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Healey v. Romero

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

May 7, 2018

MARC HEALEY, Appellant

          On Appeal from the County Court at Law No. 2 Kaufman County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 92099CC2

          Before Justices Lang-Miers, Evans, and Schenck



         After a bench trial, the trial court rendered judgment that Natasha Hall and Royce Hall III, d/b/a No Limit Retrievers[1] are the owners of the Labrador retriever female "Road Warrior's Princess Xena" ("Xena"). Because the evidence was sufficient to support the trial court's judgment, we affirm.


         The Halls brought this suit against Healey seeking a declaratory judgment that they are the lawful owners of Xena, an elite-pedigreed female Labrador retriever. The Halls claimed that they made an oral contract with Healey in the summer of 2013 to purchase Xena, and that Healey breached that agreement by failing to sign necessary registration papers. In the alternative, the Halls claimed that they were entitled to substantial damages under the theories of quantum meruit and promissory estoppel, having cared for Xena since 2013 and her litter of seven puppies since their birth in June 2014. Healey answered, raising the affirmative defenses of the statute of frauds and failure of consideration. In addition, Healey filed a counterclaim for conversion.

         After a bench trial, the trial court rendered judgment for the Halls. Healey's request for findings of fact and conclusions of law was not timely; consequently, the trial court did not make any findings or conclusions. Healey's motion for new trial was overruled by operation of law. This appeal followed.

         Healey raised three issues in his original appellate brief. Two of those issues, complaining about the lack of a reporter's record, have been resolved in Healey's favor by this Court's Order of October 5, 2017, and the filing of a reporter's record in this appeal. The only remaining issue is Healey's challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence to support the trial court's judgment.

         Standard of Review

         When no findings of fact were filed, as in this case, the reviewing court implies all necessary findings to support the judgment. Torrington Co. v. Stutzman, 46 S.W.3d 829, 842 (Tex. 2000). Implied findings of fact, like the trial court's findings, may be challenged for legal and factual sufficiency. McCord v. Goode, 308 S.W.3d 409, 412-13 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2010, no pet.). The standard of review is the same as that applied to a jury's findings and a trial court's findings of fact. Affordable Power, L.P. v. Buckeye Ventures, Inc., 347 S.W.3d 825, 829 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2011, no pet.). However, where no findings of fact were entered, the trial court's judgment will be affirmed if it can be upheld upon any basis that has support in the record under any theory of law applicable to the case. Id. at 829-30.

          When, as here, the challenging party did not have the burden of proof at trial, the challenging party must demonstrate on appeal that there is no evidence to support the trial court's adverse findings. Croucher v. Croucher, 660 S.W.2d 55, 58 (Tex. 1983); Pete Dominguez Enters., Inc. v. County of Dallas, 188 S.W.3d 385, 387 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2006, no pet.). Under the no-evidence standard of review, we consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the finding, indulging every reasonable inference in support. City of Keller v. Wilson, 168 S.W.3d 802, 822 (Tex. 2005). A legal insufficiency challenge fails if there is more than a scintilla of evidence to support the verdict. Affordable Power, L.P., 347 S.W.3d at 829-30. If, however, the evidence offered to prove a vital fact is so weak as to do no more than create a surmise or suspicion of its existence, the evidence is no more than a scintilla and is legally no evidence. Kindred v. Con/Chem, Inc., 650 S.W.2d 61, 63 (Tex. 1983).

         For his factual sufficiency challenge, Healey must demonstrate there is insufficient evidence to support the adverse finding. Pulley v. Milberger, 198 S.W.3d 418, 426 (Tex. App.- Dallas 2006, pet. denied). In reviewing a factual sufficiency challenge, we consider and weigh all of the evidence in support of and contrary to the trial court's finding and will set aside the finding only if the evidence supporting the finding is so slight, or the evidence against it so strong, that the finding is clearly wrong and unjust. See Cain v. Bain, 709 S.W.2d 175, 176 (Tex.1986) (per curiam). The amount of evidence necessary to affirm a judgment is far less than that necessary to reverse a judgment. Pulley, 198 S.W.3d at 427.

         In a bench trial, the trial court, as fact finder, is the sole judge of the credibility of the witnesses. Weisfeld v. Tex. Land Fin. Co., 162 S.W.3d 379, 380-81 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2005, no pet.). The trial court may take into consideration all the facts and surrounding circumstances in connection with the testimony of each witness and accept or reject all or any part of that testimony. Id.


         The existence of a valid contract is one of the essential elements of a breach of contract claim. See Kay v. N. Tex. Rod & Custom, 109 S.W.3d 924, 927 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2003, no pet.) (setting out elements of breach of contract claim). Parties form a binding contract when the following elements are present: (1) an offer, (2) an acceptance in strict compliance with the terms of the offer, (3) a meeting of the minds, (4) each party's consent to the terms, and (5) execution and delivery of the contract with the intent that it be mutual and binding. Levetz v. Sutton, 404 S.W.3d 798, 803 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2013, pet. denied).

         Whether the parties formed a contract is generally a fact question, although it may be determined as a matter of law. See WTG Gas Processing, L.P. v. ConocoPhillips Co., 309 S.W.3d 635, 643 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2010, pet. denied); see also Foreca, S.A. v. GRD Dev. Co., 758 S.W.2d 744, 746 (Tex. 1988) (whether parties intended to enter into binding agreement is often question of fact). An enforceable and legally binding contract exists if it is ...

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