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.
Kartsotis v. Bloch (July 7, 2016)
- “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.
Tour de Force, Ltd. v. Barr
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.)
While the Wilburns submitted the highest price at a real estate auction, it was below the reserve price set by the bank who was auctioning the property. They nevertheless sought to enforce a right to the property. The Dallas Court affirmed a take-nothing verdict for the defendants. As to the auctioneer’s actual authority, the Court noted the instructions about reserve price in the “Agreement to Conduct Auction Sale.” As to his apparent authority, the Court noted the auctioneer’s statements at the start of the auction and the Wilburns’ signatures on two cards that said what a reserve price was and referenced the auctioneer’s contract: “None of the bank’s actions or inactions clothed the auctioneer with the indicia of authority to sell the Property at a price below the reserve without Valliance’s consent.” Wilburn v. Valliance Bank, No. 05-14-00965-CV (Dec. 21, 2015) (mem. op.)
Highland Capital won a judgment for over $20 million based on the alleged breach of a contract by RBC Capital to sell a package of notes. RBC Capital Markets, LLC v. Highland Capital Management, LP, No. 05-13-00948-CV (Dec. 4, 2015) (mem. op.) The Dallas Court of Appeals reversed, finding no enforceable contract. The Court first reviewed the protean doctrines of judicial admissions and judicial estoppel, ultimately concluding that statements made by RBC in other litigation were not preclusive in this case, noting that RBC did not ultimately prevail in the other matter. It then rejected Highland’s argument that a contract was formed when the parties agreed upon “price and principal,” noting that RBC’s acceptance was expressly subject to further documentation (specifically, a written trade confirmation and purchase agreement). The Court noted that, as alleged by Highland, the claimed breach involved matters that remained to be resolved in those subsequent documents. (Another “conditional agreement” case is discussed today on sister blog 600Camp.)
Does a limitation of liability provision include gross negligence claims? This basic question of contract drafting finds surprisingly little answer in Texas authority. A recent article by LTPC attorneys David Coale and Mallory Biblo summarizes the opinions and where the Dallas Court of Appeals falls.
Jenner & Block took on the representation of Parallel Networks in patent infringement litigation. Their contingency fee agreement provided that Parallel was responsible for the payment of expenses, but Parallel ran up a $500,000 deficit before expenses were finally paid out of proceeds from settlement in another lawsuit. Jenner withdrew from the case, citing a termination clause that allowed it to withdraw if continuing was not in its economic interest. After the patent cases settled under successor counsel, Jenner invoked arbitration and sought to recover $10 million in fees. The arbitrator ruled that Jenner’s withdrawal was justified and awarded $3 million as an “appropriate and fair” portion of the contingent fee recovery, as provided in the parties’ contract. The trial court confirmed the award, and the Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed. The Court declined Parallel’s invitation to declare that the fee agreement was against public policy, holding that the statutory grounds for vacating an award under the FAA are exclusive, and that public policy therefore could not serve to vacate the award.
Parallel Networks, LLC v. Jenner & Block LLP, No. 05-13-00748-CV
In early 2012, the Dallas Court of Appeals reversed a temporary injunction that would have prevented BB&T from foreclosing on a pair of properties secured by a $10 million promissory note. Two and a half years later, matters have not improved for the borrowers, as the Court has now affirmed summary judgment for the bank.
In responding to the no-evidence summary judgment motion, the borrowers had “relied entirely on evidence presented at the temporary judgment hearing” to show that they had a valid contract with BB&T that superseded the bank’s right to foreclose. Because the Court had previously held that this evidence amounted to nothing more than an unenforceable “agreement to agree,” the law of the case doctrine prevented the outcome from being any different in this subsequent appeal. The same evidence was also held to be insufficient to support the borrowers’ claims for fraud and declaratory judgment, while a money had and received claim failed because the borrowers had made a $1.8 million payment with full knowledge of the facts and without fraud or duress. Finally, the trial court had not abused its discretion by striking the borrowers’ fifth amended petition because it had been filed outside the deadline in the court’s scheduling order, was not filed with leave of court, and was prejudicial to the bank because it sought to add a claim that “would effectively inject new substantive matters into the litigation by reinjecting old ones.”
TCI Luna Ventures, LLC v. Branch Banking & Tr. Co., No. 05-13-01221-CV