Fraud: A Bridge Too Far

bridgetoofarA fraudulent inducement claim, brought by a subcontractor against the project owner, turned on the sub’s evidence of the owner’s inteot not to perform at the time it entered into an agreement about payment. The Fifth Court reviewed the five pieces of cited evidence and concluded: “Except for . . . negotiat[ing] the discount and . . . emailing the template, the other actions by Riverdale occurred as many as eight months prior to November 2010. Regardless of the timing of the pre-agreement events, there is no ‘logical bridge’ between any of these occurrences and the conclusion Riverdale, at the time it made the agreement, did not intend to pay Dixie.” Residences at Riverdale LP v. Dixie Carpet Installations Inc., No. 05-15-01030-CV (July 7, 2017) (applying IKON Office Solutions v. Eifert, 125 S.W.3d 113, 131 (Tex. App.–Houston [14th Dist.] 2003, pet. denied).

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.)

Fraud claims affirmed for “dream home” gone wrong

hale v bishop house 2The Hales sued their homebuilder for fraud and violation of the DTPA, alleging serious problems with the foundation of their Rockwall home (right).  They substantially succeeded at trial, and the Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed in large part in Bishop Abbey Homes, Ltd. v. Hale, No. 05-14-00137-CV (Dec. 16, 2015) (mem. op.)  In particular, the Court affirmed as to limitations – a significant issue in this long-simmering dispute – noting that “each time the Hales raised a concern about the foundation, they were assured by one of appellants’ experts that the foundation was not the cause of the problems the Hales observed.”  The court also affirmed as to sufficiency challenges to liability, several claims of improper closing argument, and a challenge to the the basis of the exemplary damages award based on constitutional and Kraus factors. The court requested a remittitur as to (a) mental anguish damages (for sufficiency reasons) above $208,856 per plaintiff; and (b) a portion of the additional/exemplary damages award, based on the applicable cap and the conclusion that the total award “exceeds the guidelines set forth in [Bennett v. Reynolds, 315 S.W.3d 867 (Tex. 2010)] and [Tony Gullo Motors I, LP v. Chapa, 212 S.W.3d 299 (Tex. 2006)] for the type of harm suffered by the Hales as a result of appellants’ conduct.”

Bermuda Supreme Court Waives Hedge Fund Investors’ Claims

Starting off our review of Friday night’s wave of opinions is a hedge fund securities case arising out of the 2008 financial crash. Plaintiffs contended that the defendants had falsely misrepresented that other investors’ redemption requests “were not significant,” leaving them in the lurch when the fund imploded. The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendants, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Plaintiffs sought to avoid a “scheme of arrangement” issued by the Bermuda Supreme Court that established how the fund was to be liquidated, but the Court of Appeals held that the plaintiffs were bound by that instrument as a foreign judgment. The Court also held that there was no evidence of reliance by the plaintiffs on the defendants’ alleged misrepresentations, concluding that their testimony was speculative on what they would have done if they had been informed of the true rate of redemption.

LV Highland Credit Feeder Fund LLC v. Highland Credit Strategies Fund, LP, No. 05-13-01118-CV

Land Rush Leads to Double-Leasing and a Viable Fraud Claim

JPMorgan, as Trustee of the Red Crest Trust, signed a letter of intent for Orca Assets to lease oil and gas properties in the Eagle Ford Shale. Unfortunately, JPMorgan had leased those same properties to GeoSouthern Energy six months earlier. GeoSouthern recorded its lease three days after Orca signed the letter of intent with JPMorgan, but Orca did not conduct any forward-looking title searches after the letter of intent. Orca proceeded to sign the leases a month later and promptly recorded them. GeoSouthern then contacted JPMorgan about the duplicate leases, and the bank promptly offered to refund Orca’s $3.2 million lease payment. Instead, Orca sued for $400 million in lost profits. At a Rule 166 pretrial conference, the trial court dismissed all of Orca’s claims, ruling that the leases unambiguously disclaimed any warranties, and that Orca could not establish justifiable reliance as a matter of law. The Dallas Court of Appeals reversed in part, holding that the disclaimers in the leases foreclosed Orca’s breach of contract claim, but not fraud and negligent misrepresentation.

Under the express language of the contractual disclaimer, Orca was to be “without recourse” under the lease if title to the oil and gas interests failed. That was sufficient to negate contract liability for JPMorgan’s failure to convey good title, but not fraud and negligent misrepresentation. Noting that the leases did not also include any provisions disclaiming reliance on any extra-contractual representations, the Court held that Orca could proceed with claims based on an oral representation that the properties in question were “open” for lease. In the course of that holding, the Court analyzes a number of other recent fraudulent inducement cases, leaving the distinct impression that courts are going to continue drawing some pretty narrow distinctions in the wake of the Texas Supreme Court’s Italian Cowboy opinion.

Orca Assets, G.P., LLC v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., No. 05-13-01700-CV

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Insurance Fraud Claim Upheld

In this insurance fraud case, the Court of Appeals rejected the insured argument that the insurer could not have relied on fraudulent representations as a matter of law because the insurer conducted its own investigation into the claim.   The Court found that the plaintiff could show reliance because the defendant had undertaken a “systematic campaign to hinder or hamper the investigation” by, among other things, “covering up the physical evidence that the roof was not damaged when or as [the defendant] claimed, by directing employees to lie to [the insurer’s] claims specialist, and by creating fraudulent invoices to support his claimed cost of repair.”

Fulgham v. Allied Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co.

Buyer Who Did Not Negotiate Price Was Not Taken to the Cleaners

In this complex fraud case involving the purchase of a dry cleaning business, the Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s granting of a directed verdict in the defendant’s favor because, among other things, the plaintiff did not identify a fraudulent statement.  The plaintiff alleged that, in the course of purchasing a dry cleaning business, the defendant purportedly asserted that the price offered to the plaintiff was “fair, reasonable, and supported by a valid appraisal.”  However, the court found that there was no evidence that the defendant made any such statement.  Indeed, the plaintiff testified that she did not negotiate the price of the business and was simply told that the price of $1.6 million was a take-it-or-leave-it number.

Kwik Indus., Inc. v. Rock Prairie Holdings, Ltd.

Fraud Claim Against Lawyer Dismissed

In a prior action, the plaintiff (through counsel) negotiated a settlement through the defendant’s attorney and the attorney then sent the plaintiff a final settlement agreement, which the plaintiff signed.  The defendant, however, refused to sign the agreement and later filed bankruptcy.  The plaintiff then sued the defendant’s attorney for fraud, arguing that the attorney had misrepresented that her client would settle based on the agreed upon terms.

The trial court granted the attorney’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the plaintiff could not establish the justifiable reliance element of his fraud claim.  The Court of Appeals affirmed because the attorney made no express representation that her client had approved or would sign the settlement agreement, and reliance on representations made in business transactions are  not justified when the representation takes place in an adversarial context such as litigation.

Weilbacher v. Craft

On Certificates of Merit

An investor in an office building sued the building’s architect and engineering consulting firm for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, aiding and abetting, and conspiracy. The investor did not file a certificate of merit with the original petition, so the defendants moved to dismiss. The claims against the engineering firm were dismissed without prejudice, and the plaintiff refiled with a new complaint that included a certificate of merit. After consolidating the old and new cases, the trial court granted a motion to dismiss as to all claims against the engineering firm, but only as to the negligent misrepresentation claim for the architects. An interlocutory appeal ensured, and the Court of Appeals ended up siding with the plaintiff. As to the plaintiff’s claim against the engineering firm, the Court held that dismissal without prejudice did not prevent the plaintiff from refiling a new lawsuit — the one under appeal — that included a certificate of merit. As to the claims against the architecture firm, no certificate of merit was required because the plaintiff’s case was based on the allegation that the firm knew of defects in the building due to its occupancy in the building, not in connection with any professional services that the firm had provided. Accordingly, no certificate of merit was necessary, and all of the plaintiff’s claims against the architecture firm were also remanded for further proceedings.

TIC N. Central Dallas 3, LLC v. Envirobusiness, Inc., No. 05-13-01021-CV

Unknown Information Need Not Be Disclosed

In this fraud case, the Court of Appeals rejected the plaintiff’s argument that its fraud claim should survive summary judgment because the defendant failed to disclose information that it “should have known”  According to the Court, a fraud claim based on a failure to disclose theory requires that the defendant actually knew the information because “[t]here is . . . no duty if a defendant fails to disclose material facts it ‘should have known.'”

Dontos v. Banco Popular