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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:David D. Thomas owed the firm Gary E. Patterson & Associates PC $47,372.59 in attorneys’ fees for legal work that the firm had done for him. Sometime before 1996, the firm sued Thomas for those sums. On Jan. 4, 1996, Thomas approached the firm about settling the suit. The parties settled that same day. In the settlement agreement, Thomas agreed to pay $22,500 interest-free in monthly installments of $300. He also made a $500 downpayment, although the firm later contended that the $500 was in partial payment of the full $47,372.59. The settlement agreement contained a merger clause and a no-subsequent-oral-agreements clause. On the day of the settlement, Thomas and the law firm signed an agreed judgment, which awarded the law firm $22,500 � without interest, attorneys’ fees, or costs � against Thomas. The trial court signed the agreed judgment on Jan. 17, 1996. The firm obtained and recorded an abstract of judgment in March 1996. The 1996 abstract listed the amount of judgment as $22,500 and recited, in pertinent parts, “BALANCE DUE ON JUDGMENT & COSTS: $FULL AMOUNT” and “AMOUNT OF CREDITS: $N/A.” Thomas made no further payments. In April 2000, Thomas sold his home to the Holubs. Houston Title Co. (HTC) was the escrow and closing agent for the sale. As part of the sale, Thomas executed an “affidavit of identity” form provided by HTC, in which he averred that he was not the debtor listed in certain recorded liens having nothing to do with this case and in which he also made a blanket averment that “I have no Abstract of Judgments and no Notices of Federal or State Tax Liens filed of Record against me.” In December 2001, the firm sued the Holubs, HTC and Thomas. The firm further alleged that the Holubs were not bona fide purchasers based on the 1996 abstract and lien and based on the conspiracy, torts and statutory violations alleged in the firm’s suit. Finally, the firm alleged that HTC “knowingly and intentionally, tortiously interfered with the contract between [the Law Firm] and . . . Thomas.” The firm sought a declaration that the deed from Thomas to the Holubs was “void ab initio[,] thereby subjecting the property to foreclosure by [the Law Firm].” The firm also sought actual and exemplary damages from the Holubs and HTC, alleging, in support of the latter damages, malice and “intent to cause substantial injury.” The Holubs and HTC answered and counterclaimed for, among other things, sanctions for frivolous pleadings and a declaration that the 1996 abstract be declared null and void, so that no lien could attach through it in favor of the firm. On June 2, 2003, the Holubs and HTC filed a joint, hybrid motion for traditional and no-evidence summary judgment. In their no-evidence summary-judgment motion, the Holubs and HTC asserted that: 1. there was no evidence of any element of the firm’s tort claims; 2. suborning perjury was not a cause of action; 3. there was no evidence that the Holubs or HTC had a duty to investigate the validity of Thomas’ averments in the affidavit of identity, resulting in the failure of any claims based upon that duty; and 4. there was no evidence of malice. On Aug. 13, 2003, the firm moved for partial, traditional summary judgment, asserting, among other bases for judgment, that its lien based on the 1996 abstract was valid and the home that Thomas sold to the Holubs was subject to that lien. The parties disputed whether a valid lien arose from the 1996 abstract’s filing. In a nutshell, the Holubs and HTC asserted that no valid lien arose, because the 1996 abstract failed to show credit for the $500 that Thomas had paid the law firm, which the Holubs viewed as a downpayment on an already settled amount. The firm contended that the 1996 abstract created a valid lien, because the abstract did not have to show Thomas’ $500 payment. The firm argued that Thomas’ payment was a separate offer (on the $47,372.59 total that he owed) to induce settlement negotiations, rather than a downpayment on a settled amount. On Sept. 17, 2003, the trial court granted only the Holubs’ and HTC’s no-evidence summary-judgment motion and dismissed all of the firm’s claims against the Holubs and HTC with prejudice. Following the remand and resolution of matters not decided by summary judgment, the trial court granted the Holubs’ and HTC’s post-abatement summary-judgment motion and rendered final judgment declaring that the 1996 abstract was null and void and that it did not create a valid lien. The firm appealed. HOLDING:Affirmed. On appeal, the firm complained that the trial court erred: 1. in declaring that the 1996 abstract was void and that no lien arose from it; and 2. in failing to declare that the 1996 abstract and lien were valid and that the Holubs did not purchase Thomas’ home as bona fide purchasers. Under Texas Property Code �52.001, the court stated, “a first or subsequent abstract of judgment, when it is recorded and indexed in accordance with this chapter, if the judgment is not then dormant, constitutes a valid lien on real property of the defendant located in the county in which the abstract is recorded and indexed.” Under �52.003, however, an abstract of judgment must show the amount for which the judgment was rendered and the balance due. The Holubs asserted that to create a valid lien, an abstract of an agreed judgment rendered upon settlement must reflect settlement payments that are made at any time before the abstract is recorded, even if those payments are made before the agreed judgment is signed. The trial court agreed with this argument. Because a judgment lien is created by statute, the court stated, substantial compliance with the statutory requirements is mandatory before a creditor’s lien will attach. An abstract of judgment, the court stated, does not substantially comply with �52.003, and thus creates no lien, when it completely omits an element that �52.003 requires be included in an abstract. First, the court found that Thomas’ $500 payment was a downpayment toward the $22,500 and not a payment against the earlier debt of $47,372.59. The mere fact, the court held, that a debtor tenders payment pursuant to settlement before the agreed judgment is signed by the court � when the agreed judgment is required by the settlement and awards the full settlement amount � does not exempt the abstract issued on that agreed judgment from having to show the amount of that payment as a credit. The court also concluded that evidence showing that Thomas’ $500 check was a separate payment to induce settlement, rather than the downpayment called for by the settlement, was inadmissible parol evidence, because it varied or contradicted the settlement agreement’s terms. Thus, the court held that the Holubs and HTC did not inadvertently raise a material fact issue by producing evidence that Thomas’ $500 payment was not a downpayment so as to defeat their own post-abatement summary-judgment motion. The court further held that the trial court did not err to the extent that it rendered summary judgment for the Holubs and HTC based on the invalidity of the 1996 abstract and lien. The court also found that the firm failed to raise fact issues as to its tortious-interference, conspiracy and Texas Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act claims. OPINION:Taft, J.; Taft, Keyes and Hanks, JJ.

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