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Yates Brothers Motor Company, Inc v. Watson

Court of Appeals of Texas, Sixth District, Texarkana

March 29, 2018


          Date Submitted: March 6, 2018

          On Appeal from the 170th District Court McLennan County, Texas Trial Court No. 2014-1758-4

          Before Morriss, C.J., Moseley and Burgess, JJ.


          Ralph K. Burgess Justice .

         Donna Watson sued Yates Brothers Motor Company, Inc. (Yates), for breach of contract, conversion, violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA), and DTPA unconscionability after Yates repossessed her motor vehicle. A McLennan County jury found all issues in Watson's favor and rendered a verdict against Yates.[1] On appeal, Yates argues that the trial court erred in failing to grant its motion for new trial because, among other things, (1) it conclusively established its breach of contract counterclaim against Watson and (2) there was no evidence to support the jury's verdict on the DTPA unconscionability claim. We conclude otherwise and affirm the trial court's judgment.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         On February 20, 2014, when Watson purchased a 2007 Toyota Tundra from Yates, she entered into a Motor Vehicle Installment Sales Contract and an Insurance Addendum Agreement (collectively referred to as the Contract). Watson made a $2, 000.00 cash payment, financed the remaining $16, 282.94 with Yates at an interest rate of 17.55%, and agreed to make payments of $210.00 every two weeks beginning on March 8, 2014.[2]

         Pursuant to the terms of the Contract, Watson was required to provide written proof of her insurance, make timely payments, and inform Yates in writing of a change "in [her] address or the address where [she would] keep the motor vehicle." At trial, Yates argued that it repossessed Watson's vehicle for failing to comply with those contractual requirements. The jury disagreed and concluded that Yates' treatment of Watson constituted unconscionable conduct.

         A. Proof of Insurance

         In relevant part, the Contract stated,

If I fail to give you proof that I have insurance, you may buy physical damage insurance. . . . I will pay the premium for the insurance and a finance charge at the contract rate. If you obtain collateral protection insurance, you will mail notice to my last known address shown in your file.
If I default, you may repossess the motor vehicle from me if you do so peacefully.
If you take my motor vehicle, you will tell me how much I have to pay to get it back.
The contract also provided,
I must keep the collateral insured against damage or loss in the amount I owe. . . . I must keep this insurance until I have paid all that I owe under this contract. I may obtain property insurance from anyone I want or provide proof of insurance I already have. . . . I agree to give you proof of property insurance. . . .
I also understand that I may purchase the required comprehensive and collision insurance from any insurance company licenses [sic] in Texas but that it is my responsibility to provide written proof to Yates Brothers Motor Co., Inc.[, ] showing that the required comprehensive and collision coverage is in effect at all times. Yates Brothers Motor Co., Inc.[, ] has the right to repossess the vehicle if I do not . . . provide written proof of the required insurance coverage at all times.

         It is undisputed that Watson had the insurance coverage required by Yates at all times. Watson insured the vehicle on the date it was purchased through Texas Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company, with coverage expiring on March 20, 2014. On March 5, 2014, Watson purchased insurance on the vehicle from Farmers Texas County Mutual Insurance Company (Farmers), with coverage beginning on March 10 and ending on September 10, 2014. Nevertheless, initially citing only Watson's failure to notify Yates of her insurance coverage, Yates repossessed the vehicle on Monday, April 7, 2014.

         At trial, Watson informed the jury that she had given Yates' business card, which Yates provided to her when she purchased the vehicle, to Farmers so it could mail proof of insurance to Yates' address. Jeff Holder, Watson's insurance agent from Farmers, testified that proof of Watson's insurance was mailed to Yates on March 6, 2014, and that Farmers' computer records reflected that fact.[3] Watson testified that, although she did not remember who she spoke with, she called Yates on March 5 to notify it that she had a new policy with Farmers and that proof of insurance would promptly be mailed by Farmers.

         According to Yates, it did not receive Watson's proof of insurance, and it repossessed Watson's vehicle. On the morning of April 8, 2017, Watson called the police after she found her only means of transportation to work missing. Although she had received no communication from Yates, the police informed her that Yates had contacted them to report that it would be towing Watson's vehicle. Shocked, Watson called Yates and spoke with Maria Jesus Fuentes, Yates' location manager. Both Watson and Fuentes stated that Fuentes said the only reason for the repossession was failure to provide proof of insurance. Fuentes testified that there was no record of Watson's previous call notifying them that she had obtained the insurance.[4] Holder testified that Watson called him on the day after the repossession and that he personally faxed proof of insurance to Yates on that day.

         Even after Watson provided written proof that she had maintained insurance on the vehicle at all times, Yates failed to return her vehicle, stating that she now had to pay a $500.00 repossession fee to secure its return.[5] It later sold Watson's vehicle.

         B. Timely Payment

         Under the contract, Watson's bi-monthly payments were to begin on March 8, 2014. The Contract provided that Watson would be subject to a late charge if her payment was not received within fifteen days of its due date. Watson testified that she was current with her payments.

         At trial, Yates' corporate representative, Clint Yates, agreed that Watson had made two early payments of $210.00, and had paid a total of $630.00 prior to the repossession. Yet, both Clint and Fuentes testified that Watson failed to make a payment on Saturday, ...

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