946 F.3d 689 (5th Cir. 2020), 17-20725, Universal Truckload, Inc. v. Dalton Logistics, Inc.

Docket Nº:17-20725
Citation:946 F.3d 689
Opinion Judge:JENNIFER WALKER ELROD, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:UNIVERSAL TRUCKLOAD, INCORPORATED, Plaintiff-Appellant v. DALTON LOGISTICS, INCORPORATED; Hess Corporation; Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Company, Defendants-Appellees
Attorney:Scott Novak, Ryan T. Hand, Lorance & Thompson, P.C., Houston, TX, Morley Witus, Esq., Kevin M. Aoun, Barris, Sott, Denn & Driker, P.L.L.C., for Plaintiff-Appellant. Russell S. Post, Owen Joseph McGovern, Beck Redden, L.L.P., Lawrence Scott Rothenberg, Law Office of Lawrence Rothenberg, Houston, T...
Judge Panel:Before DAVIS, STEWART, and ELROD, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:January 03, 2020
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

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946 F.3d 689 (5th Cir. 2020)



DALTON LOGISTICS, INCORPORATED; Hess Corporation; Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Company, Defendants-Appellees

No. 17-20725

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

January 3, 2020

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Alfred H. Bennett, U.S. District Judge

Scott Novak, Ryan T. Hand, Lorance & Thompson, P.C., Houston, TX, Morley Witus, Esq., Kevin M. Aoun, Barris, Sott, Denn & Driker, P.L.L.C., for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Russell S. Post, Owen Joseph McGovern, Beck Redden, L.L.P., Lawrence Scott Rothenberg, Law Office of Lawrence Rothenberg, Houston, TX, for Defendant-Appellee Dalton Logistics, Incorporated.

Michael James Mazzone, Esq., Natasha Belle Breaux, Christina F. Crozier, Mini Kapoor, Haynes & Boone, L.L.P., Houston, TX, for Defendant-Appellee Hess Corporation.

Leigh Ann Schell, New Orleans, LA, Christopher Lawrance Evans, Houston, TX, Rocklan W. King, III, Thomas Anthony Swafford, Esq., Nashville, TN, Adams & Reese, L.L.P., for Defendant-Appellee Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Company.

Before DAVIS, STEWART, and ELROD, Circuit Judges.



Universal Truckload appeals an adverse judgment following a jury trial. Because Universal Truckload fails to demonstrate reversible error, we AFFIRM.


Appellee Dalton Logistics is a shipping broker. Dalton spearheads its clients’ large-scale shipments of heavy-duty freight such as oil-field equipment and rigs. Two of Dalton’s former clients— Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Co. and Hess Corporation— are co-appellees in this appeal. H&P and Hess hired Dalton to coordinate the transportation of disassembled oil rigs. Dalton outsourced the trucking to appellant Universal Truckload. Dalton owed Universal Truckload $1.9 million for the trucking services it provided. Dalton never paid Universal Truckload for its services and Universal Truckload sued Dalton, H&P, and Hess.

On the surface, this case seems simple: Party A provided shipping services to Party B, and Party B never paid. But many of the key issues in this case turn on another part of the story. In response to Universal Truckload’s lawsuit, Dalton counterclaimed, alleging that Universal Truckload had promised to purchase Dalton but never fully finalized the deal, instead stringing Dalton along for over a year. Dalton says that it entered into the shipping contracts

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with H&P and Hess entirely at Universal Truckload’s direction and that Universal Truckload had even told Dalton not to pay the debt owed to Universal Truckload on these projects. Dalton complains that it spent all of its cash— burning every last asset— at Universal Truckload’s direction with constant assurances that the purchase would soon be finalized. Dalton’s legal theory, successful at the district court, was promissory estoppel: Dalton spent millions in reliance on the ultimately broken promise that Universal would take over soon. The facts comprising Dalton’s counterclaim are detailed below.

In March of 2013, Dalton lost a lucrative contract. Without that business, Dalton struggled financially. Dalton’s executives had to decide whether they should restructure the entire company to stay afloat or take the profits and unwind the company completely. Dalton’s executives settled on the latter. President Dick Meredith and Vice President of Operations Jack Robison planned to take their profits, close their operations in North Dakota, and return to Texas. As part of closing shop, Dalton contacted Universal Truckload, whom they regularly worked with, and told Universal Truckload to take its trucks out of North Dakota because Dalton would no longer be needing them. However, instead of taking the trucks back, Universal Truckload’s president, Marc Limback, expressed interest in buying Dalton. Dalton was open to the idea but told Universal Truckload that the deal would need to happen quickly because Dalton lacked the cash sufficient to last long on its own.

Dalton, who had "already shut [the] company down," "cranked it back up" at Universal Truckload’s request. Universal Truckload sent Dalton an Indication of Interest Letter and then Don Cochran, president of Universal Truckload’s parent company, and Limback came to North Dakota in April to see Dalton’s operations in person. Dalton claims that since the initial conversation regarding purchasing Dalton, Limback and Cochran were in near-constant communication with Dalton about the purchase, routinely giving assurances that a deal would be finalized soon.

On May 31, 2013, Universal Truckload officers met with Dalton officers in Detroit, Michigan. Dalton alleges that at this meeting, it reminded Universal Truckload that time was of the essence considering Dalton’s dwindling financial resources. Dalton alleges that Universal Truckload responded to this with an offer to buy Dalton for $25 million, but Universal Truckload claims that this agreement was never made.

Shortly after the May 31 meeting, Universal Truckload became embroiled in internal political upheaval. A new merger left the old officers— who had promised to purchase Dalton— at odds with the new officers— who allegedly did not want the deal. Dalton claims that it continued to remind Cochran that it was running low on cash and needed the deal done quickly and that Cochran continually reassured Dalton that the deal was almost finalized. These assurances that the deal would eventually work out allegedly continued for months, all while Dalton continued to deplete its resources to keep the company operational for Universal Truckload’s promised buyout.

In August 2013, Dalton sent financial statements to Universal Truckload. Three weeks later, Universal Truckload sent Dalton an Asset Purchase Agreement offering $10.3 million upfront with a potential two-year earn-out totaling $24.3 million. Dick Meredith called Cochran to object to the new terms and Cochran agreed that this was not the deal Universal Truckload and Dalton had struck in May. Cochran assured Dalton that he would be able to get

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the executives at Universal Truckload to agree to get something done.

In early 2014, Cochran allegedly urged Dalton to "[i]ncrease [its] revenue" by "getting outside help, other cranes, other trucks and so forth, to be able to ... help us do more rigs." Dalton did not have enough cash to pay Universal Truckload for trucks so Universal Truckload increased Dalton’s credit limit and provided the trucks on credit.

Eventually, after eighteen months, Universal Truckload executives overruled Cochran, demanded Dalton repay the $1.9 million, and called Dalton’s bond. At this point, Dalton had no money to repay Universal Truckload as it had been paying to keep the company afloat for over eighteen months. Dalton, which was valued at $5.7 million in April of 2013, now had no assets, and instead owed Universal Truckload $1.9 million.

Universal Truckload sued Dalton, H&P, and Hess to recover the unpaid bills. It brought the same claims against each defendant, alleging breach of contract, breach of quasi-contract, and breach of a sworn account. It argued that all defendants were liable for Dalton’s debt under theories of equitable subrogation, agency, and ratification. Dalton counterclaimed alleging breach of contract and, in the alternative, promissory estoppel.

Hess moved for summary judgment on all of Universal Truckload’s claims against it. The district court granted Hess’s motion and determined that Universal Truckload’s breach of contract claim failed as a matter of law because Universal Truckload failed to present any evidence that Hess consented to the terms of a shipping contract with Universal Truckload. Universal Truckload’s other claims against Hess also failed as Universal Truckload "failed to cite, nor [could the district court find], a single case holding that a shipper is liable to a carrier of freight without some sort of contract existing between the parties."

Universal Truckload’s claims against H&P were partially dismissed at summary judgment. On H&P’s motion, the district court dismissed Universal Truckload’s claims alleging H&P was liable to Universal Truckload for the loads Universal Truckload subcontracted out. The remaining claims— regarding the loads Universal Truckload moved itself— proceeded to trial. At the close of a week-long trial, the jury found that Universal Truckload had no contract with H&P, and therefore, Universal Truckload could not recover from H&P.

All of Universal Truckloads claims against Dalton, and Daltons crossclaims against Universal Truckload, proceeded to a jury trial. The jury found that Dalton...

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