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Thomas Oilfield Services, LLC v. Clark

Court of Appeals of Texas, Twelfth District, Tyler

July 10, 2019

THOMAS OILFIELD SERVICES, LLC/CROSS-APPELLEE, APPELLANT
v.
ALBERT CLARK/CROSS-APPELLANT, APPELLEE

          Appeal from the 97th District Court of Montague County, Texas (Tr.Ct.No. 2015-0316M-CV)

          Panel consisted of Worthen, C.J., Hoyle, J., and Neeley, J.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          BRIAN HOYLE JUSTICE

         Thomas Oilfield Services, L.L.C. (TOS) appeals the judgment in favor of Albert Clark. In eight issues, it challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the judgment. In a single issue on cross appeal, Clark urges the trial court erred in denying his claim for attorney's fees. We reverse and render.

         Background

         Clark was employed by TOS in May 2015. His duties included overseeing TOS's production operations crews. Clark claims that he suffered heat stroke while working for TOS in July 2015, which lead to the onset of seizures. Clark contacted an attorney to pursue filing a workers' compensation incident report. Shortly thereafter, according to Clark, TOS terminated his employment.

         Clark sued TOS for (1) breaching his employment contract, and (2) violating the Texas Labor Code by retaliating against him for retaining counsel to pursue a workers' compensation claim. Clark later moved for summary judgment, claiming entitlement to judgment as a matter of law on both his breach of contract and retaliatory discharge claims. TOS responded to the motion. Clark filed a reply to TOS's response and objected to TOS's summary judgment evidence. Following a hearing, the trial court sustained Clark's objections to TOS's evidence and granted summary judgment for Clark. TOS appealed to this Court and we held that the summary judgment was improper and fact issues existed on both Clark's breach of contract and retaliatory discharge claims.[1] Accordingly, we reversed and remanded to the trial court.

         On remand, Clark amended his petition to include a claim for promissory estoppel. TOS filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted in part. The trial court ordered that Clark could not recover attorney's fees with respect to his breach of contract and promissory estoppel claims.

         Subsequently, following presentation of evidence during a jury trial, TOS moved for a directed verdict on all of Clark's claims. The trial court granted TOS's motion with respect to the malice portion of Clark's retaliatory discharge claim. The remaining claims were submitted to the jury. The jury found that (1) no employment contract existed between Clark and TOS, and (2) TOS did not retaliate against Clark for filing a worker's compensation claim or hiring an attorney. However, the jury found in favor of Clark on his promissory estoppel claim and awarded $81, 425.43 in damages to Clark.

         The trial court entered judgment in accordance with the jury's verdict. TOS filed a motion to disregard the jury's findings on the promissory estoppel claims. Following a hearing, the trial court denied the motion but reduced the amount of prejudgment interest. This appeal and cross appeal followed.

         Sufficiency of the Evidence

         In its eight issues, TOS challenges the legal sufficiency of the evidence supporting the jury's verdict and the trial court's judgment. The first and second issues contend the evidence is legally insufficient to support the damages award for promissory estoppel. Issues three, four, five, six, seven, and eight urge the evidence is legally insufficient to support the elements of promissory estoppel. Because they are dispositive, we address issues one and two first.

         Standard of Review

         A party who challenges the legal sufficiency of the evidence to support an issue upon which it did not have the burden of proof at trial must demonstrate on appeal that there is no evidence to support the adverse finding. G.D. Holdings, Inc. v. H.D.H. Land & Timber, L.P., 407 S.W.3d 856, 860 (Tex. App.-Tyler 2013, no pet.). When reviewing a no evidence issue, we determine 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 making this determination, we must credit favorable evidence if a reasonable finder of fact could and disregard contrary evidence unless a reasonable finder of fact could not. Id. If there is any evidence of probative force to support the finding, i.e., more than a scintilla, we will overrule the issue. Haggar Clothing Co. v. Hernandez, 164 S.W.3d 386, 388 (Tex. 2005).

         Applicable Law

         Promissory estoppel is a cause of action recognized in Texas that requires detrimental reliance on the part of the promisee. See Garcia v. Lucero, 366 S.W.3d 275, 280 (Tex. App.-El Paso 2012, no pet.). The elements of promissory estoppel are (1) a promise, (2) foreseeability of reliance thereon, and (3) substantial reliance by the promisee to his detriment. Id.

         In an action for promissory estoppel, the plaintiff can recover only reliance damages. See Sun Oil Co. (Del.) v. Madeley, 626 S.W.2d 726, 734 (Tex. 1981); Wheeler v. White, 398 S.W.2d 93, 97 (Tex. 1965). The plaintiff is limited to the damages required to restore him to his former position. Fretz Constr. Co. v. S. Nat'l Bank of Houston, 626 S.W.2d 478, 483 (Tex. 1981); Range v. Calvary Christian Fellowship, 530 S.W.3d 818, 831 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2017, pet. denied). Reliance damages are similar to out-of-pocket damages and reimburse a plaintiff for expenditures made in reliance on the promise. Sharifi v. Steen Auto., ...


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