Fraud judgment reversed, trade secret judgment affirmed

Bohnsack v. Varco presented a post-judgment appeal of successful claims for fraud and misappropriation of trade secrets about an oil drilling device called the “Pit Bull.”  No. 10-20741 (Jan. 23, 2012).  The Court ruled: (1) the evidence was sufficient to hold the defendant liable for statements of its outside counsel, to show that those statements were a “material factor” to the plaintiff, and to establish injury from lost profits (op. at 13-16); (2) the fraud damages awarded were benefit-of-the-bargain damages, not compensable under common-law fraud (op. at 16-20 (discussing Haase v. Glazner, 62 S.W.3d 795 (Tex. 2001))); (3) fraudulent inducement failed because the defendant’s statements only induced negotiations, not entry into a contract (op. at 22); and (4) the damages were compensable as misappropriation of a trade secret, under the broad definition of “use” in Texas law, and in light of damages evidence sufficient to show “the value a reasonably prudent investor would pay for the trade secret.”  Op. at 25-26.

Fraudulent Inducement Damages

The case of LHC Nashua Partnership Ltd. v. PDNED Sagamore Nashua LLC presented several liability and damages issues in a contract case arising from a real estate development project.  While nominally applying New Hampshire law, the Court addressed Texas law because it did not materially differ on the key points.  Op. at 8.  The Court’s holdings included these: a promissory estoppel claim was not actionable given the scope of the parties’ written contract, op. at 9-10; the plaintiff offered sufficient evidence of justifiable reliance on alleged misrepresentations, op. at 11-13; and a merger clause in the parties’ agreement did not foreclose the misrepresentation claim, op. at 13-14.  The Court’s analysis of the merger clause focused on the recent Texas Supreme Court case of Italian Cowboy Partners v. Prudential, which substantially clarified Texas law in that area.  The Court affirmed an award of reliance damages but reversed an award of $25 million in lost profits, stating that the contract induced by fraud “contemplated a future closing transaction”; therefore, “[Plaintiff] cannot recover lost profits flowing from an agreement to purchase property that never closed due to the failure of that agrement’s express conditions.”  Op. at 21-23.