Pura-Flo Corp. v. Clanton

Decision Date19 November 2021
Docket Number20-0964
PartiesPura-Flo Corporation, Petitioner, v. Donald Clanton, Respondent
CourtSupreme Court of Texas

Pura-Flo Corporation, Petitioner,

Donald Clanton, Respondent

No. 20-0964

Supreme Court of Texas

November 19, 2021

On Petition for Review from the Court of Appeals for the Fourteenth District of Texas


This case concerns whether a jury's $50, 000 future-damages award for breach of a terminable-at-will rental contract was based on reasonable certainty. The jury found that Pura-Flo breached its indefinite agreement to make monthly rental payments to Donald Clanton and failed to find that Pura-Flo had terminated the contract. The evidence, however, demonstrated that Pura-Flo actively (although unsuccessfully) sought to terminate the contract at its earliest opportunity, and no evidence supported any finding that the contract would endure. Further, no evidence supports the $50, 000 amount awarded by the jury. Because both the fact and amount of future


damages lacked reasonable certainty, we reverse the court of appeals' judgment.

Pura-Flo is in the business of renting water coolers. In 1994, Pura-Flo (known at the time as Water Equipment Company) contracted with Misty Vanderzyden to invest in its business. Under the terms of the "Rental Income Agreement," Pura-Flo agreed to "transfer ownership" of fifty "units" (defined in the contract as "income producing water coolers rental customers") already placed "in location" to Vanderzyden for about $50, 000. Pura-Flo agreed to continue to service the "equipment," carry insurance, repossess and reinstall any "units" if a rental customer canceled its rental contract, and pay Vanderzyden $1, 750 per month in rental income, less a monthly fee.

The contract provided that its initial term would last sixty months, followed by an option to renew for thirty-six months. After this initial ninety-six-month period, the contract included an option to renew "for an indefinite length of time" "[u]pon mutual agreement of both parties." Vanderzyden signed the agreement in March 1994 and exercised the right to renew for thirty-six months in March 1999. She sold the contract to Donald Clanton in June 2002-three months after the initial ninety-six-month period had expired.

After he purchased the contract, Clanton met with Rocky Rasberry, Pura-Flo's president, to discuss the duration of the agreement. Clanton believed he had purchased "a stream of income" in addition to the fifty physical water coolers, which he evidenced to Rasberry by forwarding correspondence from Vanderzyden confirming his purchase of "fifty (50) units along with all future rental income."


Rasberry sent Clanton a contract-renewal letter after their meeting, which congratulated Clanton on his "new venture." Once Clanton signed the contract renewal, Pura-Flo sent him monthly payments without incident for the next fourteen years, until December 2016.

It is unclear why Pura-Flo stopped paying Clanton. Rasberry initially stated that an unrelated investigation at the company revealed, for the first time, that Clanton had been receiving monthly checks for the previous fourteen years due to "an oversight." After Clanton produced a copy of the renewed contract, Rasberry next responded that Pura-Flo halted its monthly payments because Clanton's water coolers had become obsolete and were no longer earning income. Two months later, Rasberry asserted a third explanation in a letter to Clanton-that the contract had already expired when Clanton purchased it from Vanderzyden in 2002-and asked Clanton to "consider the agreement terminated." Clanton sued Pura-Flo for breach of contract.

In the trial court, Clanton argued that the contract was for the sale of "income producing water cooler rental customer[s]"-not just physical water coolers-and that he was therefore owed past damages for the months since Pura-Flo ceased payments. Clanton further argued he was owed future damages for the duration of the contract given Pura-Flo's breach and that he understood the contract to be of indefinite duration. As to the amount of future damages, Clanton testified that he had earned about $9, 000 per year under the contract between 2002 and 2016, and he hypothesized that he could replace this lost income stream with a $300, 000 certificate of deposit with an average three-percent yield.


The jury found that Pura-Flo breached a valid contract of indefinite duration that had not been terminated. It awarded $19, 500 in past losses and future...

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