January 13th, 2023
US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Opinions
Hanover Ins v. Binnacle Development
Opinion Date: January 12, 2023
Judge: Leslie H. Southwick
Areas of Law: Contracts, Real Estate & Property Law, Zoning, Planning & Land Use
This dispute involves three construction projects (the “Projects”) in Galveston County, Texas. Defendants, Binnacle Development, Lone Trail Development, and SSLT, are land developers. Each developer contracted with R. Hassell Properties, Inc. to complete paving and infrastructure projects in Galveston County Municipal Utility District (“MUD”) No. 31. The three Hassell contracts were form MUD contracts created by MUD attorneys. Each contract stated that it was “for Galveston County Municipal Utility District No. 31.” Hanover subsequently sued the developers in federal court to recover the contract balances on the Projects. The liquidated-damages clause would, if enforced, amount to an offset of $900,000. Both parties moved for summary judgment. The district court concluded that because no district is a party to the contracts at issue, the economic disincentive provision from the Water Code does not apply. On the second issue, the district court found that the damages clauses in the contracts constitute an unenforceable penalty. The court granted summary judgment for Hanover.
The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court held that Section 49.271 allows “economic disincentive” clauses only in contracts where a district is a contracting party. Because no district is party to the Hassell contracts, they cannot incorporate “economic disincentive” clauses permitted under the Texas Water Code. The court also wrote it would not disturb the district court’s finding that the clause is an unenforceable penalty under Texas law.
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