Joint liability for breach of fiduciary duty claims is a rather confusing area of law in Texas. Texas courts have discussed three different theories that allow for joint liability: knowing participation in breach of fiduciary duty, aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty, and conspiracy.

There is a claim for knowing participation in Texas. See Kinzbach Tool Co. v. Corbett-Wallace Corp., 138 Tex. 565, 160 S.W.2d 509, 514 (1942). The general elements for a knowing-participation claim are: 1) the existence of a fiduciary relationship; 2) the third party knew of the fiduciary relationship; and 3) the third party was aware it was participating in the breach of that fiduciary relationship. Meadows v. Harford Life Ins. Co., 492 F.3d 634, 639 (5th Cir. 2007).

There may be a recognized aiding-and-abetting breach-of-fiduciary-duty claim in Texas. The Texas Supreme Court has stated that it has not expressly adopted a claim for aiding and abetting outside the context of a fraud claim. Ernst & Young v. Pacific Mut. Life Ins. Co., 51 S.W.3d 573, 583 n. 7 (Tex. 2001); West Fork Advisors v. Sungard Consulting, 437 S.W.3d 917 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2014, no pet.). The Texas Supreme Court has specifically stated that it has not yet adopted this type of claim. First United Pentecostal Church of Beaumont v. Parker, 514 S.W.3d 214 (Tex. 2017). Notwithstanding, Texas courts have found such an action to exist. See Hendricks v. Thornton, 973 S.W.2d 348 (Tex. App.—Beaumont 1998, pet. denied); Floyd v. Hefner, 556 F.Supp.2d 617 (S.D. Tex. 2008). One court identified the elements for aiding and abetting as the defendant must act with unlawful intent and give substantial assistance and encouragement to a wrongdoer in a tortious act. West Fork Advisors, 437 S.W.3d at 921.

There is also a recognized civil conspiracy claim in Texas. An action for civil conspiracy has five elements: (1) a combination of two or more persons; (2) the persons seek to accomplish an object or course of action; (3) the persons reach a meeting of the minds on the object or course of action; (4) one or more unlawful, overt acts are taken in pursuance of the object or course of action; and (5) damages occur as a proximate result. First United Pentecostal Church of Beaumont v. Parker, 514 S.W.3d 214 (Tex. 2017).

There is not any particularly compelling guidance on whether these three claims are the same or different. And if they are different, what differences are there regarding the elements of each claim? For a great discussion of these forms of joint liability for breach of fiduciary duty, please see E. Link Beck, Joint and Several Liability, State Bar of Texas, 10th Annual Fiduciary Litigation Course (2015).

There was confusion as to whether a finding of conspiracy or aiding and abetting or knowing participation automatically imposes joint liability on all defendants for all damages. Most of the cases seem to indicate that a separate damage finding is necessary for each defendant because the conspiracy may not proximately cause the same damages as the original bad act. See THPD, Inc. v. Continental Imports, Inc., 260 S.W.3d 593 (Tex. App.—Austin 2008, no pet.); Bunton v. Bentley, 176 SW.3d 1 (Tex. App.—Tyler 1999), aff’d in part, rev’d in part on other grounds, 914 S.W.3d 561 (Tex. 2002); Belz v. Belz, 667 S.W.2d 240 (Tex. App.—Dallas 1984, writ ref’d n.r.e.). The Texas Supreme Court held that the conspiracy defendant’s actions must cause the damages awarded against it, and a plaintiff cannot solely rely on just the original bad actor’s conduct. First United Pentecostal Church of Beaumont v. Parker, 514 S.W.3d at 214. So, there should be a finding of causation and damages for each conspiracy defendant (unless the evidence proves as a matter of law that all conspiracy defendants were involved from the very beginning as to all underlying torts). Id.

The Texas Supreme Court has now decided that the statute of limitations for a conspiracy claim is the same as the underlying tort. Agar Corp. v. Electro Circuits Int’l, No 17-0630, 2019 Tex. LEXIS 351 (Tex. April 5, 2019). In Agar, the plaintiff asserted claims for tortious interference, breach of fiduciary duty, aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, fraud by non-disclosure, misappropriation of trade secrets, violations of the Texas Theft Liability Act, conversion, and civil conspiracy. Id. The defendant alleges that the conspiracy claim was barred by the two-year statute of limitation, and the court of appeals agreed with that argument.

The Court noted that the statutes of limitations vary from claim to claim as determined by the Legislature. Id. (citing Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §§ 16.002-.051). “For example, a two-year limitations period applies to suits for trespass and conversion, whereas a four-year limitations period applies to suits for fraud or breach of fiduciary duty.” Id. (citing Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §§ 16.003(a), .004(a)(4), (5). For claims not expressly identified by the Legislature, a residual limitations period of four years is provided. Id. (citing § 16.051). The Court stated that the statutes of limitations do not mention civil conspiracy by name. The court then stated that rather than apply the four-year residual limitations period, “the courts of appeals that have considered the issue have held civil conspiracy falls under the two-year statute of limitations applied to suits for trespass in section 16.003 of the Civil Practices and Remedies Code.” Id.

The Court then addressed whether conspiracy was its own independent tort or whether it was merely a vicarious liability theory:

When used as a theory of vicarious liability, civil conspiracy is part of the factual situation that permits a remedy against co-conspirators. Without it, there would be no grounds for recovery against co-conspirators who did not commit the underlying unlawful act. So it is not inconsistent to say civil conspiracy is a vicarious liability theory while also recognizing that it is a kind of cause of action.

Id. (internal citations omitted). The Court held that civil conspiracy is not an independent tort. It also held that it does not have its own statute of limitations and is tied to the limitations of the tort underlying the conspiracy claim:

In fact, assigning civil conspiracy its own fixed limitations period conflicts with its nature as a derivative tort. Civil conspiracy requires an underlying tort that has caused damages. The cause of action for the underlying tort typically accrues as soon as the tort causes those damages. A fixed limitations period of two years for civil conspiracy that differs from that of its underlying tort can produce bizarre consequences.


Agar’s seventh amended petition alleges Electro engaged in a civil conspiracy to commit several underlying torts including, among others, conversion, misappropriation of trade secrets, and fraud. These underlying claims are governed by separate two-, three- and four-year statutes of limitations respectively. The civil conspiracy claims are likewise governed respectively by those statutes. Agar’s civil conspiracy claims may only proceed if they are based on an underlying tort that is itself not barred by limitations.

Id. (internal citations omitted).

Regarding accrual of the conspiracy theory’s limitations period, the Court held that “most civil conspiracy claims should accrue when the underlying tort causes harm to the plaintiff, that is, at the same time as the tort claim against the primary tortfeasor.” Id. Moreover, “If conspirators conspire about different underlying torts over the course of a conspiracy, then claims based thereon accrue separately according to when each tort and injury occur. A conspiracy claim based on an earlier underlying tort does not re-accrue when the co-conspirators agree to commit a second tort or make another overt act.” Id.

The Court then reversed the summary judgment for the defendant and remanded because some of the plaintiff’s conspiracy claims were derivative of claims that had a four-year limitations period and were not barred.

The Court has moved away from a one-size-fits-all approach to conspiracy. A plaintiff must establish that a conspiracy defendant caused particular damages after it joined the conspiracy. Further, a conspiracy defendant is only liable for damages associated with the underlying tort to which his conduct is tied. In other words, if a defendant conspired to defraud, but not tortiously interfere, then it will only be liable for the fraud damages and not the tortious interference damages. Now the Court holds that a conspiracy theory’s limitations period and accrual is tied to the underlying tort’s or torts’ limitations period. Each underlying tort may have a different limitations period and may accrue at different times, which may require different fact findings as to accrual or discovery if the discovery rule has been asserted.

What is not known is how this recent clarity on conspiracy claims applies to knowing-participation or aiding-and-abetting breach of fiduciary duty claims. Are they separate claims that have their own limitations period? If so, what are the limitations periods? Or, are they derivative claims that rely solely on the four-year limitations period of the underlying breach of fiduciary duty claim?

The end result is that jury instructions in cases involving these types of claims will be very complicated and involved. Causation, damages, and limitations may require multiple questions. A party should consider whether it would be wise to hire an attorney with appellate experience in this area to assist.

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Photo of David Fowler Johnson David Fowler Johnson

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David maintains an active trial and appellate practice and has consistently worked on financial institution litigation matters throughout his career. David is the primary author of the The Fiduciary Litigator blog, which reports on legal cases and issues impacting the fiduciary…

[email protected]

David maintains an active trial and appellate practice and has consistently worked on financial institution litigation matters throughout his career. David is the primary author of the The Fiduciary Litigator blog, which reports on legal cases and issues impacting the fiduciary field in Texas. Read More

David’s financial institution experience includes (but is not limited to): breach of contract, foreclosure litigation, lender liability, receivership and injunction remedies upon default, non-recourse and other real estate lending, class action, RICO actions, usury, various tort causes of action, breach of fiduciary duty claims, and preference and other related claims raised by receivers.

David also has experience in estate and trust disputes including will contests, mental competency issues, undue influence, trust modification/clarification, breach of fiduciary duty and related claims, and accountings. David’s recent trial experience includes:

  • Representing a bank in federal class action suit where trust beneficiaries challenged whether the bank was the authorized trustee of over 220 trusts;
  • Representing a bank in state court regarding claims that it mismanaged oil and gas assets;
  • Representing a bank who filed suit in probate court to modify three trusts to remove a charitable beneficiary that had substantially changed operations;
  • Represented an individual executor of an estate against claims raised by a beneficiary for breach of fiduciary duty and an accounting; and
  • Represented an individual trustee against claims raised by a beneficiary for breach of fiduciary duty, mental competence of the settlor, and undue influence.

David is one of twenty attorneys in the state (of the 84,000 licensed) that has the triple Board Certification in Civil Trial Law, Civil Appellate and Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

Additionally, David is a member of the Civil Trial Law Commission of the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. This commission writes and grades the exam for new applicants for civil trial law certification.

David maintains an active appellate practice, which includes:

  • Appeals from final judgments after pre-trial orders such as summary judgments or after jury trials;
  • Interlocutory appeals dealing with temporary injunctions, arbitration, special appearances, sealing the record, and receiverships;
  • Original proceedings such as seeking and defending against mandamus relief; and
  • Seeking emergency relief staying trial court’s orders pending appeal or mandamus.

For example, David was the lead appellate lawyer in the Texas Supreme Court in In re Weekley Homes, LP, 295 S.W.3d 309 (Tex. 2009). The Court issued a ground-breaking opinion in favor of David’s client regarding the standards that a trial court should follow in ordering the production of computers in discovery.

David previously taught Appellate Advocacy at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law located in Fort Worth. David is licensed and has practiced in the U.S. Supreme Court; the Fifth, Seventh, and Eleventh Federal Circuits; the Federal District Courts for the Northern, Eastern, and Western Districts of Texas; the Texas Supreme Court and various Texas intermediate appellate courts. David also served as an adjunct professor at Baylor University Law School, where he taught products liability and portions of health law. He has authored many legal articles and spoken at numerous legal education courses on both trial and appellate issues. His articles have been cited as authority by the Texas Supreme Court (twice) and the Texas Courts of Appeals located in Waco, Texarkana, Beaumont, Tyler and Houston (Fourteenth District), and a federal district court in Pennsylvania. David’s articles also have been cited by McDonald and Carlson in their Texas Civil Practice treatise, William v. Dorsaneo in the Texas Litigation Guide, and various authors in the Baylor Law ReviewSt. Mary’s Law JournalSouth Texas Law Review and Tennessee Law Review.

Representative Experience

  • Civil Litigation and Appellate Law