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Contract Interpretation

Jul 4, 2018

I have a dispute about the meaning of a written agreement. How might a court in Texas go about resolving such a dispute?

Normally, a court will confine its interpretation to the agreement’s text, but a court’s willingness to consider outside evidence will depend on the facts of each case. Typically, the willingness of a court to consider evidence beyond what is stated directly in an agreement depends on the clarity of the agreement’s wording. If the language of an agreement is written in a way that allows for multiple reasonable interpretations of the text, then the agreement is considered ambiguous and thus, outside (i.e.,extrinsic) evidence may be considered in order to determine the meaning of the agreement’s language. However, if the agreement is worded in a way that gives its contents a direct or certain legal meaning, then it is not considered ambiguous and outside evidence cannot be used to inform the court’s interpretation of the agreement. This decision, concerning the ambiguity of an agreement, is made by the court. Nevertheless, there are limitations to the extent to which extrinsic evidence may be considered when reviewing an agreement, even if it is ruled ambiguous. As previously mentioned, outside evidence that is objective in nature may be admitted if an agreement is deemed to be ambiguous, however, it may only be admitted to determine the parties’ intent as expressed in the agreement, and cannot be relied upon to give the agreement a meaning different from the language it imports or to show what the parties probably meant, or could have meant, something other than what their agreement stated. See URI, Inc. v. Kleberg County, 543 S.W.3d 755 (2018) citing Anglo-Dutch Petrol. Int’l, Inc. v. Greenberg Peden, P.C., 352 S.W.3d 455,451 (Tex. 2011). The “facts and circumstances” in existence at the time an agreement is executed “may be consulted only to inform the meaning of the language the parties chose to effectuate their accord,” and when interpreting an unambiguous agreement or determining whether an ambiguity exists, courts may not consider the parties’ intent beyond the meaning the agreement’s language reasonably suggests when interpreted in context. See URI, Inc. v. Kleberg County, 543 S.W.3d 755, 763 (2018).

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