Most Viewed Decisions

Court of Appeals of Texas, Twelfth

Red Ball v. Southwest Railroad, 12-16-00049-CV (TexApp Dist 05/31/2017)

This matter involved a dispute over a supply contact between the parties which led to litigation involving a suit on account tortious interference, and reciprocal breach of contract claims. In six issues, appellant asserted the trial court misconstrued the contract and that appellees breached the contract requiring appellant to be entitled to damages and attorney's fees. In looking solely to the four corners of the contract to determine its meaning and intent, the court affirmed holding the contract clearly did not allow appellant to pass along cost increases due to other expenses appellant may incur such as operational and overhead costs. As such, appellant's interpretation otherwise was unreasonable and the trial court did not err in construing such contractual provision. Further, the court held the plain language of the contract prohibited appellant from charging appellee for deliver charges, hazardous material charges, or fuel surcharges; the single phrase in the contract regarding location did not require appellee to pay such charges when the product did not originate from appellee's location. Moreover, the record was clear that appellee did not continue performance under the contract as a result of the breaches by appellant and was therefore excused from further obligation to perform. Finally, the court affirmed the trial court's decision not to award appellant attorney's fees and damages as appellant's conduct resulted in the decisions of the trial court and the evidence conclusively established that appellant breached the parties' contract. Red Ball Oxygen Co., Inc. v. Southwest Railroad Car Parts Co., Tyler Court of Appeals, Case No.: 12-16-00049-CV, 05/31/2017

12-16-00049-CV
JAMES T. WORTHEN, CHIEF JUSTICE

Court of Appeals of Texas, Twelfth

Permian Power v. Diamondback, 12-16-00092-CV (TexApp Dist 05/31/2017)

Oil company Diamondback E&P called on appellant Permian Power Tong to install pipe casing in a newly drilled well under the companies' contract. The pipe became deformed shortly after installation, and the parties disagreed as to the cause. Diamondback was forced to plug the well and sued appellant for breach of contract. The court awarded Diamondback $824,000 in damages and $320,000 in attorney's fees, plus conditional attorney's fees for appeal and court costs. An appeal followed on several grounds, including a challenge to the attorney's fees. The court found that Diamondback's attorney submitted his resume and detailed evidence as to the work performed, the staff members who performed it, and the hourly rates. The court found block billing was acceptable here because it was detailed enough to provide meaningful review. The court rejected appellant's argument that the attorney was required to submit resumes of staff members as well, finding that not all of the seven factors for attorney's fees under Arthur Andersen & Co. v. Perry Equip. Corp. , (945 S.W.2d 812) are required. The court also upheld the conditional attorney's fees because appellant did not provide controverting evidence at trial. However, the court found that Diamondback's attorney did not properly segregate fees for claims that are unrecoverable, and remanded to the trial court to determine the amount to be segregated. On other issues, the court overruled several evidentiary challenges. The court found there was ample evidence for a jury to determine that the pipe was free of defects before appellant's installation and that only appellant's equipment touched the pipes where the deformities occurred. It also found that any error in admitting invoices as support for Diamondback's calculation of damages was harmless because appellant failed to object to another exhibit with substantially the same information. However, the court also found that Diamondback's evidence did not fully support the damages award and suggested a remittitur of roughly $810,000, with an order to remand if appellant did not pay the remittitur. The court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. Permian Power v. Diamondback, Tyler Court of Appeals, Case No. 12-16-00092-CV, 5/31/17.

12-16-00092-CV
BRIAN HOYLE, JUSTICE

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth

Neale v. State of Texas, 14-15-00553-CR (TexApp Dist 06/01/2017)

Appellant Craig Allen Neale was operating a boat on the Trinity River shortly after midnight while game warden Patricia Vannoy was conducting a safety inspection on another boat nearby. Vannoy shined her flashlight in a "sweeping motion," and Neale's boat slowed down, eventually drifting near hers. After completing her safety inspection, Vannoy decided to perform an inspection on appellant's boat. She detected a strong smell of alcohol and saw appellant stumbling in the boat. She performed field sobriety tests and took him to a hospital onshore for a blood test, which showed a blood-alcohol content of 0.169. A jury convicted appellant of boating while intoxicated and he appealed on several issues. Appellant argued Vannoy's flashlight use was a "show of authority" triggering Fourth Amendment protections. The court found several Texas courts have held a spotlight is often necessary for safety during police interactions. It also found that appellant's boat was roughly 100 yards from Vannoy when she shined her flashlight and that she did not stop her water safety check as he approached. Thus, the court held Vannoy shined the flashlight as a safety warning and not a show of authority, and that no seizure had taken place at that point under the Fourth Amendment. When Vannoy observed appellant was intoxicated, she had probable cause for an arrest and thus did not violate the Fourth Amendment, the court held. The court also overruled appellant's evidentiary issues. It found that slight deviations from the standard timing of eye-movement tests affect the weight of evidence, not its admissibility. Although the state conceded that the trial court erred in admitting a forensic scientist's testimony as to appellant's blood-alcohol level and admitting the blood tests he prepared, the court found that the error was not reversible. The court found the expert's brief testimony on BAC had a negligible effect on the jury and the state offered other evidence of intoxication, distinguishing this case from others in which improper expert testimony led to a reversal. The court found appellant did not properly preserve the blood test issue for appeal. The court affirmed the trial court's judgment. Craig Allen Neale v. The State of Texas, Houston 14th Court of Appeals, Case No. 14-15-00553-CR, 6/1/17.

14-15-00553-CR
KEVIN JEWELL, JUSTICE

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

ConocoPhillips v. Ramirez, 04-15-00487-CV (4th COA. 06/07/2017)

Appellant ConocoPhillips had been extracting oil and gas from a plot of land known as Las Piedras Ranch since 1995, under leases granting mineral rights. The land was part of a larger plot had been in the same family for decades, which had split the surface rights and mineral rights over the years via various family members' wills. Appellant had been paying royalties to some family members, but two grandchildren of matriarch Leonor Ramirez – who were not signatories and did not receive royalties – sued appellant and their uncle to receive their share. Leonor's will devised all of her rights to Las Piedras to her son Leon for life, with a vested interest for the grandchildren. The trial court found that the grandchildren had an interest in the mineral rights and ordered appellant to pay roughly $11.7 million. An appeal followed on several grounds, all of which turned on the ownership of Leonor's original mineral interest in the ranch. Appellant argued that Leonor's will granted only surface rights to Las Piedras. Although the family regularly severed surface rights from mineral rights through the years, the court found that Leonor's will granted "all" of her rights and that mineral rights are conveyed along with surface rights unless they are expressly severed. Thus, the grandchildren held an interest in the mineral rights. The court also rejected appellant's statute of limitations argument. Appellant argued the statute accrued in 1990, when Leonor died and other family members began signing leases granting appellant mineral rights. However, the court found the grandchildren's statute did not accrue until 2006, when their father died and their interest vested. Their 2010 lawsuit therefore was not barred by the four-year statute. Due to the grandchildren's interest in the land, appellant was required to obtain their signatures on the leases but did not. The court affirmed the trial court's judgment. ConocoPhillips v. Ramirez, San Antonio Court of Appeals, Case No. 14-15-00487-CV, 6/7/17.

04-15-00487-CV
REBECA C. MARTINEZ, JUSTICE

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

Jones v. Wells Fargo, 16-10042 (5th Cir. 06/01/2017)

Wells Fargo served as trustee for four trusts for which Jones was a beneficiary. In 2013, Jones sued Wells Fargo on a number of claims. The district court dismissed all of the claims except for a claim that Wells Fargo had breached its fiduciary duty to Jones by nonsuiting an earlier suit between the same parties, instead of proceeding to trial. During his closing argument, Jones' lawyer changed his theory and argued that Wells Fargo breached its fiduciary duty by not nonsuiting the case earlier, when it became clear that Wells Fargo would not prevail. Wells Fargo did not object to the new theory, which apparently resonated with the jury, which found in favor of Jones. Both parties appealed. The court first held that, because Jones neither pleaded nor tried his case on the frivolous-lawsuit theory, and because Wells Fargo did not consent to a post-trial amendment, it was improper for the court to award damages against Wells Fargo on that theory. The court agreed, however, that the district court properly dismissed Jones' other legal theories as barred by the statute of limitations. The court accordingly vacated the jury award, entered judgment in favor of Wells Fargo and affirmed the summary judgment in Wells Fargo's favor on Jones' cross-appeal. Jones v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 5th Circuit, No. 16-10042, 6/1/17

16-10042
JERRY E. SMITH, CIRCUIT JUDGE

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth

O.C.T.G., L.L.P. v. Laguna Tubular Products Corp., 14-16-00210-CV (TexApp Dist 06/06/2017)

Following a contractual dispute and subsequent lawsuit, the trial court signed a final judgment in favor of appellees and ordering appellees to recover actual damages, prejudgment interest and court costs. Appellants deposited cash in lieu of a supersedeas bond for actual damages and interest and one-half its claimed net worth, along with a net-worth affidavit. After the clerk accepted the bond, appellee objected to the net-worth affidavit; appellant responded to the objection and alternatively moved to reduce the amount of supersedeas bond based upon substantial economic harm. At the net-worth evidentiary hearing, the trial court ordered the amount of supersedeas bond deposit, or security necessary for appellants to supersede the court's judgment. On appeal, appellants argued the trial court erred by ordering it to post security for prejudgment interest, eliminating from its net-worth calculation payables to affiliates, not including controlling GAAP standards, and finding that appellant had not met its burden regarding substantial economic harm. The court affirmed in part finding affirmative statements in the trial court that the prejudgment interest should be included precluded such argument by appellant. The court further affirmed holding the judgment was not to be included in the net worth as the plain language of the statute did not include a contingent money judgment in calculating net worth. Moreover, the court found insufficient evidence to support appellant's contention that it would suffer substantial economic harm by posting the additional security required. However, the court reversed in part finding the trial court erred by eliminating payables to affiliates based on the GAAP consolidation rule that the net worth of each individual judgment debtor must be determined separately. O.C.T.G., L.L.P. v. Laguna Tubular Products Corp., Houston 14th Court of Appeals, Case No.: 14-16-00210-CV, 06/06/2017

14-16-00210-CV
MARC W. BROWN, JUSTICE

Supreme Court of Texas

Longview Energy Co. v. The Huff Energy Fund LP, 15-0968 (TexApp Dist 06/09/2017)

This matter involved the questions of whether two directors breached their fiduciary duty to a corporation, and if so, whether the evidence and jury findings supported the remedies imposed by the trial court. Petitioner sued respondents, two of its directors and entities, after discovering one of the entities purchased mineral leases in an area where petitioner had been investigating the possibility of buying leases. The case was tried to a jury, which found that respondents breached their fiduciary duty to petitioner in two ways: (1) by usurping a corporate opportunity, and (2) by competing with the corporation without disclosing the competition to petitioner's board of directors. The trial court rendered judgment awarding a constructive trust to petitioner on most of the leases in question and required the disgorgement of money derived from past lease production revenue. The court of appeals revered and rendered judgment for respondents finding the evidence was not legally sufficient to support the jury's findings of a breach of fiduciary duty. The Supreme Court affirmed holding that, to obtain a constructive trust, petitioner had the burden to identify the particular property on which it sought to have a constructive trust imposed. The Supreme Court found the evidence was legally insufficient to support a finding which traced any specific leases to respondents that were acquired by a breach of fiduciary duty by the respondent-directors. Accordingly, petitioner was not entitled to have a constructive trust imposed and the jury could not find the value of the assets to support the money judgment. Longview Energy Co. v. The Huff Energy Fund LP, Supreme Court, Case No.: 15-0968, 06/09/2017

15-0968
PHIL JOHNSON, JUSTICE

Court of Appeals of Texas, Eighth District

Paz v. State of Texas, 08-15-00354-CR (TexApp Dist 05/31/2017)

Appellant Carlos Soria Paz pled guilty to aggravated sexual assault of a child. The incident happened around his 15th birthday, but the victim's outcry didn't come until years later, when appellant was an adult. After a juvenile court transferred the case to the district court, appellant moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction but the motion was never set for a hearing. The trial court sentenced appellant to 10 years and he appealed, arguing the juvenile court had insufficient evidence to waive jurisdiction in several respects. The court found that appellant did not properly preserve the issue for appeal, because Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 4.18(b)(1) requires a defendant to obtain a ruling on the jurisdictional motion before pleading guilty. It also found the trial court did not make an implied ruling on the motion, and that the motion did not make specific objections, which denied the state the opportunity to properly respond at trial. Furthermore, the court found that even if it were to address appellant's issue, the juvenile court had sufficient evidence to transfer. The court found appellant acknowledged at the juvenile court hearing that he was 15 at the time of the incident, putting him above the age threshold for a transfer (14 years old). Also, the state showed a good reason for the delay, because the victim's outcry didn't happen until appellant was an adult. The court affirmed appellant's conviction. Carlos Soria Paz v. The State of Texas, El Paso Court of Appeals, Case No. 08-15-00354-CR, 5/31/17.

08-15-00354-CR
ANN CRAWFORD McCLURE, CHIEF JUSTICE

Court of Appeals of Texas, Seventh District

Thibodeaux v. State of Texas, 07-16-00324-CR (TexApp Dist 05/30/2017)

Appellant appealed his conviction for being a felon who unlawfully possessed a firearm within the five years of his release from mandatory supervision. The court was asked to determine the effectiveness of trial counsel who allegedly failed to attack the voluntariness of appellant's consent to search and failed to subject respondent's case to "meaningful adversarial testing." Appellant alleged such deficiency in representation effectively deprived him of his sixth amendment right to an attorney under United States v. Cronic, 466 U.S.648, 104 S. Ct. 2039 (1984). The court affirmed holding counsel, regardless of any perceived errors, participated in the trial and an effort to test appellee's case such that appellant was not deprived of his right to an attorney. Secondly, the court affirmed the denial of appellant's motion for a new trial premised on counsel's failure to move to suppress the firearm because appellant's consent to search the vehicle was neither knowing nor voluntary. The court noted the trial court properly denied the motion without a hearing as appellant lacked reasonable grounds entitling him to relief and the sheriff had probable cause to believe the vehicle contained contraband. As the sheriff had authority to search beyond appellant's consent, the trial court had an alternative basis upon which to uphold the search. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of conviction. Garland Thibodeaux v. The State of Texas, Amarillo Court of Appeals, Case No.: 07-6-00324-CR, 05/30/2017

07-16-00324-CR
BRIAN QUINN, CHIEF JUSTICE

Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District

Premier Learning Academy, Inc. v. Texas Education Agency, 03-17-00064-CV (TexApp Dist 06/08/2017)

After appellant, Premier Learning Academy, received unacceptable academic performance ratings for three consecutive years, appellees, Texas Education Agency, informed appellant it would not renew appellant's charter and appointed conservators. When appellant tried to pay off several debts, including its superintendent's severance package, using state FSP funds, a conservator refused to allow payment prompting the underlying suit whereby appellant sought declaration that it may use the remaining state funds to meet its contractual obligations and that appellees lacked authority to "take possession" of or "assume control" of appellant's bank account which held the state funds. Appellant further asserted ultra vires claims against appellee-commissioner and sought a temporary restraining order and injunction prohibiting appellees from controlling and accessing its bank accounts. Appellees filed for, and were granted, a plea to the jurisdiction dismissing appellant's claims arguing appellant lacked standing to raise its claims and that sovereign immunity barred the claims. On appeal, the only question properly before the court was whether the trial court erred in granting appellee-commissioner's plea to the jurisdiction as to appellant's ultra vires claims. The court affirmed the plea to the jurisdiction holding appellee-commissioner did not exceed his statutory authority by refusing to allow appellant to use its remaining state funds to pay its superintendent's severance package under Education Code §12.128 and §39.111. Accordingly, the court affirmed the trial court's granting the plea to the jurisdiction of appellees. Premier Learning Academy, Inc. v. Texas Education Agency, Austin Court of Appeals, Case No.: 03-17-00064-CV, 06/08/2017

03-17-00064-CV
SCOTT K. FIELD, JUSTICE