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Kaur-Gardner v. Keane Landscaping, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

May 14, 2018

MANJIT KAUR-GARDNER, Appellant
v.
KEANE LANDSCAPING, INC., Appellee

          On Appeal from the County Court at Law No. 6 Collin County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 006-00355-2016

          Before Justices Lang, Fillmore, and Schenck.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ROBERT M. FILLMORE JUSTICE.

         Keane Landscaping, Inc. (KLI) performed extensive landscaping work in Manjit Kaur-Gardner's backyard. Kaur-Gardner paid KLI a total of $40, 000 for the work, but refused to pay all of KLI's charges. KLI sued Kaur-Gardner, asserting claims for breach of contract, suit on a sworn account, and quantum meruit. The trial court awarded KLI actual damages of $400 and attorney's fees of $2, 032. The trial court made findings of fact and conclusions of law that supported recovery by KLI on its breach of contract claim or, alternatively, on its quantum meruit claim.

         Kaur-Gardner appealed, contending in five issues that (1) the evidence is legally insufficient to prove the reasonable value of the benefit she allegedly received or that she either accepted KLI's services and materials or used and enjoyed them; and (2) the trial court erred by awarding damages based on breach of contract on KLI's claim for quantum meruit, granting a directed verdict on its own initiative without allowing Kaur-Gardner the opportunity to present her defense, and making alternative conclusions of law.[1] We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Background

         After KLI installed a concrete pad under a fence in Kaur-Gardner's backyard, she requested a proposal for extensive landscaping work at her house. Maurice Keane prepared a proposal for Kaur-Gardner that included landscaping in the front, side, and back yards of her house. The proposal segregated the work into different categories labeled "A" through "M." As "phase one" of the project, Kaur-Gardner approved work included in categories E through J of the proposal, which related to extending and staining the patio in the backyard, constructing a cedar arbor with an outdoor kitchen, modifying the irrigation system, and constructing a concrete pad for Kaur-Gardner's trashcans. KLI charged $32, 426.29 for the phase one work. Kaur-Gardner gave Keane a check in the amount of $17, 000, and wrote in the memorandum line of the check "1/2 down Phase 1."

         KLI began performing the work approved by Kaur-Gardner. Before phase one was completed, Kaur-Gardner approved the work in categories K through M of the proposal, which related to the installation of plants and trees in the backyard. The parties referred to this work as "phase two." KLI charged $14, 613.75 for the work in phase two. Keane testified Kaur-Gardner requested additional work that was not included in the original proposal. Keane referred to this work as a "change order." According to Keane, the charges for the additional work were $3, 247.50. Kaur-Gardner, however, testified she believed the work in the "change order" was encompassed in the original proposal.

         Keane testified that after both phases were completed, he performed a walk-through with Kaur-Gardner and she was happy with the work. Kaur-Gardner paid KLI an additional $23, 000, and requested a few days to allow her family an opportunity to inspect the work before she paid the remaining balance. Kaur-Gardner later gave Keane a "check list" of eight items she believed needed to be corrected. Although KLI attempted to complete the items, it did not do so to Kaur-Gardner's satisfaction. Kaur-Gardner refused to allow KLI to return to her property and hired other contractors to address the identified issues.

         KLI sued Kaur-Gardner, seeking to recover $10, 287.56, the amount it alleged Kaur-Gardner owed for the work KLI had performed. Although she admitted KLI performed work for her, Kaur-Gardner disputed the quality of the work and testified she believed she owed KLI only $400.

         After KLI rested its case-in-chief, Kaur-Gardner moved for a "directed finding" on each of KLI's claims. Kaur-Gardner argued there was no evidence of either a contract or the reasonable value of any services or materials provided by KLI. After KLI "withdrew" its suit on a sworn account, the trial court stated the parties did not have a contract and it was taking the quantum meruit claim under advisement "to make a determination as to damages." The trial court indicated it was going to take "some time to sift through to determine reasonableness based upon the documentation." Kaur-Gardner requested that she be allowed to file a post-submission brief "with regard to the fact that the - the contract price can't be used for quantum meruit, that there has to be something separate submitted." The trial court indicated both parties could "present any briefs they care to provide to this Court." In its post-submission brief, KLI requested the trial court reconsider its ruling on the breach of contract claim.

         The trial court rendered judgment in favor of KLI for $400 in actual damages and $2, 032 in attorney's fees without specifying the basis of its ruling. In its written findings of fact and conclusions of law, the trial court concluded the parties operated under an express contract, Kaur-Gardner failed to fully perform under the contract, and KLI suffered actual damages of $400. In the alternative, the trial court concluded KLI had proved it was entitled to recover on its quantum meruit claim.[2]

         "Directed Verdict" on Quantum Meruit Claim

         In her fourth issue, Kaur-Gardner argues the trial court erred by sua sponte granting a "directed verdict" in favor of KLI on its quantum meruit claim at the close of KLI's case-in-chief. Kaur-Gardner contends the trial court should have given her an "opportunity to proceed with her ...


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