“How many legs does a dog have if you call his tail a leg? Four. Saying that a tail is a leg doesn’t make it a leg.” — Abraham Lincoln. The same can be said for usurious loans.
In Koch v. Boxicon, LLC, the Dallas Court of Appeals considered the appeal of Koch, a chiropractor, who was sued by Boxicon for breaching an agreement for the “purchase of future business income.” Boxicon had financed Koch’s business by paying Koch $96,000 over six months. In exchange, Koch was required to make “pay back payments” to Boxicon totaling $192,000 over two years. The defendant claimed agreement was a usurious loan while the defendant claimed the agreement wasn’t a loan at all because the recitals expressly stated the agreement “is NOT a loan.” The trial court allowed the jury to decide and entered a judgment in favor of the plaintiff. The Dallas Court of Appeals reversed and held that the agreement was usurious as a matter of law. Noting that courts look to the substance rather than the form of a transaction, the court held that agreement met the statutory definition of a loan and provided for an absolute obligation to repay the principal. Though the agreement stated it was a “purchase of a portion of the future cash stream generated by the business” and “is NOT a loan,” the agreement went on to state that “This is NOT an agreement to buy a percentage of the business, but for a fixed return upon capital invested by Buyer as per this agreement.” So, what is a loan agreement if you agree it isn’t a loan? A loan. Saying that it isn’t a loan doesn’t make it not a loan (regardless of your use of all caps).
Koch v. Boxicon
A guarantor ignored the efforts of a court-appointed receiver to collect on an agreed judgment and subsequent turnover orders. The debtor eventually paid the judgment, but Frost Bank sought recovery of additional attorney fees incurred in enforcing the judgment. The trial court awarded $160,000 in attorney fees and approved the receiver’s fee of $129,000. The Court of Appeals reversed as to the attorney fees, holding that fees could not be recovered based on the contractual guarantee because the bank’s claims under that instrument were merged with and extinguished by the final judgment. Nor could post-judgment attorney fees be awarded under the turnover statute because the defendant had actually paid the judgment. However, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in approving the receiver’s fee — calculated as 10% of the sale proceeds from the defendant’s stock — as the court had conducted a hearing and determined that the fee was fair, reasonable, and necessary.
Evans v. Frost Nat’l Bank, No. 05-12-01491
Jacque Evans and her new husband, Guy Gilliland, formed Nine Syllables, LLC for the purpose of purchasing a note signed by Jacque and her previous husband, Gary Evans. When Jacque and Gary divorced, the note went into default, and the lender sought to foreclose. Jacque joined the lender to the divorce proceeding to enjoin the foreclosure sale, arguing (based on law that has since been amended) the note was an impermissible lien against the homestead, and that the penalty for an illegal lien was forfeiture of all principal and interest due under the note. In the meantime, the lender filed a separate lawsuit against Jacque for payment of the note, and she took the same position in that case. The divorce case eventually settled, with Jacque taking the alleged homestead and Gary assuming liability for the note. The collections case also settled, with Nine Syllables agreeing to purchase the note from the lender. Nine then sought to collect on the note from Gary, despite Jacque’s consistent position in the previous lawsuits that it was illegal and unenforceable. After a bench trial, the trial court agreed with Gary that Nine’s claim was barred by judicial estoppel, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Although Nine Syllables had not been a party to the previous lawsuits, Jaque was in privity with Nine and had consistently testified and argued that the note was unenforceable.
Nine Syllables, LLC v. Evans, No. 05-13-01677-CV
A 1999 divorce decree required Molly Brizendine to pay a $14,477 debt the she and her ex-husband owed to Texans Credit Union. In 2013, Texans sued Richard Brizendine for the balance of the outstanding line of credit. The county court at law granted judgment for the ex-husband, but the Dallas Court of Appeals reversed and rendered. Although it was Molly who had continued to take advances on the line of credit long after the divorce was final, Richard was still liable for the debt because he had signed the original contract as a co-borrower. The Court held that it was “well-settled that a court in a divorce action has no power to disturb rights that creditors lawfully hold against the parties.”
Texans Credit Union v. Brizendine, No. 05-13-01422-CV
After a string of missed, overpaid, refunded, and improperly credited property tax payments and a cancelled foreclosure, homeowners Peter and Natalya Shin sued Chase Home Finance under the Texas Debt Collections Practices Act. Chase moved for a no-evidence summary judgment, which the trial court granted. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the plaintiffs had failed to come forward with evidence showing a violation of the Act. Among other things, the Court held that the homeowners had not shown Chase had attempted to collect unauthorized fees, because the mortgage papers provided that Chase could indeed collect the subject fees if the borrowers did not pay their property taxes on time. Since there was no question that the plaintiffs had been late in paying their property taxes, Chase’s attempt to set up and collect the funds for an escrow account was authorized under the parties’ agreement.
Shin v. Chase Home Finance LLC, No. 05-12-01634-CV
Dan Lopez sues RS Clark & Associates for violating the Debt Collection Practices Act, the Texas Debt Collection Practices Act, and the DTPA. The dispute apparently arose out of a $54.34 cleaning charge assessed and turned over to the collections agency by Lopez’s former apartment complex. Lopez based his case on four unanswered phone calls the agency made to his residence during daytime hours, as well as its failure to inform credit reporting services that Lopez disputed the debt. The collections agency counterclaimed for sanctions and attorney fees, alleging that Lopez’s suit was groundless and brought in bad faith. The trial court granted summary judgment for the collections agency and, after a bench trial, awarded it attorney fees as a sanction against Lopez. On appeal, the Court of Appeals held that Lopez had failed to establish that he gave the collections agency written notice he no longer wished to communicate with them, as his letter only directed them not to call his cell phone or work number. With respect to his home phone, the letter stated only that it was “inconvenient” for them to call him at home. The letter also did not dispute the validity of the debt, stating instead that he just did not want it reported to the credit agencies. The Court of Appeals therefore affirmed.
Lopez v. RS Clark & Asscos., Inc., No. 05-12-00868-CV