All or Nothing

A series of oil and gas investments led to a lawsuit between BV Energy Partners and Richard Cheatham, the managing member of their jointly owned company, Tsar Energy II, LLC. Although Cheatham was initially required to work exclusively for Tsar II, that exclusivity provision was eliminated after the company had languished with only one investment made in three years. Cheatham continued to bring oil and gas opportunities to BV, and also made his own acquisitions, but the parties made no further investments were made through Tsar II. Cheatham’s investments proved to be far more lucrative than BV’s, which led BV to sue Cheatham for breach of fiduciary duty. The jury rejected those claims, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Court held that there was no charge error in asking the jury to consider whether the parties had formed a partnership to invest in “all” deals (as opposed to “any”) that Cheatham had an opportunity to acquire in the Marcellus Shale. The Court held that was a proper instruction because the justice’s review of the evidence and arguments at trial showed that BV had tried the case on an all-or-nothing theory.

BV Energy Partners, LP v. Cheatham, No. 05-14-00373-CV

Failure To Submit Jury Question on Damages Does Not Waive Sufficiency Arguments on Appeal

At a trial involving, among other things, counterclaims for breach of contract, the counterclaimant forgot to submit a jury question on the issue of damages. Because the jury agreed with the counterclaimant for all other elements of the breach of contract claim, the counterclaimant moved for judgment and requested that the trial court find that damages for the breach of contract established as a matter of law. The trial court did not expressly rule on the motion for judgment, but instead rendered a take-nothing judgment on  the counterclaim.

On appeal, the Court addressed several issues, including whether the counterclaimants had waived any objection to the jury charge on appeal.  The Court explained that, under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure “[w]hen an element of a claim is omitted from the jury charge without objection and no written findings are made by the trial court on that element then the omitted element is deemed to have been found by the court in such a manner as to support the judgment.”  Based on this, the Court concluded that the counterclaimants did not waive their claim for damages by failing to submit a jury question on that element of their claim and that they had also not waived argument concerning the legal and factual sufficiency of the trial court’s “deemed finding.”

Alfia v. Overseas Service Haus

Legal Malpractice Claim Requires Medical Expert

Jeanette Hooper and her husband Charles sued their lawyers for legal malpractice. The underlying case had been a personal injury suit arising out of a car wreck, which was apparently dismissed after the lawyers sued the owner of the other vehicle instead of the actual driver. The jury awarded $235,000 in damages, based on the testimony of a legal expert who opined that the Hoopers should have recovered $130,000 for past medical expenses, $180,000 for lost earning capacity, $250,000 for pain and suffering, and $250,000 for damages such as loss of consortium and physical impairment. On appeal, however, the court of appeals held that the testimony did not establish a causal link between the underlying car wreck and the subsequent damages. While it was justifiable for the jury to compensate the plaintiffs for damages sustained in the immediate aftermath of the wreck, such as emergency room bills and initial pain and suffering, the “case-within-a-case” aspect of the legal malpractice claim required the plaintiffs to establish a causal connection between the accident and the health problems Charles experienced months and even years after the collision. That connection needed to be made by the testimony of a medical expert, and could not be demonstrated through bare medical records or inferred by the jury. Because some elements of the plaintiffs’ damages were valid and some were invalid, the court of appeals also sustained the defendants’ challenge to the trial court’s submission of a broad-form damages question, reversed the judgment, and remanded for further proceedings.

Kelley & Witherspoon, LLP v. Hooper, No. 05-11-01256-CV

Good Faith in the Sale of a Noble Gas

Regency Gas Services owns a natural gas processing facility in the Hugoton Basin. One of the byproducts of natural gas is crude helium.  In 1996, Regency entered into a 12-year contract with Keyes Helium Co., which owned a helium processing facility in Oklahoma.  Under the agreement, Keyes agreed to purchase all of the crude helium produced by Regency’s facility.  But in 2003, Regency found out that one of its biggest customers was unlikely to renew its contracts, which would deprive Regency of the volumes of natural gas needed to make helium production possible.  As a result, Regency decided to shut down its plant and move its processing to a nearby facility owned by another company.  Keyes sued for breach of contract, contending that Regency had not acted in good faith when it decided to eliminate its production of crude helium.  The jury returned a verdict in favor of Regency.

On appeal, Keyes claimed jury charge error in the trial court’s definition of “good faith” under the UCC.  Keyes contended that the trial court should have limited its instruction to the one found in the U.C.C., which simply states that good faith means “honesty in fact and the observance of reasonable commercial standards standards in the trade.”  The trial court had expanded on that definition by adding the phrase “including whether Regency had a legitimate business reason for eliminating its output under the Contract, as opposed to a desire to avoid the contract.”  The court of appeals rejected that argument, concluding that the additional language could not have caused the rendition of an improper verdict because Keyes had failed to submit any evidence that Regency’s decision to shut down its plant had been made in bad faith.  The court of appeals also affirmed the trial court’s grant of a directed verdict against Keyes on its claim that the UCC prevented Regency from reducing its output below the estimates stated in the contract, ruling that section 2-306(1) of the UCC did not such reductions if they were made in good faith.

Keyes Helium Co. v. Regency Gas Services, LP, No. 05-10-00929-CV

Duty to Treat Partner Fairly Ended When He Was Fired

The members of a limited partnership entered into a partnership agreement providing that they would each relinquish their partnership interest if they departed involuntarily.  The agreement also provided that while no payment was required, the remaining partners could still decide to make a payment to the involuntarily departing partner.  In late 2008, two of the three partners decided to terminate Arvid Leick.  The remaining partners initially offered to pay him in excess of $300,000, but Leick insisted on almost twice that amount.  The partnership and the remaining partners then filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that Leick had been involuntarily terminated and that they therefore did not owe him anything at all.  Leick counterclaimed.  The jury found that Leick’s termination had been involuntary, but that he still should have been paid what the remaining partners had originally offered.  The trial court reduced the award to $125,000, but still entered judgment in favor of Leick.

On appeal, the partnership claimed that the trial court had erred by improperly instructing the jury that the remaining partners had an obligation to treat the involuntarily terminated partner fairly and reasonably.  The court of appeals reversed and entered a take-nothing judgment against Leick, holding that this instruction was contrary to the plain language of the partnership agreement, which left it up to the remaining partners whether an involuntarily departure would lead to any payment at all.  Although the Texas Revised Partnership Act does require partners to be fair and reasonable to one another, that could not serve as the basis for the jury instruction because Leick was no longer a partner after the day he was terminated.  The court of appeals likewise sustained the trial court’s directed verdict against Leick on his claim for breach of fiduciary duty, since that claim also focused on the other partners’ treatment of him after he was terminated, and there was no fiduciary duty for the parties to remain partners with one another.  Finally, the court vacated the trial court’s award of attorney fees to Leick, but noted that he still might still be able to recover fees on remand under the Declaratory Judgments Act, even though he was no longer the prevailing party.

LG Insurance Management Services, LP v. Leick, No. 05-10-01646-CV