Owner Testimony about Value: “Because I Said So” Isn’t Enough

Hernandez v. Ayala

Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-23-00549-CV (June 18, 2024)

Justices Smith (Opinion, linked here), Miskel, and Breedlove

Customarily, an owner may testify about the value of his or her property in a Texas trial court. Testimony of an independent expert isn’t required. But to be legally sufficient, an owner’s testimony about value must embody and convey more than the owner’s unsupported, unsubstantiated guess.

A partnership dispute arose between Hernandez and Ayala. At trial, the jury awarded Ayala $104,000 in damages based on the value of partnership property Ayala testified Hernandez had wrongfully withheld from him. The Dallas Court of Appeals, however, reversed that damages award.

The sole evidence establishing the value of the disputed property came from Ayala. Although an owner may testify to the value of his or her own property, “valuations may not be based solely on a property owner’s ipse dixit. An owner may not simply echo the phrase ‘market value’ and state a number …; he must provide the factual basis on which his opinion rests.” Nat. Gas Pipeline Co. v. Justiss, 397 S.W.3d 150, 159 (Tex. 2012). “Because property owner testimony is the functional equivalent of expert testimony, it must be judged by the same standards.” Id. 

Ayala “provided no basis for his valuations of the property. He did not testify that he was familiar with the market value of the partnership property or otherwise explain how he determined the value of each item.” Ayala’s testimony therefore was legally insufficient to support the jury’s damages verdict. 
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