Credibility matters.

A civil forfeiture action arising from a criminal conviction produced a succinct reminder about review for evidentiary sufficiency: “Wife’s testimony was equivocal, and the trial court was free to disbelieve her. See McGalliard v. Kuhlmann, 722 S.W.2d 694, 697 (Tex. 1986) (fact finder may believe one witness and disbelieve others).” One 2007 Lexus v. State, No. 05-16-01296-CV  (Jan. 8, 2018) (mem. op.)

“Reasonable and necessary” is necessary.

In Nu-Build & Assocs. v. Sooners Group, LP, the Fifth Court drove home a recent holding about damages for cost of completion: “We agree because (i) a party seeking completion cost damages in tort and contract cases must prove that those costs are reasonable; and (ii) proof of amounts charged and paid, alone, is no evidence the payment was reasonable. Because Sooners adduced no evidence that the $3.6 million it paid to complete project was reasonable, we sustain Nu-Build’s fourth issue and [reverse and render].Mustang Pipeline Co., Inc. v. Driver Pipeline Co., Inc., 134 S.W.3d 195, 200–01 (Tex. 2004) (per curiam); 701 Katy Bldg., L.P. v. John Wheat Gibson, P.C., No. 05-16-00193-CV, 2017 WL 3634335, at *9 (Tex. App.—Dallas Aug. 24, 2017, no pet. h.) (mem. op.).

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.)

Religious reference not reversible.

Abdul Khan had a dispute with a contractor about the design of a stone medallion for the foyer for his new home. The dispute went to trial and the following Q-and-A occurred during examination of a witness for the contractor:

Q. Okay. And did you have a conversation with them about whether or not you could duplicate one of those medallions?

A. Yes, and I repeated that — They — They repeated to me that this was only a design that they were interested in because they did not want cherubims and angels because — what I surmised by that was for religious readons and —

[Khan’s counsel] Objection; relevance.

THE COURT: Sustained.

Khan argued that this exchange was an attempt to appeal to religious prejudice by identifying him as a Muslin. The Fifth Court agreed that the comment was improper, as “[c]ourts in this state have long recognized that a person’s religious beliefs have no place in determining the merits of a dispute,” but found that “[t]his single reference to Khan’s religion was not extreme” as to amount to incurable error. Khan v. The Chai Road, Inc., No. 05-16-00346-CV (July 17, 2017) (mem. op.)

A Wiki Too Far

In D Magazine Partners LP v. Rosenthal, reviewing the work of the Dallas Court of Appeals in a high-profile anti-SLAPP case, the Texas Supreme Court observed about Wikipedia:

“Given the arguments both for and against reliance on Wikipedia, as well as the variety of ways in which the source may be utilized, a bright-line rule is untenable. Of the many concerns expressed about Wikipedia use, lack of reliability is paramount and may often preclude its use as a source of authority in opinions. At the least, we find it unlikely Wikipedia could suffice as the sole source of authority on an issue of any significance to a case. That said, Wikipedia  can often be useful as a starting point for research purposes. In this case, for example, the cited Wikipedia page itself cited past newspaper and magazine articles that had used the term ‘welfare queen’ in various contexts and could help shed light on how a reasonable person could construe the term.”

But, as a matter of the relevant substantive law, and the nature of Wikipedia, twikipedia-logo_1he Texas Supreme Court found overreliance on a Wikipedia entry when “the court of appeals utilized Wikipedia as its primary source to ascribe a specific, narrow definition to a single term that the court found significantly influenced the article’s gist. Essentially, the court used the Wikipedia definition as the lynchpin of its analysis on a critical issue. . . . ”

Accordingly, Dallas-area practitioners should pay special attention to these statements, if online resources such as Wikipedia play more than a general background role in a legal argument. 

Contract not proved up; arbitration not required.

brasher_smithsonian_obvIn Heritage Numismatic Auctions v. Stiel, a dispute about the the sale of rare coins, the Fifth Court affirmed the denial of a motion to compel arbitration, finding that the relevant documents were not adequately proved up by the sponsoring affidavit. The witness “did not testify that the documents in Exhibit F were ‘true and correct’ copies of the contracts or otherwise state that they were the originals or exact duplicates of the originals.” While the affidavit began with the phrase, “The facts contained herein are true and correct,” the Court held that “[t]he trial court could interpret this statement as asserting the factual averments in the affidavit were true and correct but not asserting the documents in Exhibit F were the originals or exact duplicates of the originals as required by Rule 902(10)(B)(2).” Finally, from a general description of the documents as “the various Terms and Conditions . . . ,” the Court held that “[t]he trial court could have concluded that [the witness’s] statement did not constitute testimony that the documents in Exhibit F were the originals or exact copies of the contracts.” No. 05-16-00299-CV (Dec. 16, 2016) (mem. op.)

The law of demonstrative animations

mad max videoWhile affirming a $4 million judgment related to a truck accident – most of which involved a series of Daubert challenges — the Fifth Court provided some rare appellate guidance about the use of video animation in the courtroom. Specifically, Smith – the plaintiff’s accident reconstruction expert – prepared an animation to accompany and illustrate his testimony about how the accident occurred.

The Court found no error. As to foundation, it said: “As to the video animation, we note the video was not admitted into evidence but was shown during Smith’s testimony for demonstrative purposes. Defense counsel objected ‘on the grounds of 403.’ Smith testified he measured Gaston’s truck and two similar trailers ‘in order to get data to fill in the animation.’ It was not possible to ‘match tire to track,’ but Smith made a generalized analysis of marks on the roadway he described as an ‘approximation.’ Smith testified the animation was not a simulation and ‘not an exact replication of what happened,’ but it was ‘an accurate representation of what occurred.’”

As to admissibility and waiver, it held: “Earlier in the trial, Smith was allowed to express his underlying opinion without objection when the testimony was presented to the jury. Since the animation was a graphic depiction of the opinion admitted into evidence without
objection, Greenwood’s trial objection to the video depiction of that opinion was waived. Video animation and other demonstrative evidence that ‘summarize, or perhaps emphasize, testimony are admissible if the underlying testimony has been admitted into evidence, or is subsequently admitted into evidence.'” (citations omitted) Greenwood Motor Lines v. Bush, No. 05-14-01148-CV (Aug. 17, 2016).

Hearsay 101

  1. “A statement that makes up the parties’ contact is an ophearsay graphicerative fact, a necessary part of a cause of action, and is not hearsay.”
  2. “A document created by one business may become a record of a second business if the second business determines the accuracy of the information generated by the first business.”
  3. A document is not hearsay when “it represents the legally operative fact of demand, a necessary part of [a] breach of contract case.”

Humphrey v. Yancey, No. 05-15-00653-CV (June 30, 2016) (mem. op.)

The basis for personal knowledge . . .

kant touch thisCross moved for summary judgment on limitations, submitting this affidavit: “My name is John K. Cross. I am at least 18 years of age and of sound mind. I have personal knowledge of the facts alleged in Defendant’s Second Motion for Summary Judgement. I hereby swear that the following statements in support of Defendant’s Second Motion for Summary Judgment are true and correct.  The mortgage at issue in this case was a secondary mortgage on a home I owned in Massachusetts. The primary holder foreclosed on the property, and it was sold  at foreclosure sale on July 14, 2010 per the correspondence I received from the mortgage holder’s attorney on May 28, 2010.”

Unfortunately for Cross, “[a]n affidavit that, on its face, establishes the affiant’s lack of personal knowledge is a defect of substance that may be raised for the first time on appeal.”  Here, “Cross’s affidavit affirmatively demonstrates his lack of personal knowledge on its face with respect to the date of the foreclosure sale. Cross attested only to what the May 28th letter told him.”   Old Republic Ins Co. v. Cross, No. 05 14-01204-CV (Dec. 7, 2015) (mem. op.) (The opinion is not completely clear on the identity of the parties, but it appears that the “mortgage holder” in the letter was not Cross’s party-opponent in this litigation, so that doctrine was not discussed.)

Bank Error in Your Favor

After the real estate bubble burst in 2008, borrowers attempted all sorts of ways to get out of their obligations. Most notably, debtors repeatedly challenged the ways that their mortgages had been transferred and recorded (or not) by the banks that had held, swapped, sold, and securitized them. Long story short, it hardly ever worked, as courts across the country mostly (but not always) eschewed technical arguments in favor of the big picture of who owed what to whom. But a new opinion from the Dallas Court of Appeals shows that when the bank doesn’t follow the rules in litigation, the debtors may still escape liability on a loan.

In this instance, a pair of individual guarantors for a $748,000 loan were sued by Wells Fargo after the borrower defaulted. While the case was pending, Wells Fargo allegedly assigned the loan documents to another entity, Apex. Wells Fargo’s attorneys later filed a motion for withdrawal and substitution, which the trial court granted. The motion failed to mention the assignment of the loan documents to Apex. The guarantors then filed for no-evidence summary judgment, pointing out that Wells Fargo had conducted no discovery and that the discovery period was closed. The motion argued that there was no evidence to show who owned the guaranty. When Apex appeared and tried to cure that deficiency, the guarantors objected and moved to strike Apex’s summary judgment evidence. The trial court sustained the objections and granted summary judgment. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that it was not an abuse of discretion to exclude Apex’s evidence because it had waited 11 months after acquiring the loan to amend Wells Fargo’s discovery responses by disclosing its ownership. That was not “reasonably prompt,” and it acted as an unfair surprise to the guarantors to have that come out only in response to their summary judgment motion.

LSREF2 Apex (TX) II, LLC v. Blomquist, No. 05-14-00851-CV