Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Texas

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Waiver of a nonwaiver provision cannot be anchored in the same conduct the parties specifically agreed would not give rise to a waiver of contract rights. The long-term tenant in this forcible-detainer action frequently defaulted on the lease’s rental payment terms. The commercial landlord, however, regularly accepted, without protest, the tenant’s rental payments when tendered. A contractual nonwaiver provision provided that the landlord acceptance of rent past due “shall not be a waiver and shall not estop Landlord from enforcing that provision or any other provision of [the] lease in the future[.]” In this forcible-detainer action, the landlord sought to oust the tenant, claiming a superior right of immediate possession under a lease-extension option. The tenant, in turn, asserted that the landlord’s conduct in accepting late rental payments waived the contractual nonwaiver clause. Thus, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals’ judgment rejecting the landlord’s forcible detainer action and rendered judgment in the landlord’s favor because the landlord did not act inconsistently with the contract’s express terms and because the tenant failed to identify any evidence supporting an equitable-estoppel bar to eviction. View "Shields Limited Partnership v. Bradeberry" on Justia Law

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The Texas Optometry Act prohibits commercial retailers of ophthalmic goods from attempting to control the practice of optometry; authorizes the Optometry Board and the Attorney General to sue a violator for a civil penalty; and provides that “[a] person injured as a result of a violation . . . is entitled to the remedies. In 1992, Wal-Mart opened “Vision Centers” in its Texas retail stores, selling ophthalmic goods. Wal-Mart leased office space to optometrists. A typical lease required the optometrist to keep the office open at least 45 hours per week or pay liquidated damages. In 1995, the Board advised Wal-Mart that the requirement violated the Act. Wal-Mart dropped the requirement and changed its lease form, allowing the optometrist to insert hours of operation. In 1998, the Board opined that any commercial lease referencing an optometrist’s hours violated the Act; in 2003, the Board notified Wal-Mart that it violated the Act by informing optometrists that customers were requesting longer hours. Optometrists sued, alleging that during lease negotiations, Wal-Mart indicated what hours they should include in the lease and that they were pressured to work longer hours. They did not claim actual harm. A jury awarded civil penalties and attorney fees. The Fifth Circuit certified the question of whether such civil penalties, when sought by a private person, are exemplary damages limited by the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Chapter 41. The Texas Supreme Court responded in the affirmative, noting that “the certified questions assume, perhaps incorrectly, that the Act authorizes recovery of civil penalties by a private person, rather than only by the Board or the Attorney General.” View "Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Forte" on Justia Law

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After Tenant moved into her apartment, her apartment and several adjoining units were severely damaged in a fire that originated in Tenant’s clothes dryer. Insurer paid Landlord’s insurance claim and then sued Tenant for negligence and breach of the Apartment Lease Contract. The jury found that Tenant breached the lease agreement and awarded $93,498 in actual damages and attorney’s fees from Insurer. Tenant filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, asserting several grounds for avoiding enforcement of the contract. The trial court granted Tenant’s motion and rendered a take-nothing judgment. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that the residential-lease provision imposing liability on Tenant for property losses resulting from “any other cause not due to [the landlord’s] negligence or fault” was void and unenforceable because it broadly and unambiguously shifted liability for repairs beyond legislatively authorized bounds. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the court of appeals properly rejected Tenant’s ambiguity defense; but (2) the court of appeals erred in invalidating the lease provision on public-policy grounds. Remanded. View "Philadelphia Indem. Ins. Co. v. White" on Justia Law