intent because, under Texas law, HTI is prohibited from using as evidence statements of the parties during a mediation session.  It explained that “to allow HTI to used alleged discussions from the mediation regarding the stock would undermine the very purpose of confidentiality in the mediation process.  Parties must not be allowed to use evidence from mediation to dispute terms of a settlement agreement, particularly years later, as is the case here.”  According to the Court, to hold otherwise would chill the overall purpose of mediation.   Thus, because the final 2001 settlement agreement did not show the stock transfer agreement, and because HTI could not show that the parties had orally agreed to make such a transfer, the Court upheld the trial court’s ruling.

Hydroscience Technologies, Inc. v. Hydroscience, Inc.

 

 

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