Court Holds That Family Member Did Not Owe Fiduciary Duties To Other Family Member

by Winstead PC

In Walker v. Walker, a son sued his father and brother regarding the ownership of a beach house. No. 14-16-00357-CV, 2017 Tex. App. LEXIS 2742 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] March 30, 2017, no pet. history). The son alleged that the father made an oral gift of the property to the son. The son alleged that the father wrongfully deeded the same property to the brother at a later date. The son and his wife brought suit to quiet title based on a claim of oral parol gift of realty and also asserted claims for damages based on promissory estoppel, unjust enrichment, and breach of fiduciary duty. The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendants, and the plaintiff appealed.

Regarding the breach of fiduciary duty claim, the court of appeals discussed whether the brother owed the son a fiduciary duty:

[The] law also recognizes that certain relationships may give rise to an informal fiduciary duty based on “a moral, social, domestic or purely personal relationship of confidence and trust.” Informal fiduciary duties will not be created lightly. Some relationships involving trust and confidence simply do not rise to the stature of a fiduciary relationship. Subjective trust of one person in another is also not sufficient to create a duty. “[A] confidential relationship is a two-way street: ‘one party must not only trust the other, but the relationship must be mutual and understood by both parties.’” Family relationships may give rise to an informal fiduciary duty between family members where there is sufficient evidence of a relationship of trust and confidence. A mere family relationship, however, by itself is generally not sufficient. We will examine the actualities of the relationship between the parties in determining the existence of a confidential fiduciary relationship. Where there is no evidence to establish the relationship or the facts are undisputed, a court may determine the question as a matter of law.

Id. at * 30-31. The court reviewed the evidence and determined that it did not support any fiduciary duties. There was no evidence that the wife and brother-in-law had any relationship of trust and confidence: “There is no evidence showing that she sought Layne’s advice or guidance on any matter, nor evidence of any other circumstances suggesting a relationship of trust and confidence between them.” Id. The court also held that there was no evidence showing that the son was often guided by the judgment or advice of the brother, or that the son put any particular trust and confidence in the brother with regard to the son’s financial decisions. Nor was there any evidence indicating that the brother recognized that the son was relying on him to the extent that a fiduciary duty arose. Although the son argued generally that there was a history of the brother handling “family transactions,” he did not point to any evidence establishing that he relied upon or put his confidence in the brother with regard to any specific “family transactions.”

The court also held that even though the son and brother inherited real property and owned it as cotenants, that cotenants in real property do not ordinarily owe fiduciary duties to each other. Id. (citing Scott v. Scruggs, 836 S.W.2d 278, 282 (Tex. App.—Texarkana 1992, writ denied) (“Absent a special relationship there is no fiduciary obligation owed by one cotenant to the others.”)). Therefore, the court affirmed the summary judgment dismissing the breach of fiduciary duty claim.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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