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Colonial Oil Industries, Inc. v. Lynchar, Inc.

Supreme Court of Georgia

June 18, 2018

COLONIAL OIL INDUSTRIES, INC.
v.
LYNCHAR, INC. d/b/a T&W OIL COMPANY et al.

          MELTON, Presiding Justice.

         In Lynchar, Inc. v. Colonial Oil Industries, Inc., 341 Ga.App. 489 (801 S.E.2d 576) (2017), the Court of Appeals found that certain individual guaranties of Lynchar, Inc.'s debt to Colonial Oil Industries, Inc. were unenforceable under Georgia's Statute of Frauds. See OCGA § 13-5-30. Specifically, the Court of Appeals held that the guaranties were unenforceable because they do not reference the legal name of the corporate debtor ("Lynchar, Inc. d/b/a T & W Oil Company"), but instead reference only the corporate debtor's trade name ("T&W Oil, Inc."). We granted a petition for certiorari filed by Colonial Oil and posed two questions: (1) To what extent does a misnomer or other defect in the identification of the principal debtor render a contract of suretyship or guaranty unenforceable? Playnation Play Systems, Inc. v. Jackson, 312 Ga.App. 340 (718 S.E.2d 568) (2011); (2) Did the Court of Appeals err in holding that the guaranties sought to be enforced against appellees are unenforceable? For the reasons set forth below, we reverse.

         1. The facts of this case, which are largely undisputed, were exhaustively recounted by the Court of Appeals as follows:

Colonial entered into an account agreement with Lynchar whereby Colonial would sell and deliver fuel products and other goods. A "New Account Data Sheet" signed December 10, 1986, lists "Lynchar Inc. d/b/a T&W Oil Co." as the billing name on the account. An updated "Account Data Sheet and Agreement" signed August 18, 1997, lists "T&W Oil Co." as the billing name on the account. The signature block of the 1997 agreement lists the "Company Name" as "T&W Oil." In 2007 and 2008, [Charles G.] Thompson[, Jr.] and [Lawrence M.] Derby[, Sr.] executed personal guaranties. Both guaranties identify Colonial as the "Holder" and T&W Oil, Inc., as the "Debtor, " and Derby's guaranty provides as follows:
On this the 23[rd] day of April, 2008[, ] in consideration of and as inducement for Colonial Oil Industries, Inc. (hereinafter, "Colonial" or "Holder") to sell product to T&W Oil, Inc. ("Debtor" or "Borrower") on credit or delayed payment terms, to extend to Debtor existing or new credit or indebtedness, and/or to otherwise assume a credit risk with respect to Debtor whereby Debtor will owe to Colonial money, each of the undersigned guarantors (hereinafter, collectively and individually a "Guarantor") do hereby agree, jointly and severally, as follows:
1. Guarantor hereby unconditionally and absolutely guarantees to the Holder the full and prompt payment, when due, of all of the "Obligations." "Obligations" shall mean and include all indebtedness and liability of whatsoever nature of the Borrower to the Holder . . . together with any and all costs and expenses of and incidental to the collection any of the foregoing or the enforcement of this Guaranty, including, but not limited to, reasonable [attorney] fees and costs and expenses of litigation generally. . . .
16. . . . In the event Guarantor breaches this Guaranty, then Guarantor shall pay to Holder all costs of the Holder in enforcing this Guaranty and collection of the Liabilities, including but not limited to reasonable [attorney] fees and the costs and expenses of litigation. . . .
Thompson and Derby are shareholders in Lynchar, Inc., and both aver that they have never been associated with an entity known as "T&W Oil, Inc."
When Lynchar failed to meet its obligations under the agreements, Colonial sued [the guarantors] asserting claims for breach of the account agreement, promissory estoppel, breach of both guaranties, and attorney fees. The complaint alleged as follows:

Pursuant to an agreement with Defendant T&W Oil and personal guaranty agreements with Defendant Lawrence M. Derby, Sr. and Defendant Charles G. Thompson, Jr., Plaintiff sold and delivered fuel products and other goods to Defendant T&W Oil on account. The outstanding balance on this account for product sold is $1, 406, 194.61 plus interest. Defendant . . . Derby . . . signed a Guaranty Agreement through which he bound himself to be personally liable for any amounts owed Plaintiff by Defendant T&W Oil. . . . Defendant . . . Thompson . . . signed a Guaranty Agreement through which he bound himself to be personally liable for any amounts owed Plaintiff by Defendant T&W Oil. . . .

[The guarantors] filed an answer, admitting these allegations, but disputing the amount owed. In an amended answer, [the guarantors] later denied these allegations and raised a new affirmative defense based on the Statute of Frauds. Thereafter, guarantors moved for partial summary judgment on Colonial's claims for breach of the guaranties and attorney fees, arguing that the guaranties were not enforceable because they failed to identify the correct principal debtor, Lynchar, Inc.
In the meantime, Colonial amended its complaint to include a claim for fraud. Colonial also moved for partial summary judgment on all of its remaining claims with the exception of its claim for promissory estoppel. In support of its contention that summary judgment was proper, Colonial pointed to [the guarantors'] admissions in their original answer as well as various e-mails between Derby as "President of T&W Oil Company" and Colonial's credit manager evincing Lynchar's inability to satisfy its payment obligations as well as its desire to continue doing business with Colonial and pay off its account "in full." Colonial also pointed to Derby's deposition testimony and Lynchar's federal tax return in support of its motion. During his deposition, Derby confirmed that the 2011 federal tax return listed the corporate name as "LYNCHAR, INC. D/B/A T&W OIL COMPANY, INC." Regarding the guaranty, Derby testified as follows:
Q: What was your understanding of what this document, this guaranty, was supposed to do?
A: Personal guaranty, you know, for the debt.
Q: And what does that mean?
A: That I'd be held responsible.
Q: And what debt were you going to be personally responsible for?
A: From Colonial.
Q: Whose debt were you covering ...

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