Reimbursement of Your Attorney’s Fees When You Win Your Case

The so-called “American Rule” provides that, in most of the United States—Texas included, each side to a lawsuit, Plaintiff and Defendant, must pay its own attorney’s fees. While we inherited most of our legal system from the British common law, we do not generally follow the “English Rule,” which states that the losing side pays the other side’s attorney’s fees. In Texas, however, there are countless exceptions to the American Rule. For example, attorney’s fees are recoverable from the losing side in breach of contract cases, cases involving a declaratory judgment, Uniform Fraudulent Transfers Act claims, etcetera.

What the general public rarely understands is that reimbursement of your attorney’s fees when you win your case is hardly automatic. Attorneys will rarely (probably never) accept a breach of contract case for a plaintiff and simply bill the defendant for the legal work. The reason is that when the trial ends, together with all of the appeals (if a supersedeas bond has been posted), the winning party does not actually receive payment for the legal fees. Instead, the winning party receives a monetary judgment against the losing party for the attorney’s fees. That monetary judgment can then be enforced using all of the post-judgment collections procedures that are available under Texas law. This generally means recording an abstract of judgment in counties where the judgment debtor owns real estate and filing for a writ of execution against any non-exempt property owned by the judgment debtor, but there are other collections methods as well, like garnishment, receivership, or turnover proceedings. The amount of legal work that is necessary to collect on a monetary judgment can be quite substantial and no one wants to perform all of the legal work necessary to complete a trial, only to create more post-judgment legal work for themselves, unless the prospects for recovery are high. Also, the attorney’s fees incurred in performing the post-judgment collections activities are generally non-recoverable. So, you may get a judgment for your attorney’s fees, and still have to pay your attorney to go collect on that judgment.

To make things more complex, the winning side does not receive a judgment for attorney’s fees actually “incurred.” See Sloan v. Owners Ass’n of Westfield, Inc., 167 S.W.3d 401, 405 (Tex. App. San Antonio 2005) (“The terms of the fee agreement between the [Defendant] and its counsel are irrelevant to the [Defendant’s] right to recover reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees from the [Plaintiff].”) Instead, the winning party generally receives a judgment for “reasonable and necessary” attorney’s fees, which may be completely different from the fees that the party actually incurred. Interestingly enough, the terms of the party’s contract with his or her attorney may be completely irrelevant to the amount of fees that will be awarded at trial. Moreover, an attorney representing himself or his law firm can probably recover attorney’s fees for his or her own time spent on the case. McLeod, Alexander, Powel & Apffel, P.C. v. Quarles, 894 F.2d 1482, 1488 (5th Cir. Tex. 1990).

Contingency Fees:

When an attorney accepts a case based on a contingency fee, the contingency fee may be determined by the Court to be “reasonable and necessary.” Sloan v. Owners Ass’n of Westfield, Inc., 167 S.W.3d 401 (Tex. App. San Antonio 2005). Generally, “the fact that attorney’s fees are based on a contingent fee agreement does not make the fees requested or awarded unreasonable.” Cooper v. Cochran, 288 S.W.3d 522, 537 (Tex. App. Dallas 2009).

Winning on Some Claims and Losing on Other Claims:

If you prevail on some claims for which attorney’s fees are available, yet lose on other claims, then the attorney’s fee award gets very tricky. If your attorney provides detailed, itemized billing sheets and proves those sheets up in Court, then the sheets may be enough evidence for the Judge to break out the recoverable fees from the non-recoverable fees. Even if the bill sheets do not exist because it is a contingency fee case, your attorney should “reconstruct” the work to “provide the trial court with sufficient information to allow the court to perform a meaningful review of the fee.”
Long v. Griffin, 442 S.W.3d 253, 256 (Tex. 2014).

Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only. Do not rely on any part of this blog as legal advice. Instead, seek out the advice of a licensed attorney. Also, this information may be out-of-date.

Texas Tools for Recovering Assets on Behalf of Defrauded Investors

Financial Record Requests/Subpoenas:

In my experience, the financial record request is one of the most powerful tools for finding assets on behalf of defrauded investors. Section 30.007 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code provides that these requests are governed by Section 59.006 of the Texas Finance Code. In Texas Finance Code Section 59.006, you can find many rules regarding how the process works, but the key feature of this statute, in my opinion, is the burden placement. The statute places the burden on the party resisting discovery to obtain relief from the Court. That typically means filing a motion, drafting an affidavit, setting it for hearing, filing notice of hearing, dealing with scheduling conflicts, waiting through a long docket call, arguing the motion, possibly offering testimony, and finally obtaining a ruling. That is a lot of work. Consequently, the party resisting the discovery rarely puts up as much of a fight as they will when they are simply resisting discovery responses.

Resisting traditional discovery, like a Request for Production under Tex. R. Civ. P. 196, is much easier. For the most part, your attorney will simply pick one of the innumerable form objections that exist, write it down, state what is being produced and what is not being produced, and send it to opposing counsel. Then, the burden is on opposing counsel to file a Motion to Compel Discovery Responses, set it for hearing, deal with scheduling conflicts, wait through a long docket call, argue the motion, and obtain an order. Then, once the order has been obtained, there is the inevitable subsequent battle over the scope of the order. Again, the burden is on the one wanting the discovery to prosecute this. The bank, however, does not have a dog in the fight, so to speak, so the bank will typically produce more or less exactly what the bank has been asked to produce without raising countless objections and necessitating potentially expensive and time-consuming pre-trial hearings over the matter.

I am planning on adding more sections to this post in the future. Reading an article on these tools can be helpful, but using them to achieve your goals takes some finesse.

Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only. Do not rely on any part of this blog as legal advice. Instead, seek out the advice of a licensed attorney.

When the Statute of Limitations Begins to Run on Installment Loans

The short answer is that with installment loans, the statute of limitations begins to accrue on each installment as it comes due. Once the payments are accelerated, then the statute begins to run on the balance of the debt.

If the loan is on real estate, however, then the limitations period does not begin to run until the “maturity date of the last note, obligation, or installment.” Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 16.035(e). Section 16.035(e), however, does not apply when the note has been accelerated. See Hammann v. H.J. McMullen & Co., 122 Tex. 476, 62 S.W.2d 59, 61 (1933); Burney v. Citigroup Global Markets Realty Corp., 244 S.W.3d 900, 903–904 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2007, no pet.).

In Texas, “‘A cause of action accrues when an installment is due and unpaid.’ See Gabriel v. Alhabbal, 618 S.W.2d 894, 897 (Tex. Civ. App. — Houston [1st Dist.] 1981, writ ref’d n.r.e.); Goldfield v. Kassoff, 470 S.W.2d 216, 217 (Tex. Civ. App. — Houston [14th Dist.] 1971, no writ).” Stille v. Colborn, 740 S.W.2d 42, 44 (Tex. App. San Antonio 1987). The balance of a loan becomes due and unpaid upon acceleration. Id.

If the loan is for real estate, then the statute of limitations is four years and special provisions apply. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 16.035. For example, “A sale of real property under a power of sale in a mortgage or deed of trust that creates a real property lien must be made not later than four years after the day the cause of action accrues.” Id. § 16.035(b).

Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only. Do not rely on any part of this blog as legal advice. Instead, seek out the advice of a licensed attorney. Also, this information may be out-of-date.

Contracts for Deed: Do the Volume-Dealer Penalties of Section 5.077(d) Have an “Anchoring” Requirement?

One bankruptcy court says yes. Here is an argument for the answer being no.

Under Section 5.077(d), the volume-dealer penalties apply to “A seller who conducts two or more transactions in a 12-month period under this section . . . .” One bankruptcy court has interpreted this provision as meaning that the volume-dealer penalties apply only when a second Contract for Deed has been executed within twelve-months of the Contract for Deed that is the subject of the case currently before the court. Dodson v. Perkins (In re Dodson), 2008 Bankr. LEXIS 4647, 20; 2008 WL 4621293 (Bankr. W.D. Tex. Oct. 16, 2008).

While the Dodson court concluded that Section 5.077(d) must be “anchored” to the signing of the contract being enforced, the court admitted that that court was unable to locate “any case law or other authority, nor any legislative history that would clarify the meaning of the 2005 Statute in this respect.” Id. The statute clearly states that any seller who conducts two transactions in any twelve-month period falls under Section 5.077(d). Texas Courts should not add an additional “anchoring” requirement to an otherwise straightforward statute. Furthermore, the “anchoring” requirement does not make the statute “easier to comply with and to enforce.” Id. at 22. Instead, an “anchoring” requirement would make relief under Section 5.077(d) nearly impossible to prove for many plaintiffs without expending exorbitant time and effort on investigations outside of the discovery process in order to corroborate defendants’ production or lack thereof. If the legislature wanted to add an “anchoring” requirement, then such a requirement would have been easy enough to draft. The legislature did not, however, add an “anchoring” requirement and such a requirement should not be imposed judicially.

Before the statute was amended in 2005, the $250 penalty applied to all Contract for Deed sellers. Id. at 6. The new statute carves out a very narrow niche of sellers—sellers who never conduct more than one qualifying transaction within one year—to be exempted from the harsh penalties and assessed only a nominal penalty of $100 per year. Consequently, an unsophisticated individual who owner-carries financing on his own home to a buyer, generally, will not accidentally lose that home to the harsher penalties. Meanwhile, volume dealers who own multiple properties and sell all or many of the properties by Contracts for Deed will incur the full, normal penalties that were applicable to all Contract for Deed sellers before the 2005 amendments carved out a narrow niche of sellers to exempt under Section 5.077(c). See Tex. Prop. Code § 5.077; Acts 2005, 79th Leg., ch. 978 (H.B. 1823), § 5, effective September 1, 2005.

For most plaintiffs, proving the statutory requirement of two contracts within twelve months creates enough of a hurdle without adding an even more difficult “anchoring” element.

Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only. Do not rely on any part of this blog as legal advice. Instead, seek out the advice of a licensed attorney. Also, this information may be out-of-date.