I think we agreed to arbitrate.

thinkerDefendants moved to compel arbitration, admitting that they could not find the relevant construction contract, but stating in an affidavit that it would have used a standard form that contained an arbitration clause that would govern the matter in dispute. The trial court denied their motion; the Fifth Court reversed, noting two technical issues. First, while plaintiffs objected to various parts of the affidavit, “appellees did not obtain a
ruling on this objection. An objection that an affidavit contains hearsay is an objection to the form of the affidavit. The failure to obtain a ruling from the trial court on an objection to the form of an affidavit waives the objection.” Second, while plaintiffs provided their own affidavits “stating they ‘do not recall’ signing any documents other than documents relating to financing and ‘do not recall’ signing documents requiring arbitration” – “To have probative value, an affiant ‘must swear that the facts presented in the affidavit reflect his personal knowledge[,]’ so “[a]n affiant’s belief about the facts is legally insufficient.” Ladymon v. Lewis, No. 05-16-00776-CV (July 21, 2017) (mem. op.)

. . . a dream, a breath, a froth of fleeting summary judgment . . .

dandelionA famous Shakespeare poem laments: “What win I, if I gain the thing I seek?
A dream, a breath, a froth of fleeting joy. . . . ” These thoughts could also be the lament of the landlord / appellee in Analytical Technology Consultants v. Axis Capital, who obtained a summary judgment against a tenant in default on a lease. Unfortunately, while the tenant did not respond to the summary judgment motion, it pointed out in a motion for new trial that the landlord had failed to include a credit against the accelerated balance as required by the lease’s remedies provision. The landlord sought to preserve its judgment on appeal by pointing to the evidence it submitted in response to the motion for new trial, which it said included the relevant calculation, but the Fifth Court disagreed: ” An attachment to a motion for new trial is not evidence. To constitute evidence, the attachment must be introduced at the hearing on the motion for new trial. If there is no hearing, then the document never becomes evidence.” (citations omitted). No. 05-16-00281-CV (June 19, 2017) (mem. op.)

When I was one-and-twenty, I heard a wise man say . . .

prime timeA quick reminder on summary judgment procedure appears in Autosource Dallas LLC v. Addison Aeronautics LLC:

  • “A movant is required to provide twenty-one days’ notice when setting a summaryjudgment. This twenty-one day requirement is designed to give
    the nonmovant sufficient time to prepare and file a response for the original setting.”
  • “The twenty-one-day notice requirement does not however apply to a resetting of the hearing, so long as the nonmovant received twenty-one days’ notice of the original hearing.”
  • For a recheduled hearing, the movant “needed only to give reasonable notice that the hearing on its summary judgment had been rescheduled. Reasonable notice means at least seven days before the hearing because a nonmovant
    may only file a response to a motion for summary judgment not later than seven days prior to the date of the hearing without leave of court.”

No. 05-16-00838-CV (June 9, 2017) (mem. op.)

Air leaks out of negligence claim

tireAWD brought a flat tire to Logan & Son for repairs. Jaimes, who worked for Logan * Son, was injured while working on the tire, and contended that his employer, Logan & Son, was an independent contractor of AWD. The Fifth Court disagreed: “The evidence showed that AWD was simply a customer who did not have a right to control any aspect of Logan and Son’s work. When Jaimes was asked at his deposition what he was claiming AWD did to cause his injuries, he [only] said, ‘they brought the truck.'” Jaimes v. Lozano, No. 05-16-00165-CV (April 14, 2017) (mem. op.)

Conclusory affidavit in attorney fee proveup

A law firm moved for summary judgment as to an unpaid balance, attaching an affidavit which in turn had several invoices attached. The Fifth Court reversed a summary judgment for the firm, noting that the affidavit did not (1) attach a complete set of invoices, (2) was missing entire pages, (3) only reflected that they were sent to one of the relevant parties, and (4) did not attach the computer records used to calculate the net balance. Thus, “[w]e conclude that without the invoices or computer records [the witness] relied on to support his affidavit, the affidavit was conclusory.” Acrey v. Kilgore & Kilgore PLLC, No. 05-15-01229-CV (March 30, 2017) (mem. op.)

Ambiguity defeats summary judgment

Directional Signs on a Signpost on White Background

The trial court granted summary judgment for the employer (oddly enough, a labor union) in a dispute arising from an employee’s benefits. The Fifth Court reversed, finding ambiguity in the underlying disability policy (noting, in particular, its interplay with separately-drafted legal instruments about the employment relationship – a recurring issue in disputes about arbitration clauses), and also finding related fact issues about whether the contract was unilateral or bilateral, and whether the employee had exhausted administrative remedies. The opinion recaps the major authorities about the role of contractual ambiguity in a summary judgment analysis. Videtich v. Transport Workers Union of Am., No. 05-15-01449-CV (Dec. 29, 2016) (mem. op.)

No take backs: trial court reversed for initially allowing supplemental affidavit and then granting summary judgment before supplemental affidavit is filed

giphy (2)

In KLZ Diamond Tools, Inc. v. TKG General Agency, Inc. (July 18, 2016), the Dallas Court of Appeals considered an appeal of summary judgment granted in favor of TKG, the insurer defendant, against KLZ, the plaintiff insured. KLZ claimed that the insurer failed to pay the full amount owed under a policy relating to approximately $400,000 in stolen merchandise. The insurer advanced half, but requested additional documentation relating to the merchandise. KLZ contended that the request was just stalling, and after the insurer failed to pay the full amount of the claim, sued for breach of contract, insurance code violations, deceptive trade practices, among other claims. The insurer filed a motion for summary judgment. The district court struck KLZ’s responsive summary judgment evidence due to the failure to properly prove up the attached documents and said at the hearing that it had no choice but to grant summary judgment in the absence of responsive evidence. The district court did tell KLZ’s counsel that it would allow KLZ to supplement. But the district court entered an order granting summary judgment before the deadline it gave to KLZ for the supplement, which was timely filed.

The first issue on appeal was whether the trial court erred by orally stating that KLZ was permitted to supplement an affidavit but then granting summary judgment before the deadline given. Recognizing that the summary judgment rule anticipates a party’s summary judgment evidence may not initially be properly presented and allows supplementation, the Dallas Court of Appeals held that it was an abuse of discretion to grant summary judgment without waiting for the supplemental affidavit and without explaining its ruling after having initially granting leave to supplement. Considering the supplemental evidence, the Court further concluded that summary judgment was improper because KLZ had offered summary judgment evidence creating a question of fact as to whether the insurer had improperly refused to pay the entire claim.

KLZ Diamond Tools v TKG General Agency (July 18, 2016)

How not to respond to a summary judgment motion.

msjThe unfortunate plaintiff in K.W. Ministries v. Auction Credit Enterprises had trouble responding to the defendant’s summary judgment motions. They were set for hearing on September 15, 2014.  On September 8, the plaintiff filed a response that addressed only one of the claims and included no evidence. Three days before the hearing, it filed a “Document Supplement” to its response, but not a motion seeking leave to file that supplement.  Then, on the morning of the hearing, the plaintiff filed an amended response accompanied by an affidavit and other materials. At the hearing, its counsel asked the court to “receive my oral motion for leave to amend and accept our response to the summary judgment that was filed this morning.” Asked why he had not provided an affidavit to support the respSeptember-2014-PDF-Calendar-Letter-Format-US-Holidaysonse on the day it was due instead of that morning, counsel answered: “I don’t have a satisfactory answer for that, Your Honor.”  The response was thus not considered, and the Fifth Court affirmed, using the plain language of the relevant rule of procedure to reject plaintiff’s arguments about why it should have been.  No. 05-14-01392-CV (March 21, 2016) (mem. op.)

Experts, show your work or it isn’t summary judgment evidence.

Show your work

In Starwood Management, LLC v. Swaim, the Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed a summary judgment in favor of the defendant by holding that the plaintiff’s evidence of causation, an opinion from their expert witness, was conclusory and therefore not admissible summary judgment evidence. The opinion is a reminder that expert opinion evidence on summary judgment must be more than mere conclusions.

The facts of the case arose from plaintiff hiring the defendants, an attorney and his law firm, to recover an aircraft that was seized by the DEA for an allegedly illegal registration. The defendants were late in filing a claim with the DEA’s Forfeiture Counsel to recover the aircraft, causing the plaintiff’s federal claim for the aircraft to be dismissed. The affidavit offered by the plaintiff as evidence of causation was that of an attorney who had successfully represented the plaintiff in five previous aircraft seizure cases. His opinion was that if the plaintiff had timely filed its claim with the DEA such that the federal lawsuit would not have been dismissed, the DEA would have returned the aircraft as it had in those prior five case. The district court excluded the opinion and granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

The Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed because it held the expert’s opinion of causation was conclusory. Inexcusably passing on an opportunity to use one of this blogger’s favorite Latin phrases, ipse dixit, the Dallas Court of Appeals instead described the legal standard in less colorful but ultimately more helpful terms. “To avoid being conclusory, ‘[t]he expert must explain the basis of his statements to link his conclusions to the facts.’ An expert must also ‘[e]xplain how and why the negligence caused the injury.’” Or as I was told in math class, the expert must show his work. This expert failed to do that because, although he had past experience in other aircraft seizure cases in which the outcome was positive, he failed to describe the facts of those cases. As a result, he failed to link those cases to the one at hand, rendering his causation opinion a mere conclusion.

Starwood Management v. Swaim

Fact issues = Summary judgment reversal. Again.

Graman v. Graman involved a contentious dispute about the operation of a family restaurant business.  On a fraud claim related to a loan, a witness testified to a conversation with the defendant: “We ended up talking about his loans his parents made to him and he told me that he never intended to pay his parents back at that point in time . . . He told me that he never intended on paying them back — and that’s why he never signed on what I recall him telling me was approximately $850,000.  Finding that the first statement was not evidence of the defendant’s intent at the time of the loans, the Fifth Court then found: “As for the second statement, a fact finder could determine that statement showed Jason’s intent at the time of all the loans,” and reversed a no-evidence summary judgment on this claim.  No. 05-14-01254-CV (Jan. 20, 2016) (mem. op.)