Texas' 14th Court of Appeals puts tenant-landlord dispute to rest

By David Hutton | Sep 26, 2017

HOUSTON – Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court’s ruling in a man’s breach of contract lawsuit against his former landlord.

Sammy Veal sued CBREI/USA Hollister DST, doing business as Wynhaven at Hollister LP; and Riverstone Residential SC LLC, doing business as Riverstone Residential Group LLC over allegations of breach of contract, Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, unlawful lockout, wrongful eviction, wrongful interruption of utilities and retaliation.

In an opinion filed Sept. 14, the 14th Court of Appeals upheld a ruling by the 11th District Court of Harris County that granted summary judgment in Wynhaven’s favor, dismissing all of Veal’s claims.

The panel hearing the appeal included Justices John Donovan, Tracy Christopher and Martha Hill Jamison.

According to the opinion, Veal lived at the Wynhaven at Hollister apartments from July 24, 2010, through Aug. 25, 2011, as set forth by the terms of a lease agreement. "The lease agreement further provided that either party give at least 60 days’ written notice of termination or intent to move out," the opinion states.

During the time Veal was a tenant, he complained about the condition of the apartment, including the carpet and the blinds. During his tenancy, Veal also was issued several notices of lease violations for offenses such as excessive noise and having a snake, which is a prohibited animal. 

"He also was issued notices to vacate for non-payment/late-payment of rent, utilities or other sums," the opinion states.

Veal was notified on July 1, 2011, by Wynhaven that it would not renew his lease, which expired on Aug. 25, 2011. 

"On Aug. 25, 2011, Veal had not yet vacated his unit. Wynhaven gave him until the close of business on Aug. 26, 2011, to vacate the premises. At the close of business day on Aug. 26, 2011, Veal still had not moved out. Veal was informed that he either had to vacate the apartment or pay additional rent. Veal did not pay additional rent and removed the rest of his items into the hallway of the building. After the items were removed, the locks to the apartment were changed," the opinion states.

On April 21, 2012, Veal filed suit against Wynhaven and later amended his petition, adding a claim for wrongful interruption of utilities. In May 2012, Wynhaven served Veal with a request for disclosure.

After several years of legal positioning as both sides propounded discovery and filed dispositive motions, including Wynhaven’s no-evidence motion for partial summary judgment and a traditional motion for final summary judgment, the case was finally called to trial in September 2014.

Veal filed his third motion for continuance. Wynhaven opposed the continuance and objected, claiming that Veal had failed to timely disclose his damages.

The court granted the motion for continuance to give Veal the opportunity to amend his disclosures to set forth his claimed damages.

On Sept. 20, 2015, Veal once again served Wynhaven with supplemental disclosures regarding damages. During a pretrial conference, Wynhaven objected to any evidence of damages from Veal because his supplemental disclosures were untimely.

The case was called to trial on Oct. 23, 2015.

The trial court set aside a number of prior orders and reconsidered the entire record before it granted Wynhaven’s motion to exclude evidence of damages as well as an affidavit Veal filed in response to a summary judgment.

"The trial court granted Wynhaven’s motions for summary judgment, ordered Veal take nothing on all claims, and awarded Wynhaven its court costs," the opinion states.

The trial court memorialized its actions in “uncharacteristic detail” in a five-page single-spaced final judgment, the opinion states.

After the trial court denied Veal’s motion for a new trial, he filed an appeal to the 14th Court of Appeals.

On appeal, Veal raised eight issues to the court, contending that trial court erred by excluding Veal’s summary judgment response affidavit on the basis it was a “sham” affidavit, the opinion states. He also maintained that the court erred in granting summary judgment on his claims for breach of contract; DTPA; wrongful eviction; unlawful lockout; unlawful interruption of electricity and retaliation.

Moreover, Veal alleged that the trial court erred by excluding evidence of Veal’s damages.

“Because Veal cannot produce any evidence of damages on his claims for breach of contract, DTPA and wrongful eviction, this element has been negated and, as such, the trial court did not err in granting Wynhaven’s traditional and no- evidence motions for summary judgment on Veal’s causes of action for breach of contract, DTPA, and wrongful eviction,” the court wrote in the opinion.

The court also noted that with regard to Veal’s charges of unlawful lockout, unlawful interruption of electricity and retaliation, he had to disclose his damages in a timely manner.

“Because Veal failed to do so, the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment on these claims, as well,” the court concluded. “Consequently, Veal’s second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh issues are overruled.”

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