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L.L.C. v. Bradford

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

November 29, 2017

402 LONE STAR PROPERTY, L.L.C. and Craig Otto, Appellants
v.
Barry L. BRADFORD, Appellee

         From the 438th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2014-CI-08653 Honorable Gloria Saldaña, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice, Karen Angelini, Justice Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PATRICIA O. ALVAREZ, JUSTICE.

         402 Lone Star Property, L.L.C. (the "Company") and Craig Otto[1] appeal the trial court's judgment awarding damages and attorney's fees to Barry L. Bradford based on a jury's findings that the Company and Otto made a fraudulent lien or claim against Bradford's home and engaged in common law fraud. On appeal, the Company and Otto challenge the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence to support the jury's liability findings and the damage awards. Alternatively, the Company and Otto contend: (1) the exemplary damage award is grossly excessive and unconstitutional; and (2) Texas law precludes Bradford's recovery of the same damages for his alternative theories of liability. We reverse the portion of the trial court's judgment awarding Bradford actual damages for his common law fraud claim and render judgment limiting Bradford's recovery to the damages and attorney's fees awarded based on the jury's finding that the Company and Otto made a fraudulent lien or claim against Bradford's home. We affirm the remainder of the judgment.

         Background

         Because Bradford failed to pay his homeowners' association fees, the homeowners' association obtained an order authorizing it to foreclose on Bradford's home. The Company purchased the home at a foreclosure sale on October 1, 2013.[2]

         On October 3, 2013, the Company posted a demand to vacate notice on Bradford's door, informing him of the foreclosure sale and demanding that he vacate the property. The notice stated that if Bradford did not honor the demand, a forcible detainer action would be filed against him.

         Bradford immediately contacted an attorney and signed a retainer agreement on October 4, 2013. On October 7, 2013, Bradford's attorney sent a letter to the homeowners' association and the Company informing them of Bradford's intention to redeem his home pursuant to section 209.011 of the Texas Property Code and requesting a detail of the amount Bradford was required to pay to redeem his home.

         On October 8, 2013, the Company posted a second notice to vacate on Bradford's door demanding that Bradford surrender possession of his home within three days. On October 15, 2013, the Company filed a forcible entry and detainer action in justice court and posted a copy of the petition on Bradford's door. On October 18, 2013, the Company sent Bradford's attorney a Property Redemption Payoff Statement stating the total amount Bradford was required to pay to redeem his home was $5, 877.22 and providing the following detail:

$1, 401.22 due as per Texas Property Code 209.011(e)(2)(E)
$ 120.00 due as per Texas Property Code 209.011(e)(2)(C)
$4, 356.00 due as per Texas Property Code 209.011(e)(2)(B)

         On October 22, 2013, Bradford's attorney mailed the Company a cashier's check for $5, 877.22.

         On October 25, 2013, the Company filed a motion to dismiss its forcible entry and detainer action. Three days later, the justice court signed an order granting the motion to dismiss, and the Company recorded a deed re-conveying Bradford's home to him.

         On May 30, 2014, Bradford filed the underlying lawsuit asserting various claims against the Company and Otto for inflating the amounts due on the Property Redemption Payoff Statement. At trial, Bradford proceeded only on his common law fraud claim and his claim that the Company and Otto made a fraudulent lien or claim against his home. As previously noted, the jury found the Company and Otto were liable on both claims and awarded Bradford damages and attorney's fees. Based on the jury's findings, the trial court signed a judgment awarding Bradford: (1) $20, 000 in damages and $25, 000 in exemplary damages for his claim that the Company and Otto made a fraudulent lien or claim against his home; (2) $1, 859.22 in actual damages for his common law fraud claim; (3) $5, 000 in attorney's fees; (4) $10, 000 in conditional appellate attorney's fees; and (5) court costs. The Company and Otto appeal.

         Double Recovery

         We first address one of the alternative issues asserted by the Company and Otto because the resolution of this issue impacts our remaining analysis. In their second alternative issue, the Company and Otto contend Bradford was not entitled to recover damages for both of his claims because Texas law precludes a double recovery for a single injury.

         A. Applicable Law

         "A party is entitled to bring suit and seek damages on alternative theories; however, the plaintiff may not recover on both theories because these would amount to a 'double recovery.'" Marin Real Estate Partners, L.P. v. Vogt, 373 S.W.3d 57, 76 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2011, no pet.); see also Foley v. Parlier, 68 S.W.3d 870, 882 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2002, no pet.) (same). "A double recovery exists when a plaintiff obtains more than one recovery for the same injury." Waite Hill Servs., Inc. v. World Class Metal Works, Inc., 959 S.W.2d 182, 184 (Tex. 1998); see also Marin Real Estate Partners, L.P., 373 S.W.3d at 76 (describing double recovery as being "awarded more than one recovery for the same injury"). "'Texas law does not permit double recovery.'" Marin Real Estate Partners, L.P., 373 S.W.3d at 76 (quoting Parkway Co. v. Woodruff, 901 S.W.2d 434, 441 (Tex. 1995)). "The prohibition against double recovery is a corollary of the rule that a party is entitled to but one satisfaction for the injuries sustained by him." Foley, 68 S.W.3d at 883; see also Marin Real Estate Partners, L.P., 373 S.W.3d at 76 (noting "prohibition against double recovery is a corollary to the one satisfaction rule"). Whether a party has received a double recovery is a question of law that we review de novo. Marin Real Estate Partners, L.P., 373 S.W.3d at 75.

         B. Analysis

         In this case, both of Bradford's claims sought to recover damages for fraudulent misrepresentations the Company and Otto allegedly made in the Property Redemption Payoff Statement regarding the amount Bradford was required to pay to redeem his home. Therefore, both claims sought to recover damages for the same injury. Although Bradford was entitled to pursue the alternative claims in seeking damages for his injury, recovering on both theories is prohibited. Parkway Co., 901 S.W.2d at 441; Marin Real Estate Partners, L.P., 373 S.W.3d at 76; Foley, 68 S.W.3d at 883.

         C. Effect of Double Recovery on Judgment and Appeal

         If a party receives favorable findings on two alternative theories of liability, the party has a right to a judgment on the theory entitling him to the greatest relief. E.F. Johnson Co. v. Infinity Glob. Tech., No. 05-14-01209-CV, 2016 WL 4254496, at *14 (Tex. App.-Dallas Aug. 11, 2016, no pet.) (mem. op.). If the prevailing party fails to elect between his alternative remedies, the trial court should render judgment on the theory affording the greatest recovery. Id.; Main Place Custom Homes, Inc. v. Honaker, 192 S.W.3d 604, 613 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2006, pet. denied). "If the trial court does not do so, the appellate court must determine the greatest theory of recovery and render judgment accordingly." E.F. Johnson Co., 2016 WL 4254496, at *14; see also Main Place Custom Homes, Inc., 192 S.W.3d at 613.

         We must now examine the remaining issues raised by the Company and Otto on appeal to determine which of Bradford's claims afforded him the greatest relief.

         Sufficiency of the Evidence

         In their first two issues, the Company and Otto contend the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the jury's liability findings, and, alternatively, the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the amount of damages awarded based on those liability findings.

         A. Standard of Review

         "The final test for legal sufficiency must always be whether the evidence at trial would enable reasonable and fair-minded people to reach the verdict under review." City of Keller v. Wilson, 168 S.W.3d 802, 827 (Tex. 2005). In reviewing a legal sufficiency challenge, we "view the evidence in the light favorable to the verdict, crediting favorable evidence if reasonable jurors could, and disregarding contrary evidence unless reasonable jurors could not." Id. at 807. Evidence is legally insufficient when the record discloses: (1) a complete absence of evidence of a vital fact; (2) the court is barred by rules of law or of evidence from giving weight to the only evidence offered to prove a vital fact; (3) the evidence offered to prove a vital fact is no more than a mere scintilla; or (4) the evidence establishes conclusively the opposite of a vital fact. Id. at 810 (internal quotation omitted).

         In a factual sufficiency review, we consider all the evidence supporting and contradicting the jury's finding. Plas-Tex, Inc. v. U.S. Steel Corp., 772 S.W.2d 442, 445 (Tex. 1989). We set aside the jury's verdict "only if it is so contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence as to be clearly wrong and unjust." Cain v. Bain, 709 S.W.2d 175, 176 (Tex. 1986).

         Whether reviewing the legal or factual sufficiency of the evidence, the jurors are the sole judges of the credibility of the witnesses and the weight to be given their testimony, and may choose to believe ...


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