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Hutch Aviation, Inc. v. Teal

Court of Appeals of Texas, Twelfth District, Tyler

October 17, 2019


          Appeal from the 159th District Court of Angelina County, Texas (Tr.Ct.No. CV-00133-16-03)

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



         Hutch Aviation, Inc. (Hutch) appeals the judgment entered against it in favor of Sharon L. Teal and Mike Templeton. It presents four issues on appeal. We affirm.


         In 2014, Templeton was in the process of purchasing an aircraft from Teal. In August 2014, Templeton took the plane to Hutch seeking maintenance and repairs, including an annual inspection and an airworthiness certificate. Jeffrey Shives oversaw the maintenance of the aircraft. He spoke with Templeton and agreed to perform the required maintenance. When he determined certain work needed to be done, Shives contacted Templeton who would approve the service. Shives would then tell Templeton the cost, and Templeton provided payment.

         In September 2014, Shives began compiling an invoice for the maintenance performed on the airplane. The invoice was completed after Hutch concluded its work on the aircraft, which Shives testified to be either November 2014 or January 2015. The invoice included $1, 250 for hangar rent and $2, 400 for the annual inspection. Hutch sent the invoice to Teal because Teal was the registered owner of the airplane. Templeton did not see the invoice until September 2015. Templeton stated that he did not agree to pay hangar rent and disputed the amount charged for the annual inspection.

          In August 2015, the airport evicted Hutch from the hangar in which it was storing Teal's and Templeton's airplane. The airport's airplane manager removed Hutch's lock and placed a new one on the hangar. When Templeton later learned that Hutch was behind on its hangar rent, he paid $2, 270 to the airport. On September 28, Shives wrote a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in which he requested a lien be placed on the airplane.

         From June 2015 until January 2016, Templeton inquired about the status of the airplane's repairs. Templeton further stated that he wished to discuss the invoice, come to an agreement, pay for the amount owed, and acquire the airplane's logbooks. However, that never occurred. Hutch believed it was entitled to the balance of the invoice, which totaled $8, 876.14. Templeton believed he should not have to pay the hangar rent and should be credited for the amount he paid the airport on behalf of Hutch. He believed he owed $5, 356.14 to Hutch.

         After several months of the parties failing to reach an agreement regarding the invoice, Hutch filed suit against Teal and Templeton. In its petition, Hutch alleged breach of contract, promissory estoppel, suit on a sworn account, quantum meruit, unjust enrichment, conversion, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and breach of the peace. Teal and Templeton counterclaimed for conversion of the logbooks and a declaratory judgment that the lien is invalid. Both parties sought attorney's fees.

         Following trial, the jury found that Hutch performed maintenance and repair services to the aircraft on an open account and that the prices charged were customary and reasonable (breach of contract). However, the jury answered zero when asked what amount of money would compensate Hutch for Teal's and Templeton's failure to pay. The jury also found that Hutch substantially relied to its detriment on a promise by Teal and Templeton to pay (quantum meruit) and awarded $5, 356.14 in damages. The jury further found that Hutch did not hold a mechanic's lien with the FAA and that Hutch wrongfully exercised control and dominion over the logbooks. The jury also answered the questions regarding attorney's fees for both parties, awarding fees to Hutch in the amount of $26, 451.58 and fees to Teal and Templeton in the amount of $22, 425.00.

         Following several motions filed by both sides and a hearing, the trial court entered judgment that Hutch take nothing on its breach of contract claim and disregarded the jury's quantum meruit findings. The trial court also entered a declaratory judgment in favor of Teal and Templeton, awarded them possession of the logbooks, and awarded them attorney's fees of $22, 425.00. Hutch filed a motion for new trial, which was overruled by operation of law. This appeal followed.

         Disregarding Jury Findings

         In its first issue, Hutch argues the trial court erred in disregarding the jury's findings regarding quantum meruit. According to Hutch, the findings could be reconciled with the jury's findings regarding the open account and the trial court should have entered judgment in favor of Hutch on its quantum meruit claim.[1]

         Standard of Review and Applicable Law

         A trial court may disregard a jury finding only if it is unsupported by the evidence or if the issue is immaterial. Spencer v. Eagle Star Ins. Co. of Am., 876 S.W.2d 154, 157 (Tex. 1994). A question is immaterial when it should have been submitted or when it was properly submitted but has been rendered immaterial by other findings. Id. A finding is immaterial when the corresponding question either: (1) should not have been submitted; (2) calls for a finding beyond the province of the jury, such as a question of law; or (3) was properly submitted but has been rendered immaterial by other findings. Se. Pipe Line Co. v. Tichacek, 997 S.W.2d 166, 172 (Tex. 1999); Spencer, 876 S.W.2d at 157.

         We review the grant or denial of a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or a motion to disregard jury findings as a legal-sufficiency challenge. See City of Keller v. Wilson, 168 S.W.3d 802, 823 (Tex. 2005). We must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, crediting favorable evidence if reasonable jurors could do so and disregarding contrary evidence unless reasonable jurors could not. Id. at 827; see Tiller v. McLure, 121 S.W.3d 709, 713 (Tex. 2003) (holding that, in reviewing "no evidence" point, court views evidence in light that tends to support finding of disputed fact and disregards all evidence and inferences to contrary). To sustain a challenge to the legal sufficiency of the evidence supporting a jury finding, the reviewing court must find that (1) there is a complete lack of evidence of a vital fact; (2) the court is barred by rules of law or of evidence from giving weight to the only evidence offered to prove a vital fact; (3) there is no more than a mere scintilla of evidence to prove a vital fact; or (4) the evidence conclusively established the opposite of a vital fact. Volkswagen of Am., Inc. v. Ramirez, 159 S.W.3d 897, 903 (Tex. 2004).

         Quantum meruit is an equitable theory of recovery that is based on an implied agreement to pay for benefits received. Heldenfels Bros., Inc. v. City of Corpus Christi, 832 S.W.2d 39, 41 (Tex. 1992). To recover in quantum meruit, a claimant must prove that (1) valuable services were rendered or materials furnished; (2) for the person sought to be charged; (3) and were accepted by the person sought to be charged; (4) under circumstances that reasonably notified the person sought to be charged that the plaintiff, in performing the services or furnishing the materials, expected to be paid by the person sought to be charged. Weaver v. Jamar, 383 S.W.3d 805, 811 (Tex. App.- Houston [14th Dist.] 2012, no pet.). The measure of recovery for quantum meruit is the reasonable value of the services. Hudson v. Cooper, 162 S.W.3d 685, 688 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2005, no pet.).

         Quantum meruit implies a contract in circumstances where the parties neglected to form one, but equity nonetheless requires payment for beneficial services rendered and knowingly accepted. In re Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc., 166 S.W.3d 732, 740 (Tex. 2005). As a result, "[a] party generally cannot recover under quantum meruit where there is a valid contract covering the services or materials furnished." Id.; see also Truly v. Austin, 744 S.W.2d 934, 936 (Tex. 1988); Gen. Homes, Inc. v. Denison, 625 S.W.2d 794, 796 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1981, no writ) (describing the rule as "well settled law"). When the parties themselves create a valid contract, there can be no recovery under a contract implied by law. Union Bldg. Corp. v. J & J Bldg. & Maint. Contractors, Inc., 578 S.W.2d 519, 520 (Tex. Civ. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1979, writ ref'd n.r.e.). The jury must determine any contested fact issues that would bear on a quantum meruit claim, but the ultimate question "of how much, if any, equitable relief should be awarded, must be determined by the trial court." Hudson, 162 S.W.3d at 688.


         Hutch argues on appeal that the jury's findings on quantum meruit were not rendered immaterial by the findings that Hutch and Templeton had an open account. Specifically, it urges that the finding that an open account existed does not necessarily establish the existence of an express contract. It further contends that the jury's findings on quantum meruit can be reconciled with the open ...

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