Arthur Andersen & Co. v. Perry Equipment Corp., 95-0444

CourtSupreme Court of Texas
Citation40 Tex. Sup.Ct. J. 591,945 S.W.2d 812
Docket NumberNo. 95-0444,95-0444
Parties40 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 591 ARTHUR ANDERSEN & CO., Petitioner, v. PERRY EQUIPMENT CORPORATION, Respondent.
Decision Date16 May 1997

Page 812

945 S.W.2d 812
40 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 591
ARTHUR ANDERSEN & CO., Petitioner,
No. 95-0444.
Supreme Court of Texas.
Argued March 19, 1997.
Decided May 16, 1997.

Page 813

Ben Taylor, Dallas, Thomas C. Godbold, Houston, for Petitioner.

Christopher B. Allen, Michael P. Cash, James W. Paulsen, Houston, for Respondent.

CORNYN, Justice.

We withdraw our opinion of January 10, 1997, and substitute the following in its place. The parties' motions for rehearing are overruled.

Page 814

In this accounting malpractice case, Perry Equipment Corporation (PECO) sued the accounting firm of Arthur Andersen for a faulty audit, which PECO relied on to purchase another company, Maloney Pipeline Systems. The audit favorably reported Maloney's financial condition when, in fact, the company was suffering substantial losses. Fourteen months after the sale, Maloney filed for bankruptcy. PECO sued for violations of the Deceptive Trade Practice Act, fraud, negligence, negligent misrepresentation, gross negligence, and breach of implied warranty. Based on the jury's verdict, the trial court rendered judgment for PECO. The court of appeals affirmed. 898 S.W.2d 914.

We address three issues presented by Arthur Anderson's application for writ of error. First, Arthur Andersen challenges PECO's consumer status because Maloney, rather than PECO, actually paid for the audit. Second, Arthur Andersen claims that the trial court failed to instruct the jury on the correct measure of damages. Third, Arthur Andersen contests the attorney's fees award, arguing that the percentage of recovery method is not a proper measure of attorney's fees under the DTPA, and that even if such fees were recoverable, no evidence supports the award. For the reasons discussed below, we reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings.


When PECO, a successful manufacturer of oil filters used in compressors for gas pipelines, decided to expand its business into the gas metering field, it looked into acquiring Maloney Pipeline Systems, one of three United States companies in the liquid metering market. In the mid-1980s, PECO began negotiating with Maloney's owner, Ramteck II. As a condition of the sale, PECO required an audit of Maloney's financial statements. Maloney retained Arthur Andersen to conduct the audit. Maloney eventually provided PECO financial statements audited by Arthur Andersen. The statements showed Maloney to be a profitable business. Relying upon this information, on August 23, 1985, PECO purchased the Maloney stock from Ramteck II, Inc. for $4,088,237.

Soon after the purchase, Maloney began to show signs of serious financial decline. For example, three months after the sale, Maloney ran out of cash and required a $400,000 advance from PECO to continue operating. PECO also attempted other emergency financial measures, but to no avail. Fourteen months after the sale, Maloney filed bankruptcy. PECO presented uncontradicted evidence at trial that the purchase price for Maloney was a total loss from which PECO realized no return and which PECO wrote off.

PECO's experts testified that Arthur Andersen's audit contained serious errors and otherwise failed to follow acceptable auditing procedures. One of the most significant errors, the evidence showed, was the failure to verify that contracts Maloney reported as complete were in fact complete or that Maloney's estimates of costs and percentage of completion for ongoing contracts were accurate. Maloney later incurred substantial losses on these contracts. One expert testified that the audit was one of the worst he had ever seen. Another expert, an auditing professor, stated that if a student submitted the work, he would have given the student a failing grade.

The jury found Arthur Andersen 51 percent at fault and PECO 49 percent at fault. The jury also found that Arthur Andersen had committed fraud, DTPA violations, and breach of warranty, but that it was not liable for negligent misrepresentation or gross negligence. The jury assessed damages of $5,449,468, including the $4,088,237 PECO paid for Maloney and $1,361,231 for other expenses incurred by PECO in its attempt to salvage the company. PECO elected to recover under the DTPA. The trial court credited Arthur Andersen with the two million dollars that Ramteck II had already paid PECO in settlement, and then awarded PECO a total of $9,297,601.20, including damages, prejudgment interest, DTPA additional damages, attorney's fees, and costs.

Page 815


Arthur Andersen first contends that PECO is not a "consumer," a prerequisite to recovery under the DTPA. The DTPA defines a consumer as one "who seeks or acquires by purchase or lease, any goods or services." TEX. BUS. & COM.CODE § 17.45(4). In determining whether a plaintiff is a consumer, our focus is on the plaintiff's relationship to the transaction. Amstadt v. United States Brass Corp., 919 S.W.2d 644, 650 (Tex.1996). As a condition of sale, PECO insisted that Maloney provide audited financial statements. Maloney hired Arthur Andersen for this specific purpose. PECO then relied on those statements in reaching its decision to purchase Maloney. Under these circumstances, we hold that PECO sought and acquired Arthur Andersen's services.

The next question is whether PECO sought and acquired these services by purchase or lease, inasmuch as it did not pay for the audit. Our decision in Kennedy v. Sale, 689 S.W.2d 890 (Tex.1985), controls this issue. There, we held that the DTPA does not require the consumer to be an actual purchaser or lessor of the goods or services, as long as the consumer is the beneficiary of those goods or services. Id.

The Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants, as amicus curiae, argues that a stock purchaser should not be considered a consumer simply because the corporation paid for an audit for the purchaser's benefit because virtually every external audit benefits third parties. Thus, any stock purchaser who reviews audited financial statements could bring a DTPA claim against the auditor. 1 Our holding is not so broad. In this case, the audit was rendered in connection with the sale of Maloney and was specifically required by PECO and intended to benefit PECO. Arthur Andersen was aware that PECO had required the audit and would rely on its accuracy and knew the specific purpose for which it was conducted. We accordingly hold that PECO is a consumer under the DTPA.

Arthur Andersen also urges us to reject PECO's consumer status based on the decision in Hand v. Dean Witter Reynolds Inc., 889 S.W.2d 483 (Tex.App.--Houston [14th Dist.] 1994, writ denied). In Hand, the plaintiff alleged that her stock broker failed to purchase certain commodity option contracts after she requested that he do so. Id. at 487-88. After deciding that a commodity option contract is a right, not a "good," under the DTPA, id. at 498, the court next considered whether the plaintiff was a consumer by virtue of her purchase of "services." The DTPA defines services as including "services furnished in connection with the sale or repair of goods." TEX. BUS. & COM.CODE § 17.45(2). The court reasoned that the omission of any reference in the definition to services in connection with the sale of something other than a good indicated that services furnished in connection with the sale of intangibles did not fall within the definition of services under the DTPA. Hand, 889 S.W.2d at 498. The court then concluded: "The key to the [consumer status] determination is whether the purchased goods or services are an objective of the transaction or merely incidental to it." Id. at 500.

We believe that Hand confirms, rather than defeats, PECO's consumer status. Arthur Andersen's audit was not merely incidental to the sale of Maloney to PECO; it was required by PECO and was central to PECO's decision to consummate the purchase. Determining Maloney's financial condition was PECO's primary objective in acquiring Arthur Andersen's services. We therefore reject Arthur Andersen's contention that Hand defeats PECO's status as a consumer under the DTPA.


Arthur Andersen next complains that the jury charge allowed the jury to award PECO the entire purchase price of Maloney, without instructing the jury to subtract the value of Maloney stock at the time of the sale. 2 Arthur

Page 816

Andersen also contends that even if the court had properly instructed the jury, PECO failed to introduce any evidence that the stock was valueless at the time of...

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