It’s an Open Question Whether This Post Is Signed

Clyde Parks signed a $10,000 promissory note, bearing 15% interest and secured by Super Bowl tickets, in favor of Scott Seybold. Parks defaulted on the note, but did make some sporadic payments before limitations expired. When Seybold demanded payment after the limitations period had expired, Parks responded with emails stating that he was working to get the note paid and that he was not ignoring it. That was enough for both the trial court and the Dallas Court of Appeals to conclude that the claim was not barred by limitations, because the debtor had acknowledged the debt, in writing, as a current obligation. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 16.065. The Court of Appeals rejected Parks’ argument that he had not “signed” the emails pursuant to the Texas Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, affirming the trial court’s finding that the “Thank you, Clyde” salutation in each email was intended to be Parks’ signature. Notably, the Court of Appeals pointed out that it was expressing no opinion on whether the automatically-generated name and contact information block at the end of each email could constitute an electronic signature.

Parks v. Seybold, No. 05-13-00694-CV

Statute of Limitations Not Tolled in Negligent Appraisal Lawsuit

In this action for negligent appraisal, the Court of Appeals found that the two-year statute of limitations for negligence actions had not been tolled by the discovery rule because the homebuyer knew, before closing, of information indicating the value of the property was much less than what he had offered to pay for it.  Specifically, the appraiser had indicated that the house was worth $295,000 (or $10,000 less than what the plaintiff had offered to pay for it).  More importantly, Zillow.com showed that the property was $100,000 less than what the buyer had offered.  Despite these two indications that should cause a reasonable person to investigate further, the plaintiff did not bring suit until three years later, when he had hired another appraiser to provide an estimate of the property’s value and found out that the property was, in fact, worth much less than he had paid.

Bruning v. Hollowell

 

Note Not Negotiable

In this suit to collect on a promissory note, the Court of Appeals found that the six-year statute of limitations to sue on a “negotiable instrument” did not apply because the note at issue was not, in fact, negotiable.  According to the Court, because the note represented a revolving line-of-credit, permitting the borrower to prepay all or any portion of the amount due without incurring any prepayment penalty, the note did not contain an unconditional promise to pay a sum certain for a fixed amount and was therefore non-negotiable.  Thus, the Court found that the six-year statute of limitations for negotiable instruments did not apply and affirmed the trial court’s decision.

Bank of Am., N.A. v. Alta Logistics, Inc.

 

Delayed Service Leads to Dismissal on Limitations Grounds

In this car accident case, the defendant moved for summary judgment on statute of limitations grounds.  While the plaintiff claimed that a typo in the original petition precluded the process server from locating the defendant before the limitations period expired, the Court of Appeals found that the plaintiff had no explanation for the delay in serving the defendant because the defendant’s correct address, telephone number, driver’s license number, and license plane number were available in the police report describing the accident that is the basis for the lawsuit.

Quezada v. Fulton

Statute of limitations bars contract claims

In this breach of contract action, the Court of Appeals held that Texas’ four-year statute of limitations barred the defendant’s counterclaim.  The breach of contract counterclaim was based on the plaintiff’s failure to provide account documents within 10 days of the date of the agreement, which was June 28, 2007.  Because the defendant made no legal argument to toll the date of the agreement, the Court held that all of the defendant’s claims under the agreement at issue were barred as a matter of law.

Santander Consumer USA, Inc. v. Palisades Collection, LLC

Here’s Some Advice: Your Cause of Action Accrues Now….

In this negligent misrepresentation case, Guarantee Company of North America sued Weaver and Tidwell LLP for issuing negligent audit reports on which Guarantee relied when issuing performance bonds.  The central issue on appeal was whether the two-year statute of limitations for negligent misrepresentation actions barred Guarantee’s claim.  The Court held that “a person suffers legal injury from faulty professional advice when the advice is taken.”  Thus, the claim in this suit accrued as soon as Weaver’s alleged misrepresentation induced Guarantee to act; that is, when Guarantee issued its first bond in reliance on the faulty audit, which was more than two years before it filed suit.  While Guarantee argued that the discovery rule applied to toll the statute of limitations, the Court refused to apply the discovery rule here because Guarantee did not obtain findings on when it knew or should have known of the facts that gave rise to its cause of action.

Weaver and Tidlwell v. Guaranty Co. of N. Am.

Viatical Settlements Are Securities

What, you may be asking yourself, is a viatical settlement? A new securities opinion from the Dallas Court of Appeals provides the answer to that question, and in the process examines the scope of the Texas Securities Act. Life Partners, Inc. is in the business of buying life insurance policies and reselling interests in those policies to investors, transactions known as “life settlements” or “viatical settlements.” The purchasers of those policies are not told what Life Partners paid for them, and Life Partners remains the owner of the policies while holding them as the agent for the investors. Several of the company’s investors filed suit for violations of the TSA, alleging that the life settlements were actually investment contracts that qualified as securities under the TSA. The trial court court granted summary judgment for Life Partners.

The case turned on the question of whether the profits sought by the investors of these viatical settlements were derived “solely from the efforts of others,” one of the four factors for determining whether investment contracts qualify as securities under SEC v. W.J. Howey Co., 328 U.S.293 (1946) and Searsy v. Commercial Trading Corp., 560 S.W.2d 637 (Tex. 1977). After a detailed analysis of a line of cases holding that viatical settlements were not securities, the Court disagreed. Because the investors were dependent upon Life Investors for the evaluation and purchase of the policies, and because they were also required to rely on Life Investors for information about the insureds, the profits were indeed derived solely from the efforts of Life Partners. In so holding, the Court expressly disagreed with the Waco Court of Appeals, which had reached the opposite conclusion in a previous case, and instead followed rulings by the 11th Circuit, the Tyler Court of Appeals, and several courts in other states. In doing so, the Court rejected Life Partners’ argument that it was engaged in the business of selling insurance, which is exempted from regulation by the TSA. Finally, the Court determined that while the claims of the two lead plaintiffs were barred by limitations, some of the claims of two other plaintiffs had been timely filed and could proceed on remand to the trial court.

Given the split of authorities, this case would seem to be a candidate for review by the Texas Supreme Court. We’ll keep you updated if it proceeds in that direction.

Arnold v. Life Partners, Inc., No. 05-12-00092-CV

Good Friday in April Saves the Day in August

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a car wreck case. The defendant sought summary judgment based on the 2-year statute of limitations for personal injury and the plaintiff’s alleged lack of diligence in serving the petition. The accident had happened on April 24, 2009, but the plaintiff’s petition had not been filed until April 25, 2011. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the summary judgment evidence was sufficient to show the petition was timely filed because the court had been closed for Good Friday when the plaintiff attempted to file it on April 22. See Tex Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 16.003(a). The defendant had also failed to submit any summary judgment evidence showing that he had not been timely served, thereby failing to meet his own burden to establish the plaintiff’s lack of due diligence in serving the citation after the limitations period expired.

Sutton v. Sheikh, No. 05-12-01168-CV

Home Equity Loan: Void or Voidable?

In August 2002, after Kroupa and WIlliams had been living together in a common law marriage for a number of years, Williams took out a home equity loan on the parties’ residence without telling Kroupa.  Kroupa discovered the home equity loan the following month, in September 2002.  Several years passed, and Kroupa and Williams finalized their divorced in 2007 and Kroupa received the residence as part of that proceeding.  In 2008, Kroupa filed a petition seeking to have the home equity loan declared as void.

On appeal, the Court looked to the Texas Constitution’s 1998 amendment concerning home equity loans to determine whether Kroupa could prevail.  Under that amendment , Kroupa argued that the home equity line was void because she did not sign the written agreement or consent to it as the Texas Constitution required.  In response, Williams and Wachovia (the holder of the lien) insisted that Kroupa’s claim was barred by the applicable statute of limitations.  Examining the Texas Constitution and the line of cases discussing this specific provision, the Court found that becuase the lien here was voidable and not void, the statute of limitations applied.  The Court then found that, because Kroupa discovered the lien in September in 2002, and because she filed her lawsuit in September 2008, her suit was barred by the four-year statute of limitations.

Williams v. Wachovia Mortgage Corp.

Silence Implies Discovery

Rickey Wayne Tolbert sued his former attorney, George Otstott, for legal malpractice. Tolbert is a pro se prison inmate, and was incarcerated at the time Otstott settled three separate personal injury matters on Tolbert’s behalf. The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendant based on his limitations defense, and since the underlying lawsuits were settled between 1987 and 1991, you would think that’s probably a meritorious defense. The court of appeals agreed. As a matter of law, a reasonably diligent person, after receiving a $1,012 check from his attorney, followed by sixteen years of silence, would have investigated and discovered that the lawyer had settled all three claims. Thus, the two year limitations periods for legal malpractice expired long before the filing of Tolbert’s lawsuit in 2010.

Tolbert v. Otstott, No. 05-12-0024-CV