Tax Returns Do Not Conclusively Establish Entity’s Ownership Structure

Dr. Erwin Cruz sued his former business partners, claiming, among other things, that he was a limited partner in an entity called Plano AMI, L.P.  Before trial, the trial court granted Dr. Cruz’s motion for partial summary judgment establishing his ownership interest as a limited partner, based in large part upon the fact that Plano AMI’s tax returns listed Dr. Cruz as a limited partner.

On appeal, the Dallas Court of Appeals reversed that decision, finding that the partnership agreement was ambiguous and that because Plano AMI had later amended its tax returns to list Dr. Cruz as a general partner, Cruz had failed to establish as a matter of law that he was a limited partner.

Plano AMI, L.P. v. Cruz

Supreme Court Update: Moayedi v. Interstate 35

The Texas Supreme Court has unanimously affirmed the judgment of the Dallas Court of Appeals on petition for review from the case of Interstate 35/Chisam Road L.P. v. Moayedi. As regular readers will recall, Moayedi was the first of a string of cases from Dallas holding that borrowers and guarantors had contractually waived their statutory right to offset any deficiency if the foreclosure sale resulted in a price less than the collateral’s fair market value. Justice Willett, writing for the Supreme Court, agreed with that analysis, holding that section 51.003 of the Texas Property Code creates an affirmative defense that the borrower or guarantor can validly waive through a general waiver of defenses in the lending instruments. Unless the Legislature decides to step in, businesses and individuals can expect to see such waiver clauses become standard practice in property financing transactions.

Moayedi v. Interstate 35 Chisam Road LP, No. 12-0937

Justifiable Reliance Negated by Policy Exclusions

Clint Simon applied for a “Termite & Pest Control General Liability” insurance policy for his d/b/a, Sherlock Pest. The application included a “WDI Exclusion,” which excluded liability for claims or losses arising out of inspections for Wood Destroying Insects. That exclusion, in somewhat different form, was included in a pair of endorsements to the policy that was subsequently issued, as well as a later renewal policy. When a homeowner sued Simon for performing an improper inspection, the insurer invoked the WDI Exclusion to deny coverage. Simon sued, but the insurer obtained summary judgment on all claims. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that Simon could not have justifiably relied on a coverage certificate the insurer had filed with the Texas Department of Agriculture, which had not mentioned any exclusion in Simon’s insurance policy. Because the application, the initial policy, and the renewal policy all contained the WDI Exclusion, a reasonable person could not have relied on the coverage certificate as a representation that there was actually insurance coverage for WDI inspections. The Court also rejected Simon’s argument that the trial court should have granted a continuance to permit him to conduct more discovery, as his appellate brief failed to explain how the additional discovery would have allowed him to respond to the summary judgment motion.

Simon v. Tudor Ins. Co., No. 05-12-004430CV

Supreme Court Update: Interstate 35/Chisam Road L.P. v. Moayedi

Readers of the blog will probably be familiar with our “Waive Goodbye” series of posts on the Dallas Court of Appeals’ recent line of cases holding that borrowers and guarantors can contractually waive their statutory right to offset any deficiency if foreclosed property is sold for less than its fair market value. The Texas Supreme Court has now granted the petition for review in the first of those cases, Interstate 35/Chisam Road L.P. v. Moayedi, 377 S.W.3d 791 (Tex. App.–Dallas 2012, pet. granted). Oral argument has been set for January 8, and we will continue to keep our eyes on the issue.

Arbitration Waiver Affirmed

Although the contract at issue in this breach of contract matter included an arbitration provision, the defendant went ahead and actively litigated the case by, among other things, filing a motion for summary judgment, propounding affirmative discovery, deposing expert witnesses and attending mediation.  Then, after 19 months of active litigation (and 4 months before trial), the defendant invoked the arbitration provision in the agreement and moved to compel arbitration.  The Court found that the defendant had waived arbitration by substantially invoking the judicial process.

Ideal Roofing v. Armbruster

Waive Goodbye, Part VII

The Court of Appeals has once again ruled that a contractual waiver prevents a guarantor from invoking its statutory right to offset if the foreclosed property was sold for less than its fair market value. This is the seventh time the Court has made that ruling in a little over a year, dating back to August 2012 in the case of Interstate 35/Chisam Road, L.P. v. Moayedi, and as recently as August 2013 in Compass Bank v. Manchester Platinum Mgmt. In this particular instance, the parties actually stipulated that the two homes at issue had fair market values in excess of the amounts owed under the promissory notes, even though they were sold for $582,623.07 less than those stipulated values. The Court further held that the broad waiver of “any statute or limitations or other defenses affecting [the guarantor’s] liability hereunder” was sufficiently specific to include a waiver of the offset defense provided by section 53.001 of the Texas Property Code. The Court therefore reversed the trial court and rendered judgment for the deficiency in favor of the lender.

Given the importance of this recurring issue to borrowers, lenders, and guarantors, it would not be surprising to see the Texas Supreme Court weigh in. The petition for review in the Moayedi case has proceeded to briefing on the merits.

Compass Bank v. Goodman, No. 05-13-00447-CV

Waive Goodbye, Part VI

Following a number of recent waiver cases, the Court of Appeals held that the appellees waived their contractual right to offset when they agreed that “Guarantor waives, to the fullest extent permitted by applicable law, the benefit of any statute of limitations or other defenses affecting its liability hereunder.”  The Court rejected appelles’ argument that this language was not specific enough to waiver their rights under section 51.003.

Compass Bank v. Manchester Platinum Mgmt.

Failure To Submit Jury Question on Damages Does Not Waive Sufficiency Arguments on Appeal

At a trial involving, among other things, counterclaims for breach of contract, the counterclaimant forgot to submit a jury question on the issue of damages. Because the jury agreed with the counterclaimant for all other elements of the breach of contract claim, the counterclaimant moved for judgment and requested that the trial court find that damages for the breach of contract established as a matter of law. The trial court did not expressly rule on the motion for judgment, but instead rendered a take-nothing judgment on  the counterclaim.

On appeal, the Court addressed several issues, including whether the counterclaimants had waived any objection to the jury charge on appeal.  The Court explained that, under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure “[w]hen an element of a claim is omitted from the jury charge without objection and no written findings are made by the trial court on that element then the omitted element is deemed to have been found by the court in such a manner as to support the judgment.”  Based on this, the Court concluded that the counterclaimants did not waive their claim for damages by failing to submit a jury question on that element of their claim and that they had also not waived argument concerning the legal and factual sufficiency of the trial court’s “deemed finding.”

Alfia v. Overseas Service Haus

Waive Goodbye, Part V

Cleveland Partners, L.P. took out a $520,000 loan from Live Oak State Bank to finance the purchase of an apartment building. The loan was personally guaranteed by the defendant in this case, Josiah Cleveland. The guaranty included a waiver of virtually all of the borrower’s defenses on the debt, including “any setoff available” against the lender. The borrower defaulted, and the bank purchased the property for $415,000 at the resulting foreclosure sale. The bank then sued the guarantor for the deficiency, with the guarantor arguing that the property sold for less than its fair market value. The trial court granted summary judgment for the bank.

On appeal, the guarantor argued that the waiver was “massively overbroad . . . unconscionable and unenforceable.” That issue was easily dispatched, with the court citing three of its four recent opinions holding that borrowers can validly waive their right to claim offset under Chapter 51 of the Texas Property Code. See Interstate 35/Chisam Road, L.P. v. Moayedi, 377 S.W.3d 791 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2012, pet. filed); King v. Park Cities Bank, 2012 WL 3144881 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2012, no pet.); Toor v. PNC Bank, N.A., 2012 WL 3637284 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2012, no pet.); see also Smith v. Town North Bank, 2012 WL 5499406 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2012, pet. denied). Bound by those precedents, the court concluded that Cleveland had validly waived his right to offset the difference between the foreclosure price and the fair market value of the property, rendering irrelevant his claim that he had raised a fact issue as to the property’s fair market value.

Perhaps notably, the petition for review in the Moayedi decision has already drawn some amicus support. If there are any further developments in this area, we’ll keep you updated.

Cleveland v. Live Oak State Bank, No. 05-11-00665-CV

Cadillac Bar Thwarted by Waiver/Quasi-Estoppel

In 1998, the McNutt Group leased one of its properties in downtown Dallas to Landry’s Crab Shack for a 20-year term.  Ten years later, Landry’s assigned its lease to Cadillac Bar, in accordance with the lease provisions that allowed such an assignment.  As part of the transaction, McNutt signed an estoppel certificate, thereby giving its consent to the assignment.  Cadillac Bar paid rent for a year, but then stopped.  McNutt sued Landry’s and Cadillac Bar for breach, and Landry’s sued Cadillac Bar.  Each of the parties moved for summary judgment, which the court (1) granted with respect to McNutt; (2) denied with respect to Cadillac Bar; and (3) did not rule on with respect to Landry’s.  Cadillac Bar appealed.

On appeal, Cadillac Bar argued that Landry’s couldn’t assert a breach of contract claim because the parties didn’t perform all the conditions associated with the assignment, and thus there was no assignment in the first place.  Specifically, Cadillac Bar claimed that McNutt conditioned his assent to the assignment on (1) having the estoppel certificate signed by all parties and (2) his receipt of attorney fees, neither of which ever actually happened.  The court of appeals rejected this argument, holding that the Cadillac Bar could not take advantage of conditions McNutt had imposed on his own consent to the assignment because those conditions were for McNutt’s sole benefit.  Thus, the court found that “Cadillac Bar cannot avoid its own obligations under the Lease by identifying what is, at most, McNutt’s waived injury.”  The court also explained that the doctrine of quasi-estoppell also thwarted Cadillac Bar’s argument.  Under this doctrine, Cadillac Bar couldn’t now assert that an assignment never occurred when, previously, it had benefited from the assignment.

Cadillac Bar v Landry’s