Breach of Contract Action Between Vietnamese Friends that Had No Written Agreement

Friend Loans Money to Another But Does Not Enter into A Written Contract for Cultural Reasons

Certified legal document translation and deposition interpreter services are required in breach of contact cases that often involve foreign language documentary evidence and text messages written in a foreign language.

The following case involved a dispute between two Vietnamese friends over an alleged loan. Huy Le (“Le”) appealed a judgment of $94,000 against him in favor of Diem Tran (“Tran”) following a non-jury trial. There was no written contract between the parties only Vietnamese text message evidence because as Tran explained during the trial – in Vietnamese culture it would show a lack of trust and be insulting to enter into a written contract with a friend.

The Dispute Ends up in Court

Tran filed a complaint against Le for breach of contract. The trial was conducted via Zoom, and English to Vietnamese court interpreters were providing interpreting services at trial. The trial revealed that Tran had known Le for 27 years and had loaned him a total of $132,000 between 2003 and 2009 without a written contract, based on their mutual trust. Tran presented Vietnamese text messages as evidence of her attempts to collect payments from Le, who had repaid some but not all of the loans. Ms. Tran testified that Le frequently promised to repay her, but repeatedly failed to do so. Tran sent a tabulation showing a $94,000 balance in April 2019, noting the last payment was in December 2018. Tran continued to request payment through texts in April and May 2019, stressing her financial need post-divorce. Soon after, Le deflected responsibility.

Le moved for a directed verdict, arguing that the statute of limitations had expired, there was no agreement with Tran, and no proof of payment. The motion was denied. Le then testified, denying any loans from Tran and claiming that her ex-husband falsely used his name to borrow money for gambling. Le also denied making any repayments to Tran.

During cross-examination, Le confirmed his phone number matched the one Tran communicated with via text. He admitted the text messages were between him and Tran.

Tran’s testimony highlighted her continuous efforts to retrieve the money, her frustration with Le’s evasiveness, and her insistence on resolving the matter.

Following the trial, the court entered a judgment in favor of Ms. Tran for $94,000. Le appealed.

Should the Trial Court Have Excluded the Vietnamese Text Message Evidence?

First, Le argued that the trial court erred by denying his motion to exclude evidence not produced during discovery, including text messages. Le claimed Tran did not respond to his discovery requests to identify all evidence she planned to use at trial, which he argued resulted in unfair prejudice.

The court reviewed the trial court’s decision and found no abuse of discretion. The trial court noted that Tran had produced the Vietnamese text messages in response to Le’s preliminary objections, giving Le ample time to review and prepare a defense. The text messages, although not all translated from Vietnamese into English, were accessible to Le for translation. Consequently, the trial court determined there was no surprise or unfairness.

Did the Trial Court Err When it Denied the JNOV?

Le next contended that the trial court erred in denying his Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict (“JNOV”). The appellate court’s opinion acknowledges that a JNOV can be granted on two bases: (1) if the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, meaning that even with all inferences against the movant, the law still requires a verdict in their favor, or (2) if the evidence is such that no two reasonable minds could disagree on the outcome being in favor of the movant.

The appellate court noted that a JNOV should be granted only in clear cases.

Action Not Barred By the Statute of Limitations on the Implied Contract

The trial court determined that Tran’s action was not barred by the statute of limitations. The trial court cited the Vietnamese text messages between Le and Tran indicating consistent payments towards a loan. Tran would text Le the remaining loan balance after each payment. The trial court concluded that the statute of limitations started in December 2018, the date of the last payment. Since the action was filed in September 2019, it was within the four-year limit for actions on an express contract not founded on a written instrument.

Le disagreed with the trial court’s reasoning. He acknowledged the four-year statute of limitations, but he argued that the cause of action for breach of contract began in 2009, the date of the last alleged payment from Tran to Le. Therefore, Le claims the statute of limitations expired in 2013, six years before Tran filed the action. Le also insists that he has not acknowledged the debt in a way that would toll the statute of limitations.

The appellate court disagreed noting the decision of Cole v. Lawrence, where partial payments on a debt were seen as acknowledging the debt and tolling the statute of limitations. In this case, Le made payments as late as December 2018 and acknowledged the debt in text messages in October 2018, thus tolling the statute of limitations. The appellate court concluded that Tran’s lawsuit filed in September 2019 was timely.

Was There Insufficient Evidence Presented in the Case?

Le contended that the evidence was insufficient to support Tran’s breach of contract claim, arguing she did not prove offer, acceptance, and mutual assent, and lacked corroborating documentary evidence. He claimed the text messages were self-serving and insufficient.

With respect to offer, acceptance, and mutual assent (the elements of a contract), Le failed to provide legal authority to support his claim resulting in it being waived. Even if not waived, Tran’s testimony and the Vietnamese text messages demonstrated an agreement, showing Le acknowledged the debt and made payments.

The appellate court reasoned that Le’s arguments about Tran’s self-serving testimony and lack of supporting documents pertain to the weight of the evidence, not its sufficiency. It noted that the appellate court would not substitute its judgment for that of the fact-finder regarding credibility and weight of evidence.

Therefore, Le’s challenge on the grounds of insufficient evidence did not warrant relief.

Did the Evidence Support the Existence of an Oral Contract?

Le contested the weight of the evidence presented in Tran’s breach of contract claim. He argued that her testimony was self-serving and lacked support from corroborating documentary evidence like bank statements or receipts. Additionally, Le disputed the credibility of the Vietnamese text messages and other testimony.

The trial court had found that the numerous Vietnamese text messages and Le’s consistent payments to Tran supported the existence of an oral contract. The appellate court reasoned that the lower court’s decision was within its discretion and not deemed to shock one’s sense of justice. The trial court was justified in crediting Tran’s testimony and the probative value of the Vietnamese text messages, despite the absence of additional documentary evidence. Le’s objections regarding the credibility of the text messages and other testimony were appropriately considered and rejected by the trial court.

For these reasons, the appellate court held that Le’s weight of the evidence claim did not warrant relief. The judgment in favor of Tran was affirmed.

Case Discussed: Diem Tran v. Huy Le, Slip. Op. No. 2498 EDA 2022, 2024 WL 2934434 (Sup. Ct. Pa. June 11, 2024)

Get in touch with the certified legal document translation service All Language Alliance, Inc. to obtain certified English translation of text messages and other documentary evidence written in Vietnamese, French, Simplified Chinese, Amharic, Korean, Hungarian, Polish, Sinhala, Hebrew, Romanian, Turkish, German, Tamil, Czech and other foreign languages for U.S. litigation. Inquire about hiring court-certified interpreters for an on-site deposition or a remote video deposition via Zoom in any foreign language.

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