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Villarreal v. Trevino

Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg

July 25, 2019


          On appeal from the 92nd District Court of Hidalgo County, Texas.

          Before Chief Justice Contreras and Justices Benavides and Longoria



         By three issues, appellants/cross-appellees Ruth Villarreal individually and Ruth Villarreal Insurance, LLC (collectively Villarreal) challenge the trial court's order granting a no-evidence summary judgment motion filed by appellee/cross-appellant Albert Trevino, individually and d/b/a Bob Trevino Insurance Agency (collectively Trevino). See Tex. R. Civ. P. 166(a)(i). Villarreal contends that the trial court erred by: (1) granting summary judgment because it weighed evidence and resolved factual disputes against her; (2) "weighing the evidence" of a witness's Fifth Amendment plea; and (3) excluding deposition testimony from Villarreal's husband Everardo as hearsay.

         On cross-appeal, Trevino argues that the trial court erred by overruling his objections to: (1) Villarreal's request to judicially notice all pleadings and documents in the court's file; (2) the admission of certain deposition testimony; (3) the admission of certain business records; and (4) the affidavit of an expert witness designated by Villarreal.

         We affirm.

         I. Background

         In 2012, Villarreal contracted with La Joya Independent School District (La Joya ISD) to be its insurance agent and third-party administrator for the school district's health plan, as well as to offer voluntary products to school district employees. During the school board election that year, Trevino gave $10, 000 to candidate Juan Jose "J.J." Garza, who was running on a ticket with four others (collectively Team Liberty). The money was split evenly amongst the five candidates, with each receiving $2, 000. Trevino had known Garza for ten years at that time but did not know the other candidates. The Team Liberty candidates won their elections and in 2013, upon taking office, they voted to replace Villarreal with Trevino as La Joya ISD's insurance agent and third-party administrator.[1]

         In February 2013, Villarreal filed suit against several parties including Trevino, La Joya ISD, and the Team Liberty candidates.[2] Villarreal's live petition in the instant cause, filed in July 2017, lists Trevino as the only defendant. Villarreal alleged tortious interference with an existing contract and tortious interference with prospective business relations.

         In November 2017, Trevino moved for no-evidence and traditional summary judgment on Villarreal's claims. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 166a(c), (i). After a hearing, the trial court found that the summary judgment evidence was not sufficient to survive the no-evidence motion, and it did not rule on the traditional motion. On February 7, 2018, the court rendered an order containing extensive findings in a narrative format. The order stated in part:

[Villarreal]'s summary judgment evidence, Responses, pleadings and argument show only that [Trevino] gave J.J. Garza a $10, 000.00 check and that the new La Joya Board changed insurance plan administrators. [Villarreal]'s reliance on Garza's assertion of his 5th Amendment right not to answer incriminating questions at his deposition as raising inferences that [Trevino] bribed Garza is nothing more than mere surmise or speculation and of no probative value.

         The order additionally sustained Trevino's objection to the admission of deposition testimony in which Everardo stated that he had heard "rumors" of a plan by school board candidates to have Trevino replace Villarreal as the insurance administrator. When asked directly what he had heard, Everardo replied, "That if the school board-their slate, Team Liberty, would win, that they were going to cancel or fire her and get Bob Trevino as the agent." Everardo testified that he approached Joel Garcia, a Team Liberty candidate, about the rumors before the election. Everardo reported the following:

I got into [Garcia's] truck and I explained to him what I was hearing about my wife, that they wanted to fire her or get-cancel her contract, and I did mention to him that she had a 3-year contract, and she seemed to be doing a good job. And he told me that any contract can be canceled.

         In regard to this testimony, the court stated in its order, "This evidence is patently hearsay, inadmissible and not competent summary judgment evidence to prove any fact, and, to this extent, [Trevino's] objection is sustained." The order granted no-evidence summary judgment, finding that Villarreal "presented no competent, credible summary judgment evidence that [Trevino] tortiously interfered with [Villarreal]'s contracts and business relationships with [La Joya ISD]."

         This appeal followed.

         II. ...

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