Sufficient evidence of an unwritten contract

images2“Examining the parties’ conduct and course of dealing, the fact finder could have inferred the element of mutual assent [between Miller and DML] from the circumstances.

  • Miller asked DML to remove the fountain,
  • DML subcontracted with a third party to do so . . .
  • The invoice submitted by the subcontractor to DML is part of the record and [DML’s witness] testified that DML’s practice is to submit such invoices to their customers
  • DML continued providing landscaping services after the fountain was removed.
  • Miller admitted he paid DML for some of the landscaping work. . . .
  • DML sent Miller a demand letter stating he was “in default of your obligation to pay the sum of $7,870.00 . . . and you have failed to pay despite repeated requests for payment by our office.” The record does not show Miller protested the demand letter or attempted to reconcile the account. . . .
  • Miller tacitly acknowledged he knew there would be compensation for the removal of the fountain and landscaping services when he testified he told Wetzel ‘the money would be held back until either I got the fountain back or he worked off the value of the fountain.’ . . .
  • [DML’s witness] testified the first time he heard about the alleged agreement for DML to work off the cost of the fountain was at trial, indicating this was not the parties’ agreement.” (punctuation added)

In sum, good recordkeeping (including recollection of a favorable admission) saved the day for DML. Miller v. Design Masterpiece Landscape, Inc., No. 05-16-00747-CV (July 28, 2017).

Effective release

let it goVerveba Communications and a former employee, Jewell Thomas, settled a dispute about travel expenses after a JP court trial with this release: “each party hereby: (1) releases all claims against the other; (ii) waives his/its right to file a motion for new trial, [and] (iii) waives his/its right to appeal the [JP court] judgment . . . .” Jewell then brought new claims, beyond the contract claim litigated in JP court, and the Fifth Court affirmed their dismissal: “None of these cases [cited by Thomas] held that the release must identify each claim or cause of action by name to be effective and, in fact, none of the releases in these cases identified the claims being released specifically by name.” Thomas v. Verveba Telecom, LLC, No. 05-16-00123-CV (March 31, 2017) (mem. op.)

Rounding error?

wheelThe dispute that rolled into court in Wheel Technologies v. Gonzalez was whether a shipment of wheels had been delivered. The companies’ records were important but not dispositive, as the Fifth Court rounded up the facts: “This case essentially came down to a ‘he said, he said’ between two parties’ explanations of accounting. Blaser testified WTI always created a purchase order when it received a delivery and because WTI had no record of any outstanding purchase orders owed to Gonzalez, then it never received the tires. Gonzalez testified to the contrary. . . . Further, Blaser admitted he could not say for sure Owens always created a purchase order upon receipt of tires because Blaser was never personally involved in any of the transactions. Rather, Gonzalez testified there were many times in which the deliveries occurred after hours so checks and other documentation were not always ready when he made a delivery.” No. 05-16-00068-CV (Feb. 8, 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.)

How to Merge

merge-ahead-signNations Renovations successfullly sued Hong in quantum meruit for unpaid construction work, and successfully defended against misrepresentation claims. The Fifth Court affirmed based on contract terms. As to the quantum meruit claim, it noted: “Because the four items [at issue] are listed only as recommendations and the other items of Extra Work claimed by Nations are not mentioned in the Contract, we conclude the Extra Work is not covered by the Contract. Therefore, the trial court properly submitted the quantum meruit question to the jury.” As to the misrepresentation claims, applying Italian Cowboy, the Court found this disclaimer of reliance to be effective: “17. ANY REPRESENTATIONS, STATEMENTS, OR OTHER COMMUNICATIONS NOT WRITTEN ON THIS CONTRACT ARE AGREED TO BE IMMATERIAL and not relied on by either party and do not survive the execution of this contract.” Hong v. Nations Renovations LLC, No. 05-15-01036-CV (Dec. 29, 2016) (mem. op.)

When is enrichment unjust?

enrichment_logoWhile affirming a relatively straightforward judgment in a home loan dispute, the Fifth Court observed: “The unjust enrichment doctrine applies principles of restitution to disputes where there is no actual contract and is based on the equitable principle that one who receives benefits which would be unjust for him to retain ought to make restitution.” Ihde v. First Horizon Home Loans, No. 05-15-01084-CV (Nov. 28, 2016) (mem. op.) (emphasis added) A counterpoint in this practical but rarely-visited area of remedies law appears in City of Harker Heights v. Sun Meadows Land Ltd., 830 S.W.2d 313, 317 (Tex. App.–Austin 1992, no writ), which observes: “An action for money had and received may be founded upon an express agreement or one implied in fact, but it is not dependent upon either.” (emphasis added).

Invoices and contracts – four years – oh my.

6501602_origIf ever a case illustrated a trap for the unwary, it is IDA Engineering v. PBK Architects, in which the plaintiff sued exactly four years after the termination of its contractual relationship. Unfortunately, the invoices upon which its damage claim relied were issued before the contract termination, and the contracts contained this language about payment: “Invoices will be issued monthly, per TexasBarToday_TopTen_Badge_VectorGraphicpercentage of completion or per phase and will be due upon issuance date.” (emphasis added). Accordingly, the claim was barred by limitations.  No. 05-15-01418-CV (Oct. 4, 2016) (mem. op.)

Intent determined: Defined term means the list with that same title attached as Exhibit A

Ibusiness-partners-signingn Kartsotis v. Bloch (July 7, 2016), the Dallas Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment and rendered judgment for the appellee where the issue was the proper interpretation of a Contribution and Indemnity Agreement allocating the duty to reimburse the other parties for payments made on several obligations of co-owned businesses. A core dispute is whether the defined term “Existing Obligations” in the parties’ agreement meant the primary debtors’ financial obligations listed as “Existing Obligations” on Exhibit A to the agreement, as Kartsotis contended, or whether “Existing Obligations” meant the parties’ secondary liabilities, such as guaranties and indemnities, related to the Exhibit A obligations, as Bloch asserted.

Bloch argued that a statement in the agreement’s recitals supported his broader interpretation of Existing Obligations because it evidenced an intent to “effect an equitable sharing of their risk and liability in respect of the Obligations.” The trial court agreed and granted Bloch summary judgment on cross-motions seeking to construe the agreement.

The Court of Appeals reversed. It rejected Bloch’s argument because recitals are not strictly part of the contract and do not control the operative phrases of the contract unless they are ambiguous, the intent of the recital was vague and provided no guidance, and the recital was not as specific as the operative definitions. Exhibit A thus resolved the question of what the parties objectively intended when they agreed to that defined term, they meant only the obligations listed.

Kartsotis v. Bloch (July 7, 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.)