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National Land Records, LLC v. Peirsonpatterson, LLP

Court of Appeals of Texas, Twelfth District, Tyler

June 30, 2017

NATIONAL LAND RECORDS, LLC, APPELLANT
v.
PEIRSONPATTERSON, LLP AND DIGITAL DOCS, INC., APPELLEES

         APPEAL FROM THE 158TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT DENTON COUNTY, TEXAS Tr.Ct.No. 15-02287-158

          Panel consisted of Worthen, C.J., Hoyle, J., and Bass, Retired J., Twelfth Court of Appeals, sitting by assignment.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          BILL BASS Justice.

         National Land Records, LLC, (NLR) appeals from a summary judgment granted in favor of Peirson Patterson LLP and Digital Docs collectively referred to as (Peirson) in a contract case. In two issues, NLR challenges the trial court's summary judgment ruling and award of attorney's fees. We affirm.

         Background

         According to the record, NLR and Peirson entered into an agreement for NLR to provide document recording services to Peirson. In January 2015, NLR sued Chase Manhattan Mortgage Corporation and JP Morgan Chase Bank NA (JPMC) for breach of contract and quantum meruit, alleging that JPMC, through its purported agent Peirson, contacted NLR on JPMC's behalf and arranged for recordation of documents related to JPMC's mortgage portfolios. NLR alleged that, in order to record the documents on behalf of JPMC, NLR agreed to advance or prepay county recording fees, eRecording fees, postage, courier fees, and abstracter's fees as needed. NLR further alleged that JPMC would pay an agreed service fee and reimburse NLR for expenses incurred in the recording process. In this first lawsuit, NLR did not sue Peirson. Rather, NLR alleged that JPMC had intentionally granted Peirson the authority to act on JPMC's behalf and that Peirson was acting within the scope of its authority in securing recording services from NLR.

         In February, the first lawsuit was removed to federal court and JPMC filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). NLR did not respond to the motion and, as a result, NLR was deemed unopposed to the motion. The federal court granted the motion.

         NLR filed the instant lawsuit on March 23, and added Peirson as a defendant, but alleged the same facts, causes of action, and theory of liability. NLR alleged that it sent an itemized list of services and costs to Peirson, which totaled approximately $3.3 million and that Peirson paid approximately $2.8 million toward those invoices, leaving a balance owed of $485, 497.75. NLR asserted causes of action for suit on sworn account, breach of contract, and quantum meruit.

         On April 25, 2016, Peirson filed a Second Amended Answer, Affirmative Defenses and Counterclaims. On April 26, Peirson moved for summary judgment on its affirmative defense of res judicata. A week before the hearing on the motion for summary judgment, NLR amended its petition to remove JPMC as a defendant. The trial court granted partial summary judgment, ordering that NLR take nothing on its claims. Peirson subsequently nonsuited its counterclaims against NLR and the trial court entered final judgment on June 9. This appeal followed.

         Res Judicata

         In its first issue, NLR contends that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment, because Peirson failed to establish all of the elements of its affirmative defense of res judicata.

         Standard of Review and Burden of Proof

         An appellate court reviews a summary judgment de novo. Valence Operating Co. v. Dorsett, 164 S.W.3d 656, 661 (Tex. 2005). In determining whether there is a fact issue precluding summary judgment on evidentiary grounds, evidence favorable to the nonmovant is taken as true and the reviewing court makes all reasonable inferences and resolves all doubts in the nonmovant's favor. Id.

         To prevail on a traditional summary judgment motion, the movant has the burden of proving that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law and that there is no issue of material fact. Tex.R.Civ.P. 166a(c); Provident Life & Accident Ins. Co. v. Knott, 128 S.W.3d 211, 215-16 (Tex. 2003). A defendant moving for summary judgment must either (1) disprove at least one essential element of the plaintiff's cause of action, or (2) plead and conclusively establish each ...


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