De La Rosa v. Kaples

In De La Rosa v. Kaples, 812 S.W.2d 432 (Tex. App.--San Antonio 1991, writ denied), the plaintiffs paid the defendant $ 15,000 toward purchase of a business. Id. Plaintiffs decided not to complete the purchase and wanted their downpayment back. When the defendant refused to refund it, the plaintiffs sued for breach of contract and sought rescission; the defendant counterclaimed for rescission. Both parties recognized a contract but the jury found that the parties had not agreed the plaintiffs could get a refund, awarded no damages to either side, but awarded attorney's fees to the defendant. Id. The court of appeals concluded that, because both parties claimed the $ 15,000 downpayment, the defendant prevailed in the jury's implicit finding that she was entitled to retain the downpayment. Id. at 435. In De La Rosa v. Kaples, the buyers of real property paid the seller a down payment of $ 15,000 and took possession of the property pursuant to the agreement. De La Rosa, 812 S.W.2d at 433. The buyers soon changed their minds, returned the property, and demanded the return of the $ 15,000 down payment. Id. The seller refused to return the down payment. The buyers sued for breach of oral contract claiming the $ 15,000 down payment, or, alternatively, for rescission of contract. Id. The seller responded with a general denial, and a claim for damages for breach of the same contract, for groundless suit brought in bad faith, and for attorney's fees both for defending and prosecuting the claim under the contract. Id. The buyers (appellants) failed to present a statement of facts on appeal. Id. The jury found the contract did not entitle the buyers to the return of the down payment if they were dissatisfied with the purchase, the seller suffered no damages from the buyers' failure to purchase the property, and the seller's reasonable and necessary attorney's fees were $ 4000. Id. On appeal, the buyers argued the seller did not prevail on a valid or just claim and therefore was not entitled to attorney's fees under section 38.001 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code because the jury found that the seller suffered no damages from the buyers' breach. Id. at 434. The court of appeals, however, concluded the seller had prevailed because "the jury implicitly sustained the claim of the [seller] to the $ 15,000 by its answers." Id. at 435. Thus, the seller prevailed and was entitled to attorney's fees because the jury found the seller was entitled to property it claimed in its breach of contract suit. Id.