In In re Estate of Scott, an annuity company sued a customer’s estate for not reporting the death of his wife, which resulted in him receiving larger monthly payments after her death than he was entitled to under the contract. No. 04-19-00592-CV, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 4059 (Tex. App.—San Antonio May 27, 2020, no pet. history). The customer died in 2013, and the annuity company discovered the overpayments in 2014. In 2016, the annuity company filed suit against the customer’s estate for the overpayments. Both parties filed summary judgment motions, and the trial court entered judgment for the annuity company. The estate appealed.

The court of appeals reversed and rendered for the estate. The court first addressed the annuity company’s breach of contract claim. The court held that the contract did not expressly or impliedly require the surviving spouse to report the death of the first spouse. The court held:

In sum, the annuity contract, taken as a whole, does not evidence an intent to impose an implied obligation on Harold to notify Principal of Emily’s death or an implied obligation to return money Harold received in excess of the stated contract amount. Moreover, it is undisputed that this was Principal’s contract. “In Texas, a writing is generally construed most strictly against its author and in such a manner as to reach a reasonable result consistent with the apparent intent of the parties.” Principal, a sophisticated commercial enterprise, did not include express provisions requiring Harold to notify Principal of Emily’s death or to return money received in excess of the stated contract amount. The annuity contract, as written, does not evidence an intent to imply these obligations. Because we conclude the annuity contract, taken as a whole, does not support imposition of an implied obligation on Harold to notify Principal of Emily’s death or an implied obligation to return money Harold received in excess of the stated contract amount, Principal cannot show Harold breached the annuity contract.

Id.

The court then reviewed the annuity company’s money-had-and-received claim. The court described the claim thusly: “Money had and received is an equitable doctrine designed to prevent unjust enrichment. To prevail on a claim for money had and received, the plaintiff need only prove that the defendant holds money which in equity and good conscience belongs to the plaintiff.” Id. The court held that the claim was barred by the two-year statute of limitations as the annuity company did not file its claim within two years of discovering the overpayments.

Finally, the court rejected the annuity company’s fraud by nondisclosure claim. To establish fraud by non-disclosure, “Principal must prove: (1) Harold deliberately failed to disclose material facts; (2) Harold had a duty to disclose such facts to Principal; (3) Principal was ignorant of the facts and did not have an equal opportunity to discover them; (4) by failing to disclose the facts, Harold intended to induce Principal to act or refrain from acting; and (5) Principal relied on the non-disclosure, which resulted in injury.” Id. The court held that the annuity company had an equal opportunity to discover its customer’s death:

Principal had an equal opportunity to discover Emily’s death. Principal had internal procedures in place to discover this very type of information. Angela Essick, Principal’s corporate representative, testified that between 2001 and the present, Principal utilized a third-party company and the Social Security Master Index to provide it with a list of names and social security numbers of the deceased on a quarterly basis. Principal would compare these names and social security numbers with those of its annuitants. Principal failed to discover Emily’s death through these channels because it never obtained Emily’s social security number. Principal cannot rely on its internal oversight to claim it did not have an equal opportunity to discover Emily’s death.

Id. Accordingly, the court dismissed all of the annuity company’s claims and rendered judgment for the estate of the customer.

Photo of David Fowler Johnson David Fowler Johnson

dfjohnson@winstead.com
817.420.8223

David maintains an active trial and appellate practice and has consistently worked on financial institution litigation matters throughout his career. David is the primary author of the Texas Fiduciary Litigator blog, which reports on legal cases and issues impacting the fiduciary…

dfjohnson@winstead.com
817.420.8223

David maintains an active trial and appellate practice and has consistently worked on financial institution litigation matters throughout his career. David is the primary author of the Texas Fiduciary Litigator blog, which reports on legal cases and issues impacting the fiduciary field in Texas. Read More

David’s financial institution experience includes (but is not limited to): breach of contract, foreclosure litigation, lender liability, receivership and injunction remedies upon default, non-recourse and other real estate lending, class action, RICO actions, usury, various tort causes of action, breach of fiduciary duty claims, and preference and other related claims raised by receivers.

David also has experience in estate and trust disputes including will contests, mental competency issues, undue influence, trust modification/clarification, breach of fiduciary duty and related claims, and accountings. David’s recent trial experience includes:

  • Representing a bank in federal class action suit where trust beneficiaries challenged whether the bank was the authorized trustee of over 220 trusts;
  • Representing a bank in state court regarding claims that it mismanaged oil and gas assets;
  • Representing a bank who filed suit in probate court to modify three trusts to remove a charitable beneficiary that had substantially changed operations;
  • Represented an individual executor of an estate against claims raised by a beneficiary for breach of fiduciary duty and an accounting; and
  • Represented an individual trustee against claims raised by a beneficiary for breach of fiduciary duty, mental competence of the settlor, and undue influence.

David is one of twenty attorneys in the state (of the 84,000 licensed) that has the triple Board Certification in Civil Trial Law, Civil Appellate and Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

Additionally, David is a member of the Civil Trial Law Commission of the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. This commission writes and grades the exam for new applicants for civil trial law certification.

David maintains an active appellate practice, which includes:

  • Appeals from final judgments after pre-trial orders such as summary judgments or after jury trials;
  • Interlocutory appeals dealing with temporary injunctions, arbitration, special appearances, sealing the record, and receiverships;
  • Original proceedings such as seeking and defending against mandamus relief; and
  • Seeking emergency relief staying trial court’s orders pending appeal or mandamus.

For example, David was the lead appellate lawyer in the Texas Supreme Court in In re Weekley Homes, LP, 295 S.W.3d 309 (Tex. 2009). The Court issued a ground-breaking opinion in favor of David’s client regarding the standards that a trial court should follow in ordering the production of computers in discovery.

David previously taught Appellate Advocacy at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law located in Fort Worth. David is licensed and has practiced in the U.S. Supreme Court; the Fifth, Seventh, and Eleventh Federal Circuits; the Federal District Courts for the Northern, Eastern, and Western Districts of Texas; the Texas Supreme Court and various Texas intermediate appellate courts. David also served as an adjunct professor at Baylor University Law School, where he taught products liability and portions of health law. He has authored many legal articles and spoken at numerous legal education courses on both trial and appellate issues. His articles have been cited as authority by the Texas Supreme Court (twice) and the Texas Courts of Appeals located in Waco, Texarkana, Beaumont, Tyler and Houston (Fourteenth District), and a federal district court in Pennsylvania. David’s articles also have been cited by McDonald and Carlson in their Texas Civil Practice treatise, William v. Dorsaneo in the Texas Litigation Guide, and various authors in the Baylor Law ReviewSt. Mary’s Law JournalSouth Texas Law Review and Tennessee Law Review.

Representative Experience

  • Civil Litigation and Appellate Law