The 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.)
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.)
Nations 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.)
While 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).
If 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 percentage 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.)
In 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.
- “A statement that makes up the parties’ contact is an operative fact, a necessary part of a cause of action, and is not hearsay.”
- “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.”
- 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.)
. . . a seemingly academic question, but one of great significance to the guarantor whose liability rested on whether a transfer occurred. Acknowledging the Texas Supreme Court’s broad definition of a “transfer” as “Any mode of disposing of or parting with an asset or an interest in an asset, including a gift, the payment of money, release, lease, or creation of a lien or other encumbrance. . . . every method—direct or indirect, absolute or conditional, voluntary or involuntary—of disposing of or parting with property or an interest in property,” the Fifth Court held that standard release language in a settlement agreement did not create a transfer, even though the overrarching goal of the settlement was to bring an end to one development project, so a new one could proceed. Argent Development LP v. Las Colinas Group LP, No. 05-15-00626-CV (June 20, 2016) (mem. op.)
In Tour de Force, Ltd. v. Barr, the plaintiff, Tour de Force, was a Russian tour operator that entered into an agreement by email with Gordon Barr, CEO of Port Promotions. There wasn’t a separate written contract. When Tour de Force stopped receiving payments, it sued Barr individually. The trial court found after a bench trial that Tour de Force did not prove that a contract existed with Barr in his individual capacity. Tour de Force appealed, arguing that the trial court applied the wrong standard because agency is an affirmative defense. The Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed.
On the issue of whether it was the defendant’s burden to prove agency or the plaintiff’s burden to prove a contract with the defendant in his individual capacity, the Court noted that the defendant disclaimed any reliance on an agency defense during closing, meaning he had no burden to establish an affirmative defense. “Rather, the burden remained squarely with [Tour de Force] to prove a ‘meeting of the minds’ between it and Barr to enter into a contract.” The emails forming the contract included a signature line of Gordon Barr as CEO of Port Promotions, invoices were directed at Port Promotions, and payments were made from an account owned by Port Promotions. Thus, though the plaintiff testified that he believed he had contracted with Barr, there was no evidence of a “meeting of the minds” between Tour de Force and Barr in his individual capacity to enter into a contract.
Schultz, owner of a chain of movie theaters, did not want to pay Banowsky, a licensed Texas attorney, for helping Schultz find a theater location. Schultz won summary judgment based on the Texas Real Estate Licensing Act, primarily because Banowsky admitted that his work did not involve legal services. The Fifth Court reversed: “[Schultz] argues that Banowsky’s construction of the Act is both unreasonable and favors the individual interest of an attorney over the interest in protecting the public from unlicensed, unscrupulous, or unqualified persons. But the fact remains that the plain language of the statute exempts attorneys from all requirements of the Act.” Banowsky v. Schultz, No. 05-14-01624-CV (Feb. 10, 2016) (mem. op.)