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Wilson v. Henderson

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

September 24, 2019

ROBERT L. WILSON, Appellant
v.
J. RANDLE HENDERSON, Appellee

          On Appeal from the 116th Judicial District Court Dallas County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. DC-16-15162

          Before Justices Myers, Osborne, and Nowell

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          LESLIE OSBORNE, JUSTICE

         After a bench trial, the trial court rendered judgment for appellant Robert L. Wilson on one of his claims for breach of fiduciary duty against appellee J. Randle Henderson, his former attorney. Wilson appeals, contending the trial court erred by denying Wilson's other claims for breach of fiduciary duty and fraud. Because the evidence was sufficient to support the trial court's findings of fact and conclusions of law, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Background

         The Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") brought suit against Wilson on April 28, 2011 for violations of federal securities law.[1] Henderson represented Wilson in the suit and also during the SEC's pre-suit investigation in 2010. Wilson consented to judgment on December 16, 2011, without admitting or denying the SEC's allegations. The consent judgment included permanent injunctive relief against Wilson. It also provided that Wilson would pay disgorgement and a civil penalty in amounts to be determined by the court. Henderson submitted Wilson's financial information to the federal court and argued that the civil monetary penalty assessed against Wilson should not exceed $100, 000 in the aggregate. But in a final judgment dated November 28, 2012, the court ruled that Wilson was liable for disgorgement, penalties, and interest exceeding $1.4 million.

         Wilson and Henderson initially agreed that Wilson would pay Henderson $250 per hour for representing him. On September 5, 2011, however, Henderson sent Wilson an email stating, "Balance due is $23, 500.00. This is the final (turnkey) billing irrespective of whether we settle or go to trial." Wilson paid the balance due without objection, and Henderson continued to represent him until early 2013.

         On November 28, 2016, Wilson filed suit against Henderson, asserting claims for breach of fiduciary duty, legal malpractice, fraud and fraudulent concealment, deceptive trade practices, and breach of contract. The parties filed multiple motions for summary judgment that the court granted in part and denied in part. The case proceeded to trial before the court on Wilson's claims in his sixth amended petition, including allegations of fraud and five alleged breaches of fiduciary duty. Wilson alleged that Henderson breached his fiduciary duty when he:

. Failed to return unearned fees and charged unnecessary fees ("Breach of Fiduciary Duty Count I");
. Modified his fee arrangement and failed to explain it ("Breach of Fiduciary Duty Count II");
. Failed to provide a detail of fees to justify his billings ("Breach of Fiduciary Duty Count III");
. Failed to provide or return Wilson's files and records ("Breach of Fiduciary Duty Count IV"); and
. Failed to have a written fee agreement for legal services ("Breach of Fiduciary Duty Count V").

         Wilson's fraud claim arose from his allegation that Henderson falsely represented that the fees for his services would remain at $250 per hour.

         Wilson and Henderson represented themselves at trial. Each testified, and Henderson also called an expert witness to discuss representation of clients in suits by the SEC in general and in the suit against Wilson in particular. The trial court made findings of fact and conclusions of law and rendered judgment for Wilson on Breach of Fiduciary Duty Count I, awarding Wilson $1, 214.43 in damages and disgorgement of $10, 000, plus interest on both amounts. But the court rendered judgment for Henderson on Breach of Fiduciary Duty Counts II, III, IV, and V, and on Wilson's fraud claim. Wilson now appeals, alleging in seven issues that "the trial court erred in ignoring substantial evidence" of his claims. Although Wilson's list of "issues presented" in his appellate brief contains only challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence, Wilson also presents argument and authorities to challenge the admissibility of expert testimony.

         Standards of Review

         In an appeal from a bench trial, the trial court's findings of fact have the same weight as a jury verdict. Sheetz v. Slaughter, 503 S.W.3d 495, 502 (Tex.App.-Dallas 2016, no pet.). When the appellate record contains a reporter's record, as in this case, findings of fact are not conclusive and are binding only if supported by the evidence. Id. We review a trial court's findings of fact under the same legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence standards used when determining if sufficient evidence exists to support an answer to a jury question. Id. When an appellant challenges the legal sufficiency of an adverse finding on which he did not have the burden of proof at trial, he must demonstrate there is no evidence to support the adverse finding. Id. When reviewing the record, we determine whether any evidence supports the challenged finding. Id. If more than a scintilla of evidence exists to support the finding, the legal sufficiency challenge fails. Id.; see also King Ranch, Inc. v. Chapman, 118 S.W.3d 742, 751 (Tex. 2003) (more than a scintilla of evidence exists when evidence "rises to a level that would enable reasonable and fair-minded people to differ in their conclusions"). When a party attacks the legal sufficiency of an adverse finding on an issue on which he has the burden of proof, he must demonstrate that the evidence establishes, as a matter of law, all vital facts in support of the issue. Dow Chem. Co. v. Francis, 46 S.W.3d 237, 241 (Tex. 2001) (per curiam).

         When an appellant challenges the factual sufficiency of the evidence on an issue, we consider all the evidence supporting and contradicting the finding. Sheetz, 503 S.W.3d at 502. We set aside the finding for factual insufficiency only if the finding is so contrary to the evidence as to be clearly wrong and manifestly unjust. Cain v. Bain, 709 S.W.2d 175, 176 (Tex. 1986) (per curiam). The trial court, as factfinder, is the sole judge of the credibility of the witnesses. Sheetz, 503 S.W.3d at 502. As long as ...


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