Baker v. Habeeb
Justices Lang, Brown (Opinion, linked here), and Whitehill
Habeeb develops and produces TV programs. He rented space from Baker’s partnership, 3900 Commerce. During the last few weeks of Habeeb’s occupancy, Baker had maintenance workers from 3900 Commerce begin clearing the space out, to prepare for a new tenant. Oops. During the clearing-out process, the workers mistakenly disposed of the master tapes of more than 50 episodes of two programs that Habeeb had stored in the rented space. At trial, Habeeb’s expert testified that the total discounted value of the lost episodes was $4,847,000. Baker’s expert disagreed, placing the value at $160,000. The jury returned a verdict for Habeeb and assessed damages in between, at $2,582,854.60. Baker appealed, but the Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed.
Most of the Court’s opinion was devoted to a careful application of the Texas Supreme Court’s Robinson standards to Habeeb’s expert witness and his valuation testimony in the unique setting of this case. But Baker also argued that the jury’s $2,582,854.60 damages award was not supported by legally sufficient evidence, and that the value of the lost tapes was not established with the requisite “reasonable certainty.” Although the jury’s damages number was something of a head-scratcher, the Court of Appeals held the “jury’s finding may not be set aside because its reasoning in arriving at the amount of damages is unclear.” The Court explained that a “jury is free to accept or reject all or any portion of an expert’s testimony” and “has discretion to award damages within the range of evidence presented at trial, so long as there is a rational basis for calculation.” So, “[w]hile it is not clear how the jury arrived at this figure, it had the discretion to award damages within the range presented at trial”—i.e., somewhere between the $4.8 million to which Habeeb’s expert testified, and the $160,000 urged by Baker’s expert.