Shumway v. Horizon Credit Corp.

Decision Date16 January 1991
Docket NumberNo. C-8669,C-8669
Citation801 S.W.2d 890
Parties13 UCC Rep.Serv.2d 1174 Gene A. SHUMWAY and Sandra Shumway, Petitioners, v. HORIZON CREDIT CORPORATION, Respondent.
CourtTexas Supreme Court

HECHT, Justice.

The question presented is whether the makers of a promissory note contractually waived their rights to presentment, notice of the note holder's intent to accelerate, and notice of acceleration of the balance due on the note upon default. The trial court rendered summary judgment for the note holder, and the court of appeals affirmed. 768 S.W.2d 387. We hold that the makers waived presentment and notice of acceleration, but not notice of intent to accelerate. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and remand the cause to the trial court for further proceedings.


Gene and Sandra Shumway borrowed the money from Horizon Credit Corporation to buy a sailboat. The Shumways signed a promissory note payable to Horizon in monthly installments over a period of fifteen years. Before the loan was repaid, the boat was damaged in an accident. The Shumways considered the damage to be past repair, but their insurer did not. Shortly after this dispute arose, the Shumways stopped paying their monthly installments to Horizon, in breach of their obligations under the note. 1

Several months later, Horizon accelerated the payments due on the note and sued the Shumways for the entire unpaid balance plus interest. 2 Horizon moved for summary judgment, supported by its affidavit stating that it had "exercised its rights in accordance with the written agreement [i.e., the note] to accelerate the Promissory Note and declare all remaining payments due and owing." The Shumways responded that Horizon should look to their insurer for payment because the boat was a total loss. The trial court granted Horizon's motion.

In the court of appeals, the Shumways contended that the summary judgment record did not conclusively establish their liability on the note, the amount due, or proper demand and acceleration by Horizon. The appeals court rejected all their contentions. The majority of the court held that the Shumways had expressly waived demand, notice of intent to accelerate, and notice of acceleration by the following provision in the note:

ENTIRE BALANCE DUE. If I default under this Note, you may require that the entire unpaid balance of the Amount of Loan plus accrued interest and late charges be paid at once without prior notice or demand.

768 S.W.2d at 388. One justice dissented, arguing that this language waived demand and notice of acceleration, but not notice of intent to accelerate. 768 S.W.2d at 389-91.

Now before this Court, the Shumways no longer dispute that they were in default of their obligations under the note, or that the amount of their liability was established by the summary judgment evidence. Horizon does not dispute that it neither made demand upon the Shumways for payment prior to acceleration, nor gave the Shumways notice of its intent to accelerate, or its acceleration of, the payments due under the note. Thus, the sole issue before us is whether the Shumways waived such presentment and notice under the terms of the note.


Under the Texas Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), 3 a demand upon the maker of a promissory note to pay the note is called presentment. UCC § 3.504(a). 4 Ordinarily, the UCC does not require presentment of a note to a maker or other primarily liable party. See UCC § 3.501. However, presentment to the maker of a note is required before the note holder can exercise an optional right to accelerate the time for any payment due on the note. Ogden v. Gibraltar Sav. Ass'n, 640 S.W.2d 232, 233 (Tex.1982); Allen Sales & Servicenter v. Ryan, 525 S.W.2d 863, 865 (Tex.1975); Faulk v. Futch, 147 Tex. 253, 214 S.W.2d 614, 616-17 (1948). The note holder must also notify the maker both of his intent to accelerate and of the acceleration. Ogden, 640 S.W.2d at 233; Allen Sales, 525 S.W.2d at 865; Faulk, 214 S.W.2d at 616-17.

Presentment and notice can be waived. UCC section 3.511(b)(1) states: "Presentment or notice or protest as the case may be is entirely excused when the party to be charged has waived it expressly or by implication either before or after it is due...." 5 As early as 1854, and as recently as 1982, this Court has recognized that parties to a promissory note can waive presentment and notice. Sydnor v. Gascoigne, 11 Tex. 449, 456 (1854); Ogden, 640 S.W.2d at 233. In Ogden, the Court stated:

Thus, in the absence of a waiver, the holder of a delinquent installment note must present the note and demand payment of the past due installments prior to exercising his right to accelerate.

Id. (emphasis added). Texas courts of appeals have consistently followed this rule. 6

We have not previously stated how definite or specific a waiver of presentment and notice must be to be effective. We have held that, as a rule, acceleration provisions must be clear and unequivocal. Ramo, Inc. v. English, 500 S.W.2d 461, 466 (Tex.1973); Motor & Indus. Fin. Corp. v. Hughes, 302 S.W.2d 386, 394 (1957). If the meaning of a term in an acceleration clause is open to reasonable doubt, it should be construed to avoid acceleration. Ramo, 500 S.W.2d at 466. The harshness of the option of accelerating the maturity of an extended obligation requires both a strict reading of the terms of the option and notice to the debtor. Brown v. Hewitt, 143 S.W.2d 223 (Tex.Civ.App.--Galveston 1940, writ ref'd), cited in Ogden, 640 S.W.2d at 233; accord, Allen Sales, 525 S.W.2d at 866. This same principle also requires that notice of intent to accelerate and notice of acceleration be clear and unequivocal. See Ogden, 640 S.W.2d at 234. Given that an option to accelerate an obligation can neither be created nor exercised except in terms clear and unequivocal, it follows that a waiver of the right to notice of the intent to exercise an acceleration option cannot be effective unless it meets equally exacting standards. If the right to notice could be waived in general terms, the purpose of the rule requiring precision in provisions creating an option to accelerate would be significantly impaired. We hold, therefore, that a waiver of presentment, notice of intent to accelerate, and notice of acceleration is effective if and only if it is clear and unequivocal.

To meet this standard, a waiver provision must state specifically and separately the rights surrendered. Waiver of "demand" or "presentment", and of "notice" or "notice of acceleration", in just so many words, is effective to waive presentment and notice of acceleration. See, e.g., Real Estate Exchange, Inc v. Bacci, 676 S.W.2d 440, 441 (Tex.App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 1984, no writ) (holder "shall have the option without demand or notice to the maker ... to declare this note immediately due"); Slivka v. Swiss Avenue Bank, 653 S.W.2d 939, 940-41 (Tex.App.--Dallas 1983, no writ) (under deed of trust, entire debt "shall, at the option of the Noteholder, become at once due and payable without demand or notice"); Whalen v. Etheridge 428 S.W.2d 824, 827 (Tex.Civ.App.--San Antonio 1968, writ ref'd n.r.e.) (holder may declare entire note "immediately due and payable without notice," and maker "waives demand, grace, notice, presentment for payment and protest"); Phillips v. Whiteside, 426 S.W.2d 350, 351 (Tex.Civ.App.--Houston [14th Dist.] 1968, no writ) (holder shall have the option "without demand and notice to the maker" to accelerate maturity, and maker waived notice and presentation for payment). Likewise, a waiver of "notice of intent to accelerate" is effective to waive that right. See, e.g., Valley v. Patterson, 614 S.W.2d 867, 871-72 (Tex.Civ.App.--Corpus Christi 1981, no writ) (notice of intent to accelerate is waived when note specifically states that maker "expressly waives all notices, demands for payment, presentations for payment, notices of intention to accelerate the maturity[,] protest and notice of protest"); Interstate Life Ins. Co. v. Turner, 371 S.W.2d 913, 916 (Tex.Civ.App.--Waco 1963, writ ref'd n.r.e.) (same result on language identical to that in Valley ). However, waiver of "notice" or "notice of acceleration" does not waive notice of intent to accelerate, a separate right. 7 See Bodiford v. Parker, 651 S.W.2d 338, 339 (Tex.App.--Fort Worth 1983, no writ) (broad language--"the entire indebtedness ... may, at the option of the Beneficiary, ... be immediately matured and become due and payable without demand and notice of any character"--held insufficient to waive notice of intent to accelerate). Waiver of "notice" or even "all notice" or "any notice whatsoever", without more specificity, does not unequivocally convey that the borrower intended to waive both notice of acceleration and notice of intent to accelerate, two separate rights. We disapprove cases that have reached contrary results. E.g., Stricklin v. Levine, 750 S.W.2d at 815-16 (waiver of "demand or notice" in deed of trust and waiver of "demand, presentment for payment, notice of non-payment, protest, and notice of protest" in note held sufficient to waive notice of intent to accelerate); Mercer v. Bludworth, 715 S.W.2d at 698-99 (notice of intent to accelerate not required since note provided for option to accelerate "without demand or notice" and deed of trust provided for acceleration "with or without notice to First Party"); Emfinger v. Pumpco, Inc., 690 S.W.2d at 90 (notice of intent to accelerate held waived by clause providing that "[f]ailure to exercise this option [to accelerate] upon any default shall not constitute a waiver of the right to exercise it in the event of any subsequent default"); Real Estate Exchange v. Bacci, 676 S.W.2d at 441 (holder was "under no legal duty to notify [the maker] of its intention to accelerate"; note provided for...

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