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Benavides v. Benavides

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

January 22, 2014

Armando BENAVIDES, Appellant
Anselmo BENAVIDES, Antonio Benavides, and A.T. Trucking, LLP, Appellees

From the 79th Judicial District Court, Jim Wells County, Texas Trial Court No. 06-03-44411 Honorable Richard C. Terrell, Judge Presiding

Sitting: Catherine Stone, Chief Justice, Marialyn Barnard, Justice Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice


Catherine Stone, Chief Justice

This is the second appeal in a case which this court has previously described as having "a tortured and protracted procedural history." Benavides v. Benavides, No. 04-11-00252-CV, 2011 WL 5407493 (Tex. App.—San Antonio Nov. 9, 2011, pet. denied) (mem. op.). The instant appeal arises from a judgment entered by the trial court after this court reversed a prior judgment in the underlying cause and remanded the cause for further proceedings. See id. From the record, it appears our earlier opinion caused some confusion over the scope of the remand and the issues resolved by our prior opinion, thus adding to the lengthy procedural journey of this dispute between brothers. The legal principles in this case require us to again reverse the trial court's judgment and remand the cause for further proceedings; however, we clarify the scope of the remand and the issues that have not been resolved.

Procedural History[1]

The underlying cause involves a dispute among three brothers over a business partnership. On May 27, 2009, the three brothers entered into a Settlement Agreement to resolve their dispute. In December of 2009, Armando Benavides amended his petition in the underlying cause, alleging a breach of the Settlement Agreement, requesting a rescission of the agreement, and requesting damages equal to the redemption price he should have received for his partnership interest. In response, the other two brothers, Anselmo and Antonio Benavides, amended their answer and counterclaim, asserting Armando breached the Settlement Agreement and should be estopped from pursuing his claim. Alternatively, Anselmo and Antonio asserted that Armando had been overpaid for his partnership interest, and requested damages in an amount equal to the overpayment.

After a bench trial, the trial court signed a judgment concluding that Anselmo and Antonio did not breach the Settlement Agreement and that Armando had received sufficient payment for the redemption of his partnership interest. One of the issues presented in the appeal of that judgment was whether the trial court erred in determining that Anselmo and Antonio did not breach the Settlement Agreement. Id. at *1. After reviewing the evidence, this court held that the evidence conclusively established that Anselmo and Antonio breached the Settlement Agreement by not transferring possession of work trucks within the requisite two-week period. Id. Because the trial court's error with regard to its liability finding necessarily impacted the remedy that was ordered, we held that a remand was appropriate in the interest of justice. Id. at *2.

In discussing the necessity of the remand, we noted that because the trial court found no breach of contract, the court did not consider whether any alleged breach was material or immaterial. Id. We noted that only a material breach would excuse the other party from further performance because the only remedy available for an immaterial breach is damages. Id. We then concluded:

Therefore, all legal and equitable issues relating to damages or other relief that may or may not be appropriate based on the breach by Anselmo and Antonio await further consideration on remand where the circumstances of the case, including the materiality or immateriality of the breach, will need to be considered.

Id. We also expressly stated, "On remand, the trial court will need to reconsider the equitable remedy of rescission." Id.

After the cause was remanded, Armando filed amended petitions, seeking specific performance, as opposed to rescission, and also requesting a temporary restraining order and injunctive relief. Anselmo and Antonio filed a response to Armando's request for a temporary injunction, objecting to Armando's filing of the amended petitions as beyond the scope of the remand. At a subsequent hearing, the trial court heard argument regarding the scope of the remand and took the matter under advisement. The trial court later signed a judgment finding that the breach by Anselmo and Antonio was not material; however, the judgment rescinded the Settlement Agreement and found that Armando had been fully compensated for his partnership interest.

Law of the Case and Scope of Remand

When a cause is remanded to a trial court by an appellate court, the application of both the law of the case doctrine and the scope of the remand must be considered by the trial court in determining what additional proceedings are necessary to fully resolve the underlying cause. "The 'law of the case' doctrine is defined as that principle under which questions of law decided on appeal to a court of last resort will govern the case throughout its subsequent stages." Hudson v. Wakefield, 711 S.W.2d 628, 630 (Tex. 1986). "By narrowing the issues in successive stages of the litigation, the law of the case doctrine is intended to achieve uniformity of decision as well as judicial economy and efficiency." Id. Similarly, when an appellate court "remands a case and limits a subsequent trial to a particular issue, the trial court is restricted to a determination of that particular issue." Id. "Thus, in a subsequent appeal, instructions given to a trial court in the former appeal will be adhered to and enforced, " regardless of whether those instructions appear in the appellate court's mandate or in its opinion. Id.

In the instant case, this court held in our earlier opinion that the evidence conclusively established a breach of contract by Anselmo and Antonio. Contrary to Armando's assertion in his reply brief, however, this court did not address whether Armando's actions resulted in a breach of the Settlement Agreement.[2] Although Anselmo and Antonio alleged a breach by Armando in their amended answer and counterclaim, the trial court ...

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