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Spaulding v. Sumrall

Court of Appeals of Texas, Ninth District, Beaumont

May 24, 2018


          Submitted on March 13, 2018

          On Appeal from the County Court at Law No. 1 Jefferson County, Texas Trial Cause No. 118028

          Before McKeithen, C.J., Horton and Johnson, JJ.


          HOLLIS HORTON Justice

         The main issue we are required to consider in resolving this appeal is whether lay testimony about the value of a classic car, which was acquired by trade, offers any probative value to prove what a car like the one the plaintiff claimed he had acquired in the trade should have been worth. The trial court employed a benefit-of-the-bargain measure of damages when awarding damages, and based its award on the plaintiff's testimony about what a car like the one he believed he acquired in the trade should have been worth.

         We conclude the testimony before the trial court regarding the value of the classic car was incompetent to prove the car's market value on the date the trade occurred. Because the plaintiff's lay opinion about the car's value was the only evidence admitted in the trial regarding the car's value, we conclude the plaintiff failed to meet his burden to establish that he suffered any damages due to the trade he agreed to make to acquire the classic car. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's judgment and render a take-nothing judgment in the defendant's favor.


         This appeal stems from a dispute between the two parties who made a trade involving a 1974 Corvette Stingray. In the trade, the plaintiff exchanged his 25-foot power catamaran in return for the defendant's foreign sports car, a 1974 Corvette Stingray, and $20, 000. In the suit, the plaintiff claimed that the Stingray had been represented as having all original equipment, including a 454-cubic-inch engine, when the car had been modified with an aftermarket 454-cubic-inch engine that replaced the car's original 350-cubic-inch engine.

         The evidence from the trial shows Troy Sumrall purchased the catamaran for $55, 000 from a bankruptcy estate. After Sumrall acquired the catamaran, he advertised it for sale on the internet for $65, 000. Sumrall's listing indicated that he would consider both cash proposals and trades. When Travis Spaulding, the defendant in the proceedings in the trial court, learned the catamaran was for sale, he called Sumrall and asked if he could look at it. Eventually, Spaulding traveled from his home in Blanco County to Sumrall's home in Jefferson County to examine the catamaran. After discussing the amount of cash that Sumrall wanted for his catamaran, the parties settled upon an agreement that involved a trade. The agreement the parties made required Sumrall to convey his catamaran to Spaulding for Spaulding's foreign sports car and a fishing boat, and required Spaulding to give Sumrall between $20, 000 to $25, 000 in cash, with the understanding that the exact amount of cash that would change hands would be decided after Sumrall had examined Spaulding's sports car and fishing boat, items that were located at Spaulding's home in Blanco County.

         Subsequently, Sumrall took his catamaran to Blanco County where he inspected Spaulding's fishing boat and sports car. During the trial, Sumrall testified that his inspection revealed that the fishing boat was in poor condition, which led him to decide that he did not want it. After looking at Spaulding's fishing boat, Sumrall inspected the sports car, and he determined that it was in a condition he found acceptable for the purposes of the trade.

         As the agreement was about to fail due to the condition of Spaulding's fishing boat, Spaulding offered to substitute a 1974 Corvette Stingray that he and his wife owned in the transaction as a replacement for trading his fishing boat. During the trial, both parties agreed that Spaulding first mentioned the Stingray when Spaulding was in Jefferson County, and that the Stingray was not included in the trade that the parties had settled upon when they made the agreement they reached in Jefferson County regarding the trade. Nonetheless, according to Sumrall, when Spaulding first mentioned that he owned the Stingray while the parties were in Jefferson County, Spaulding said the car was "all original, " and that it had a factory installed 454-cubic-inch engine. After Sumrall went to Blanco County and Spaulding offered to substitute the Stingray to save the parties' trade, Sumrall agreed to an exchange that required him to exchange the catamaran for Spaulding's Stingray, a foreign sports car, and $20, 000 in cash.

         After acquiring the Stingray, Sumrall offered to sell it on the internet for $32, 000. During the trial, Sumrall testified that he determined what he should ask for the Stingray after reviewing advertised prices for Stingrays like the one he believed he had acquired from Spaulding. According to Sumrall, the Stingray was listed as having "all original" equipment in the listing that he used to advertise the car for sale. Sumrall received several inquiries in response to the listing for the Stingray, but got no offers. According to Sumrall, one of the individuals who contacted him informed him that the Stingray had originally been equipped with a 350-cubic-inch engine, and he also learned from the same caller that the engine now in the car was not the engine the car came with when it was originally sold. Sumrall explained that the caller told him that this information could be determined by using the car's vehicle identification number (VIN), [1] from information that was widely available.

         After learning that the Stingray was not equipped with its original engine, Sumrall changed his listing on the Stingray, disclosing that the Stingray was equipped with an aftermarket, 454-cubic-inch engine and aftermarket badges. Sumrall ultimately sold the Stingray for $14, 000, $18, 000 less than the price he originally asked for the car when it was first listed for sale.

         In February 2011, Sumrall sued Spaulding in Jefferson County alleging that Spaulding had misrepresented the car as being equipped with all original equipment when it was not. The theories in Sumrall's petition include claims for breach of contract, deceptive trade practices, negligent misrepresentation, and fraud.

         Spaulding filed a motion asking that the case be transferred to Blanco County in response to Sumrall's suit. According to Spaulding's motion, the agreement for the Stingray occurred in Blanco County, not Jefferson County, and he claimed that Jefferson County was not a county of proper venue for the suit. When Sumrall responded to Spaulding's motion, he alleged that "[w]hile it is true that [he] traveled to Spaulding's residence to view the assets, …the terms and conditions of the agreement…[were] negotiated…in Jefferson County, Texas."

         The trial court conducted a hearing on Spaulding's motion to transfer venue in August 2012. One week later, the motion was denied by written order. Subsequently, Spaulding amended his answer and filed a counterclaim against Sumrall, alleging that Sumrall had falsely represented that the ...

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