Attached Hereto Is Kind of Important

A surveying company named TBE Group contracted with a competing surveying company, Lina T. Ramey & Associates, to locate utility lines for transportation and construction projects. After one lawsuit, the parties entered into a “Strategic Alliance Agreement” that would govern their ongoing relationship. But Ramey did not generate the amount of business required by the agreement, and the parties sued one another for breach of contract. The trial court granted TBE’s motion for summary judgment and the Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that Ramey had failed to come forward with more than a scintilla of evidence that it had fulfilled its part of the contract. Although Raney’s summary judgment affidavit referenced checks that were supposed to demonstrate Raney’s performance, the checks were not attached to the affidavit. That failure rendered the affidavit conclusory and of no evidentiary value.

Lina T. Ramey & Assocs., Inc. v. TBE Group, Inc., No. 05-13-01711-CV

Probable Cause v. Show Cause

The owner of “$8,074.68 in United States currency, forty ‘8 liner’ machines, three Walmart gift cards, and miscellaneous paperwork” appealed a judgment of civil forfeiture, challenging the admissibility of the search warrant affidavit that led to the property’s seizure. That police officer’s affidavit was “replete with hearsay,” but the Court of Appeals found that to be no impediment to the validity of the affidavit. Citing a string of Court of Criminal Appeals and Dallas Court of Appeals cases, the Court held that in presenting the facts to support a search warrant, police officers are permitted to rely on the observations of other persons. And because the affidavit had already been relied upon as probable cause by the magistrate who issued the search warrant, the burden was already shifted to the owner to show cause why the property should not be forfeited or destroyed. Thus, as the Court of Appeals memorably states it, “the State did not have a burden to show probable cause at the show cause hearing.”

$8,074.68 in United States Currency v. State, No. 05-13-01502-CV

Forcible Detainer Judgment Affirmed — Court Did Not Err by Admitting Notices as Business Records

The plaintiffs defaulted on their mortgage and were then removed from the house via a forcible detainer action filed in Collin County.  They appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by admitting as a business record several notices of eviction sent to them in the mail.  The plaintiffs’ primary argument was that the witness who laid the foundation through an affidavit was not qualified.  The Dallas Court of Appeals disagreed, noting that “Rule 803(6) does not . . . require a witness laying the predicate for introduction of a business record to be the creator of the document or even an employee of the company keeping the record.” All that is required is that he/she have personal knowledge of the facts contained within the business record.

Singha v. FNMA

Texas Supreme Court Update: Fair Market Value Is a Flat Circle

Two years ago, the Dallas Court of Appeals ruled that PlainsCapital Bank was not entitled to judgment against a borrower because it based its deficiency claim on the price it obtained when the property was sold a year after foreclosure, rather than the fair market value of the property at the time it was foreclosed. Last summer, the Texas Supreme Court granted the bank’s petition for review and set the case for oral argument. This morning, the Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeals was correct in ruling that § 51.003 of the Texas Property Code controlled PlainsCapital’s deficiency claim. However, the Court also ruled that “fair market value” under the deficiency statute does not mean the price that a willing buyer would pay to a willing seller at the time of foreclosure. Because § 51.003(b)(5) permits the trier of fact to consider the forward-looking factor of discounts that may be applied to a future sales price, it was proper for the trial court to base its fair market value finding on the price the bank actually received in its post-foreclosure sale. The Supreme Court remanded to the Court of Appeals for consideration of additional issues.

Justice Boyd (joined by Justice Guzman) dissented, arguing that the majority had improperly cast aside the historical definition of fair market value, and that evidence of any future discounts in the sale price of the property was only relevant to consideration of the fair market value at the time of the foreclosure.

TLDR: To determine FMV at the time of foreclosure, you can look to values received in the future.

PlainsCapital Bank v. Martin (majority)

PlainsCapital Bank v. Martin (dissent)

Evidence Is No Impediment the Second Time Around

Just under two years ago, the Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment for Compass Bank because its custodian of records affidavit did not explain how the witness would have personal knowledge to prove up the promissory note. On remand, the trial court granted the bank’s amended motion for summary judgment, and this time that judgment was affirmed. Among other things, the defendants sought to establish a fact issue by pointing to a discrepancy in the amount of damages owed to the bank in the original summary judgment affidavit versus the affidavit in the amended motion. The Court of Appeals disposed of that issue by pointing out that it had already held the original affidavit to be “no evidence,” so the purported conflict was not really a conflict at all. The Court also held that the bank was not required to file the original promissory note, despite a Collin County local rule to that effect, because the local rule conflicted with the Texas Rules of Evidence governing the admissibility of a duplicate. Finally, although the lending instrument contained an illegal homestead warranty provision, the Court held that provision was severable from the remainder of the contract.

Vince Poscente Int’l, Inc. v. Compass Bank, No. 05-14-00165-CV

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Excluded Expert Opinion Could Not Serve as Basis for Establishing Proximate Cause

In this legal malpractice claim, the plaintiff argued that his expert opinion as to proximate causation were sufficient to establish that element of his claim.  But the Court of Appeals found that the plaintiff’s expert opinion had been excluded by the trial court as unreliable and the plaintiff did not assign error to that ruling in his appellate brief.

Kuzmin v. Schiller

No Spoliation in Mortgage Fraud Case

In this complex fraud case arising out of the misappropriation of millions of dollars in loan proceeds, one issue before the Court of Appeals was whether the trial court erred in denying the plaintiff’s request for a spoliation instruction.  The plaintiff had moved to compel certain communications from one of the defendants, but that defendant had replaced its servers and did not back up the data.  Because there was no evidence that the defendant had acted with intent to conceal the discoverable evidence or acted negligently to irreparably deprive the plaintiff of “any meaningful ability to present its claims,” the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision not to give a spoliation instruction to the jury.

Flagstar Bank, FSB v. Walker

Contradictory Evidence of Damages Sinks Default Judgment Award

In this restricted appeal of a default judgment, the Court found (among other things) insufficient evidence to support damages on a suit for breach of contract and on a sworn account.  The Court based its holding on the fact that there was contradictory information among the petition, the documents attached to the petition, and the business records filed.  In particular, the Court noted that there was no evidence of any amount owed by the defendant to the plaintiff.

Diaz v. Multi Service Tech. Solutions Corp.

Investigatory Report Admissible as Business Record

The Plaintiff hired Classic Superoof to build a metal roof for her house, which it did. The appearance of the roof, however, was marred by markings and scuff marks.  As a result, Plaintiff complained to (and ultimately sued) Classic.  At first, Classic thought the problem stemmed from the metal itself and therefore contacted the metal company, who then, in turn, contacted U.S. Steel, the provider of the metals used to make the roof.  Looking to investigate the issue, U.S. Steel sent its own metallurgical engineer to the Plaintiff’s home to inspect the roof.  The engineer performed an inspection and (perhaps not surprisingly) concluded that the coating on the roof was damaged during installation (thus absolving U.S. Steel of any responsibility and pinning the blame on Classic).

At trial, the Plaintiff used the U.S. Steel report and won a judgment against Classic.  On appeal, Classic argued, among other things, that the trial court erred by admitting the report because it was hearsay–specifically, because it was prepared in anticipation of litigation, it fell outside the business records exceptions. The Court of Appeals rejected that argument, noting that the engineer was not contacted by the Plaintiff, there was no lawsuit on file at the time, and that the engineer testified that his job was simply to investigate the cause of the concern.

Classic Superoof v. Bean

We Didn’t Start the Fire, Part 2

For the second time this month, the Court of Appeals has decided that Oncor Electric Delivery Company was not responsible for causing a fire that damaged a plaintiff’s property. In this instance, Schepp’s Dairy alleged that Oncor’s negligence led to a fire starting with a transformer at Schepp’s facility. At trial, three different electrical engineering experts variously testified that the fire was caused on either Schepp’s side or Oncor’s side of the transformer. The jury specifically rejected the conclusions of two of those experts, leaving only one expert for Schepp’s. In a highly fact-specific opinion, the Court of Appeals held that the last expert’s opinion was unreliable. Among other problems, the witness had failed to exclude other possible causes of the fire, and he had only testified as to Oncor’s negligent maintenance of the transformer without opining as to what was the direct cause of the fire. Without that testimony, Schepp’s had no evidence of causation, and the judgment against Schepp’s was therefore reversed.

Oncor Elec. Deliv. Co. LLC v. So. Foods Gp. LLC, No. 05-12-01223-CV