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Shipley v. Vasquez

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

May 31, 2017

Lawrence W. SHIPLEY III, Appellant
Andrea VASQUEZ, Appellee

         From the 285th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2012CI12988 Honorable Richard Price, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Karen Angelini, Justice Marialyn Barnard, Justice Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice


          Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice

         On February 26, 2016, a Bexar County jury found that Appellant Lawrence W. Shipley III and Appellee Andrea Vasquez entered into an oral agreement and Shipley subsequently breached that agreement. The jury awarded Vasquez $216, 000.00 in damages against Shipley. The trial court denied Shipley's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) and it signed the final judgment on April 18, 2016. Shipley appeals the denial of his motion for JNOV.[1]

         Because we conclude the terms "take care of" and "like a Shipley" in the parties' oral agreement are indefinite as a matter of law, and there is no evidence that makes the terms reasonably definite and certain, we reverse the trial court's judgment pertaining to Vasquez's breach of contract claim and render judgment that Vasquez take nothing from Shipley on her breach of contract claim. We affirm the portion of the judgment that orders Vasquez to take nothing on her claims against Shipley Do-Nut.

         Factual and Procedural History

         The case stems from the on-again, off-again relationship between Andrea Vasquez and Lawrence W. Shipley III, the president of Shipley Do-Nut Flour & Supply, Co., Inc.

         A. 1996 to 1999: Relationship before Birth of L.N.S.

         Shipley and Vasquez's relationship began in 1996. Vasquez, at that time, was a single mother working as a substitute teacher in the Harlandale Independent School District. The two began dating after Vasquez requested Shipley Do-Nut participate in a school fundraiser. After several months, Vasquez began working for Shipley as marketing director for Shipley Do-Nut's San Antonio operations. Vasquez contends that, based on Shipley's encouragement, she allowed her young son to live primarily with his father so that she could move to Houston to live with Shipley.

         In 1999, Vasquez and Shipley were living together in Houston. Vasquez was working in the marketing department for Shipley Do-Nut when she became pregnant. The relationship was rocky; following a fight, Shipley fired Vasquez. Vasquez left Houston and moved back to San Antonio. Vasquez, however, continued to talk with Shipley and traveled several times to Houston. Vasquez alleges that during one of these trips to Houston, at Shipley's insistence, she reluctantly agreed to terminate the pregnancy. However, after Shipley and Vasquez arrived at the hospital, when Vasquez was alone with the doctor, Vasquez changed her mind. She talked with a social worker for a little while, and then the hospital gave her a sedative so she could relax and go to sleep. When she woke, she was in her hospital room alone, and Shipley had placed her four pieces of luggage in her room. Shipley was gone. Vasquez called her parents in San Antonio to pick her up and take her back to San Antonio.

         Five months into her pregnancy, Vasquez suffered a miscarriage. By all accounts, Vasquez was devastated. Over the next couple of months, Vasquez and Shipley attempted to reconcile. Vasquez again flew to Houston to live with Shipley. On August 28, 1999, following another fight, Shipley left Vasquez at the airport and bought her a ticket back to San Antonio. When Vasquez arrived in San Antonio, instead of calling her parents, she rented a car. By her own account, Vasquez left the airport and stopped at the pharmacy to refill her anti-anxiety medication. Vasquez does not remember anything beyond driving on Highway 281 before she "blacked out." Vasquez was involved in a car wreck in which a person was killed. After several days in the hospital, Vasquez was released. Shortly thereafter, Shipley called Vasquez to see if she was okay. Vasquez and Shipley began dating again and Vasquez moved back to Houston.

         B. Birth of L.N.S.

         In November of 1999, Vasquez became pregnant again. Vasquez moved back to San Antonio to live with her parents, and she and Shipley continued to maintain a long-distance relationship.

         In June of 2000, during the seventh month of her pregnancy, Vasquez was charged with intoxication manslaughter for the August 1999 accident. Approximately one month later, Vasquez gave birth, prematurely, to her daughter L.N.S. Beyond requiring a little extra time at the hospital, L.N.S. and Vasquez returned to live with Vasquez's parents. Six weeks later, Vasquez and L.N.S. moved to Galveston so that they could be closer to Shipley. In Galveston, Vasquez and L.N.S. regularly saw Shipley. In March of 2001, Vasquez ended the relationship when she learned Shipley was involved in another relationship.

         In May of 2001, Vasquez entered a plea of no contest on the intoxication manslaughter charge and was sentenced to ten-years' confinement in the Institutional Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

         In June of 2001, Shipley filed suit in Bexar County to establish parentage. Vasquez and Shipley agreed Shipley would pay child support of $600.00 per month. During her incarceration, Vasquez's parents raised L.N.S. All parties agree that Shipley paid the $600.00 per month to Vasquez's parents throughout Vasquez's incarceration. Shipley did not attempt to see L.N.S. at any point during this time period. Vasquez testified her parents struggled to support L.N.S. during this time.

         C. Events between November 2008 and June 2012

         Following Vasquez's release from prison in November of 2008, Vasquez and Shipley again began talking. By this point, Shipley was married and the father of two boys. The record substantiates that Shipley voluntarily increased the monthly child support payments for L.N.S. to $750.00 per month and then to $1, 500.00 per month. Shipley also agreed to pay for L.N.S.'s private school tuition. Vasquez contends Shipley repeatedly rejected any meeting with L.N.S.

         During the summer of 2011, Shipley agreed that Vasquez and L.N.S. should move out of her parents' house. Vasquez ...

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