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).

Lottery Liability Litigation

lotteryIn one of the more unlikely topics for litigation, an upset player of the Texas Lottery sued for the amount she believed she should have won had the ticket accurately described the rules. The answer will never be known,TexasBarToday_TopTen_Badge_VectorGraphic however, because Fifth Court concluded that the defendant (a contractor to the Lottery Commission), was entitled to sovereign immunity as if it was the Commission. The Court noted the limited discretion given to the defendant and the detailed oversight of it by the Commission. Nettles v. GTECH Corp., No. 05-15-01559-CV (July 21, 2017) (mem. op.) (applying Brown & Gay Engineering v. Olivares, 461 S.W.3d 117 (Tex. 2015)).

I think we agreed to arbitrate.

thinkerDefendants moved to compel arbitration, admitting that they could not find the relevant construction contract, but stating in an affidavit that it would have used a standard form that contained an arbitration clause that would govern the matter in dispute. The trial court denied their motion; the Fifth Court reversed, noting two technical issues. First, while plaintiffs objected to various parts of the affidavit, “appellees did not obtain a
ruling on this objection. An objection that an affidavit contains hearsay is an objection to the form of the affidavit. The failure to obtain a ruling from the trial court on an objection to the form of an affidavit waives the objection.” Second, while plaintiffs provided their own affidavits “stating they ‘do not recall’ signing any documents other than documents relating to financing and ‘do not recall’ signing documents requiring arbitration” – “To have probative value, an affiant ‘must swear that the facts presented in the affidavit reflect his personal knowledge[,]’ so “[a]n affiant’s belief about the facts is legally insufficient.” Ladymon v. Lewis, No. 05-16-00776-CV (July 21, 2017) (mem. op.)

Religious reference not reversible.

Abdul Khan had a dispute with a contractor about the design of a stone medallion for the foyer for his new home. The dispute went to trial and the following Q-and-A occurred during examination of a witness for the contractor:

Q. Okay. And did you have a conversation with them about whether or not you could duplicate one of those medallions?

A. Yes, and I repeated that — They — They repeated to me that this was only a design that they were interested in because they did not want cherubims and angels because — what I surmised by that was for religious readons and —

[Khan’s counsel] Objection; relevance.

THE COURT: Sustained.

Khan argued that this exchange was an attempt to appeal to religious prejudice by identifying him as a Muslin. The Fifth Court agreed that the comment was improper, as “[c]ourts in this state have long recognized that a person’s religious beliefs have no place in determining the merits of a dispute,” but found that “[t]his single reference to Khan’s religion was not extreme” as to amount to incurable error. Khan v. The Chai Road, Inc., No. 05-16-00346-CV (July 17, 2017) (mem. op.)

No expungement then, no expungement now.

th8The appellant in In the Interest of BTG, acknowledging that an order denying the expungement of a lis pendens is not ordinarily appealable, attempted to rely on the Fifth Court’s standard language denying an earlier writ of mandamus. He contended that it granted him an appeal right by agreeing that he had an adequate remedy by direct appeal. ” Appellant, however, misstates our conclusion. In denying the petition, we stated he had ‘not shown he is entitled to the relief requested,’ a burden requiring he show not only that he has no adequate appellate remedy but also that the trial court clearly abused its discretion.” No. 05-17-00465-CV (July 13, 2017) (mem. op.)

For your next reargument of Marbury v. Madison –

I recently participated in a mock reargument of Marbury v. Madison (right), albeit changed from the original to (1) actually have discussion about judicial review (2) actually have participation by my character, Attorney General Levi Lincoln, who in “real life” was ordered to stay silent by a highly irritated President Jefferson. In case you should ever need such a thing, here are my notes about the case against judicial review, which rely heavily upon an outstanding 1969 Duke Law Journal article by Professor William Van Alstyne.

If a tree fell and no one heard it, would the TCPA apply?

falling treeRepresentatives of the Estate of Samuel Dorfman moved to dismiss tort claims under the Texas anti-SLAPP law, brought by professionals who did work for the Estate and complained that they had been defamed and disparaged in comments about their work. Applying the newly-decided opinion in Hersh v. Tatum , 2017 WL 2839873 (Tex. June 30, 2017), the Fifth Court held that the trial court erred in determining that “the Estate was not entitled under the TCPA to seek dismmissal of appellees’ claims because the Estate denied making the communications that form the bases of those claims,” and remanded for further consideration of the TCPA motion. Dorfman Estate v. Proactive Inventory, No. 05-16-01286-CV (July 11, 2017) (mem. op.)

Notice isn’t good service – here, or overseas.

indian flagMs. Mandava served divorce papers on Mr. Chukkapalli in India using the Hague Convention. When Chukkapalli moved for a new trial in Texas, pointing out flaws in how he was served, Mandava countered by showing that he had actual notice of the Texas lawsuit – he had made a filing with an Indian family court that identified the Texas case and attached a document from the Texas case file. The Fifth Court agreed with him about the problems with service and held: “Although it appears Chukkapalli had actual notice of the Texas divorce proceeding, actual notice to a defendant of a pending suit, without proper [service], is not sufficient.” However: “[U]pon remand, the parties will be before the court wihout need for further citation because Chukkapalli has now become subject to the jurisdiction of the court.” Chukkapalli v. Mandava, No. 05-15-01287-CV (June 30, 2017) (mem. op.)

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).