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Thiel v. Zavaletta

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

October 24, 2019

HARALD THIEL AND HEATHER THIEL, Appellants,
v.
PETER MICHAEL ZAVALETTA, Appellee. HARALD THIEL AND HEATHER THIEL, Appellants,
v.
FRED W. RUSTEBERG, CHARLES WILLETTE JR., DIANN M. BARTEK, AND INTERNATIONAL BANK OF COMMERCE, Appellees.

          On appeal from the County Court at Law No. 2 of Cameron County, Texas.

          Before Chief Justice Contreras and Justices Hinojosa and Tijerina

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JAIME TIJERINA, JUSTICE

         Pro se appellants Harald and Heather Thiel (the Thiels) appeal from the trial court's confirmation of an arbitrator's award in appellate cause numbers 13-18-00151-CV and 13-18-00358-CV.[1] In a brief with multifarious issues, the Thiels appear to challenge the trial court's judgment confirming an arbitrator's award in appellate cause numbers 13-18-00151-CV and 13-18-00538-CV. We affirm.

         I. Background

         In appellate cause number 13-18-00151-CV, the Thiels sued appellee Peter Zavaletta, their former attorney, for breach of fiduciary duty, and in appellate cause number 13-18-00538-CV, the Thiels sued appellees International Bank of Commerce and its employees Fred W. Rustenberg, Charles Willette Jr., and Dianne M. Barteck (collectively the IBC parties) for alleged "torts" they committed in relation to Zavaletta's alleged breach of fiduciary duty.[2] Each appellee filed a motion to compel arbitration in both causes, which the trial court granted after conducting two separate hearings.[3]Separate arbitrations were held in both appellate causes.

         After the arbitration in appellate cause number 13-18-00358-CV, the IBC parties filed motions to confirm the arbitrator's award granting a take-nothing judgment against the Thiels and to enter a final judgment. The trial court held a hearing on the matter, granted the IBC parties' motions to confirm the arbitration award, and entered a final take-nothing judgment against the Thiels. Subsequently, in appellate cause number 13-18-00151-CV, the arbitrator awarded the Thiels $19, 190 in their case against Zavaletta. The Thiels filed a motion to confirm the arbitrator's award and to enter final judgment, which the trial court granted. The trial court then entered a final judgment ordering Zavaletta to pay the Thiels $19, 190. In that cause, the Thiels filed a motion asking that the trial court order Zavaletta to pay them $5, 100. The trial court held a hearing on the motion and denied it. These appeals followed.

         II. Discussion

         By their sole issue, as we understand it, in appellate cause number 13-18-00151-CV, the Thiels contend that the trial court's judgment confirming the arbitrator's award is erroneous because the arbitrator failed to award them $5, 100 they claim Zavaletta owed them in "false fees."[4] The Thiels offer no reason why the trial court's judgment confirming the arbitration award in appellate cause number 13-18-00358-CV is erroneous.

         The IBC parties respond that the Thiels' brief is inadequate, and therefore they have waived their issues.[5] In addition, the IBC parties contend that "[b]ecause the matter was properly compelled to arbitration and [the Thiels] have not even asked for vacatur, there is no basis upon which to disturb the trial court's final judgment on appeal."

         "An arbitration award is given the same effect as a judgment of last resort and all reasonable presumptions are indulged in favor of the award and none against it." Black v. Shore, 443 S.W.3d 154, 161 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi-Edinburg 2013, pet. denied); Pheng Invs., Inc. v. Rodriquez, 196 S.W.3d 322, 329 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2006, no pet.) (explaining that "all reasonable presumptions are indulged in favor of the [arbitration] award, and the award is conclusive on the parties as to all matters of fact and law"). Our review of a trial court's decision to vacate or confirm an arbitration award is de novo, and we review the entire record. Black, 443 S.W.3d at 161 (citing In re Guardianship of Cantu de Villarreal, 330 S.W.3d 11, 17 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi-Edinburg 2010, no pet.); Centex/Vestal v. Friendship W. Baptist Church, 314 S.W.3d 677, 683 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2010, pet. denied); Xtria L.L.C. v. Int'l Ins. Alliance Inc., 286 S.W.3d 583, 591 (Tex. App.- Texarkana 2009, pet. denied); GJR Mgmt. Holdings, L.P. v. Jack Raus, Ltd., 126 S.W.3d 257, 262 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2003, pet. denied)). "Although we review de novo a trial court's judgment confirming an arbitration award, we give 'strong deference to the arbitrator with respect to issues properly left to the arbitrator's resolution.' Our review focuses on the integrity of the process, not the propriety of the result." Id. at 162.

         An arbitrator has broad discretion in fashioning an appropriate remedy. Roe v. Ladymon, 318 S.W.3d 502, 523 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2010, no pet.). We will not reverse an arbitrator's award for a mere mistake of fact or law. Crossmark, Inc. v. Hazar, 124 S.W.3d 422, 434-35 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2004, pet. denied). However, "[w]here an arbitrator exceeds his contractual authority, vacation or modification of the award is an appropriate remedy." Am. Eagle Airlines, Inc. v. Air Line Pilots Ass'n, Int'l, 343 F.3d 401, 406 (5th Cir. 2001) (quoting Delta Queen Steamboat Co. v. Dist. 2 Marine Eng'rs Beneficial Ass'n, AFL-CIO, 889 F.2d 599, 602 (5th Cir. 1989)).

         The five grounds for vacating an arbitrator's award are limited to the following: (1) the award was due to corruption, fraud, or undue influence; (2) a party was prejudiced by the evident partiality, or by the corruption, fraud, or undue influence; (3) the arbitrator exceeded his powers; (4) the arbitrator refused to postpone the hearing, refused to hear evidence material to the controversy, or otherwise conducted the hearing so as to substantially prejudice the rights of a party; or (5) there was no arbitration agreement and the complaining party participated at the arbitration over his objection. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 171.088; Crossmark, Inc., 124 S.W.3d at 430.

         In appellate cause number 13-18-00358-CV, the Thiels make no argument regarding why the arbitrator's award can be vacated on any ground. Moreover, there is no reporter's record of the arbitration proceeding. Without a record, we are to presume that adequate evidence supported the arbitrator's award. GJR Mgmt. Holdings, L.P. v. Raus, 126 S.W.3d 257, 263 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2003, pet. denied); Anzilotti v. Gene D. Liggin, Inc., 899 S.W.2d 264, 267 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1995, no pet.). Therefore, we conclude that the Thiels have not met their appellate burden of showing that the arbitrator's award was improper on any basis. See Tex. R. App. P. 38.1(i); see also City of Weslaco v. Castillo, No. 13-06-023-CV, 2007 WL 2811631, at *4 (Tex. App.- Corpus Christi-Edinburg Sept. 27, 2007, no pet.) (mem. op.) (explaining that the burden is on party challenging ...


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