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Guillot v. Guillot

Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Third Circuit

December 23, 2014

WAYNE GUILLOT, ET UX.
v.
REECE GUILLOT, ET UX

APPEAL FROM THE FIFTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT, PARISH OF ACADIA, NO. 2008-11063 " K" . HONORABLE PATRICK LOUIS MICHOT, DISTRICT JUDGE.

AFFIRMED.

James M.Dill, The Dill Firm, A.P.L.C., Lafayette, Louisiana, COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE: Reece Guillot, Benjamin Guillot, Guillot Farms.

Jeffery F. Speer, Doucet-Speer, APLC, Lafayette, Louisiana, COUNSEL FOR WAYNE/APPELLANT: Wayne Guillot, Susan Guillot.

Court composed of Sylvia R. Cooks, Marc T. Amy, and John E. Conery, Judges. Cooks, J., dissents and assigns written reasons. Amy, J., concurs and assigns reasons.

OPINION

Page 842

[14-364 La.App. 3 Cir. 1] CONERY, Judge.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

After farming for over thirty years, Plaintiff, Wayne Guillot, left the family

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farming partnership in February 2006. Wayne and his brother, defendant Reece Guillot, had jointly farmed rice and crawfish, first with their father, and, when he retired, with their own sons. The brothers had grown up and worked together all of their lives, had served as best man at each other's weddings, and had raised their sons together. When Wayne's son left the farming partnership, tension in the family began to escalate. Wayne eventually also left the farming partnership to pursue a career as a crop duster and, at the time of the incident in question, Wayne owned a crop dusting service. With tensions rising between the brothers and their sons, a partition of the real estate owned by the partnership was finalized only months before the incident in question. However, the ownership of all moveables and farm equipment was still highly contested, and would not be settled until after the incident prompting this lawsuit.

While the partition of the farm equipment was still in litigation, on March 16, 2008, Wayne went onto the farm property and, using his own trailer, loaded a crawfish boat[1] used in Reece's crawfish farming operation onto his trailer and then proceeded to leave the property. March 16, 2008 was Palm Sunday, the start of the busiest week of crawfish season, a fact Wayne acknowledged. At the time the crawfish boat was taken from the farm property, Wayne did not yet have his own crawfish pond and would not have been able to use the crawfish boat in crawfish [14-364 La.App. 3 Cir. 2] farming operations until the following season. Wayne acknowledged that crawfish farming was one of the main sources of income for Reece's farm at that time.

A neighbor alerted Reece that Wayne was removing the crawfish boat from the farm property. Reece tried to stop Wayne from taking the boat but Wayne drove around Reece's truck. At some point in the sequence of events, Wayne called his wife, who was at their house, and told her to call the police because he was on his way home with the crawfish boat and Reece was following him. Wayne told her that " [t]here's going to be trouble." While in pursuit of Wayne, Reece alerted his son, Benjamin, his partner in the farming operations and codefendant herein, and told him that Wayne was taking a boat they needed for crawfishing. Benjamin left his house and went in the direction that Wayne and Reece were travelling. Benjamin then blocked the road with his truck to try to stop Wayne from going to his house with the crawfish boat. Wayne went off of the road to get around Benjamin's truck and Benjamin's and Wayne's trucks collided in the process. Wayne was able to get around Benjamin's truck and continue travelling to his home with the boat. Reece and Benjamin followed in close pursuit.

When Wayne arrived home, he parked his truck on his driveway with the crawfish boat in tow. Reece was right behind him and parked on Wayne's driveway in the vicinity of the rear of Wayne's truck and the boat. A fight then ensued near the back of Wayne's truck and the front of Reece's truck. The evidence is in dispute as to the exact location of the men in relation to their trucks and who threw the first punch. Wayne claimed that Reece charged him and hit him first. Reece

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claimed that Wayne aggressively charged him and hit him first. There is no dispute that Reece struck Wayne in the eye, and Wayne went down. The fight ended with Reece on top of Wayne, and Reece pummeling Wayne until [14-364 La.App. 3 Cir. 3] he tired of swinging. Wayne was hit in the eye and the surrounding area immediately became swollen and discolored. Reece had a bit of blood around his ear. Benjamin arrived as the two brothers were on the ground, with Reece on top, hitting Wayne. Benjamin was not involved in the fight, except as to allegedly egg his father on. Benjamin was sued only for damages to Wayne's truck.

The police arrived and questioned witnesses. Reece left to get a trailer, returned to Wayne's house, put the boat on his trailer, and returned to the farm property with the crawfish boat in tow.

It was later confirmed by Dr. Casanova, Wayne's treating physician, that Wayne suffered from a fracture to the orbital bones around his left eye, requiring surgery. Wayne claims he now has permanent double vision and can no longer perform the duties of a pilot in his crop dusting business. In his brief to this court, Wayne is claiming that he has $7,363.60 in medical bills, $680,000.00 in past lost income at the time of trial, and an annual loss of future earning capacity equal to $130,000.00 in pilot fees because he can no longer fly and has been forced to pay substitute pilots. Wayne claimed that pursuing a flying career was one of the main reasons he left the family farming operation in the first place and also claims past and future mental anguish, pain and suffering.

Wayne had filed suit against Reece for his personal injuries, Benjamin for his property damage, and Farm Bureau Insurance Company, as insurer of Reece and Benjamin. Farm Bureau filed a motion for summary judgment stating that the conduct committed by Reece and Benjamin was excluded under their policy because their actions were intentional. The trial court granted Farm Bureau's [14-364 La.App. 3 Cir. 4] motion, dismissing the insurance company from the suit. The district court's grant of summary judgment was later upheld by a panel of this court.[2]

Wayne's case against Reece and Benjamin proceeded to trial by jury. Using special interrogatories, the jury found that Wayne had " consented" to the intentional battery by Reece, and that Reece was not liable for the injuries to Wayne. Additionally, the jury found Benjamin liable for all damages to Wayne's vehicle due to Benjamin blocking the roadway. Judgment was signed dismissing Wayne's suit against Reece and this timely appeal followed. There was no appeal from the judgment for property damages to Wayne's truck in favor of Wayne against Benjamin, and that issue is not before us.

ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR

Wayne asserts the following issues on appeal:

1) The jury committed manifest error in concluding that Wayne Guillot consented to the intentional battery he sustained in the face of overwhelming testimony that Reece Guillot was the sole aggressor and that his act was intentional.
2) The court's jury charges and verdict form constitute a substantive, material legal error, as was objected to by the Plaintiff's counsel, because both in the court's charges, as well as the verdict form, the " aggressor doctrine" was applied wherein any finding of " consent" by the Plaintiff, relieved the defendant

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of all liability, directly in contravention of Louisiana Civil Code, Article 2323, and the comparative fault laws of this State.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Our standard of review is well-established:

[T]he issue to be resolved by a reviewing court is not whether the trier of fact was right or wrong, but whether the factfinder's conclusion was a reasonable one. See generally, Cosse v. Allen-Bradley Co., 601 So.2d 1349, 1351 (La. 1992); Housley v. Cerise, 579 So.2d 973 (La. 1991); Sistler v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., 558 So.2d 1106, 1112 (La. 1990). Even though an appellate court may feel its own [14-364 La.App. 3 Cir. 5] evaluations and inferences are more reasonable than the factfinder's, reasonable evaluations of credibility and reasonable inferences of fact should not be disturbed upon review where conflict exists in the testimony. Rosell v. ESCO, 549 So.2d 840 (La. 1989); Arceneaux v. Domingue, 365 So.2d 1330 (La. 1978). However, where documents or objective evidence so contradict the witness's story, or the story itself is so internally inconsistent or implausible on its face, that a reasonable factfinder would not credit the witness's story, the court of appeal may find manifest error or clear wrongness even in a finding purportedly based upon a credibility determination. Rosell, 549 So.2d at 844-45. Nonetheless, this Court has emphasized that " the reviewing court must always keep in mind that 'if the trial court or jury's findings are reasonable in light of the record reviewed in its entirety, the court of appeal may not reverse, even if convinced that had it been sitting as the trier of fact, it would have weighed the evidence differently.'" Housley v. Cerise, 579 So.2d 973 (La. 1991) ( quoting Sistler v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., 558 So.2d 1106, 1112 (La. 1990)).

Stobart v. State through Dep't of Transp. & Dev., 617 So.2d 880, 882-83 (La. 1993). See also Wiley v. Bayou Gaming, Inc., 13-1449 (La.App. 3 Cir. 7/2/14), 142 So.3d 1078.

DISCUSSION

Assignment of Error One

In his first assignment of error, Wayne alleges that the jury committed manifest error in finding that Wayne " consented" to the altercation " in the face of overwhelming testimony that Reece Guillot was the sole aggressor and that his act was intentional."

At trial, the jury heard conflicting testimony from Wayne and Reece. The jury also heard testimony from four people who all witnessed portions of the altercation. First to testify was Michael Spaetgens. Mr. Spaetgens is a first cousin to Wayne's wife. He was present at Wayne's house before and during the fight. Mr. Spaetgens testified that he and his wife, Charlotte Spaetgens, had gone to Wayne's house to drop off their camper for a family get-together planned for Easter Weekend. While at Wayne's house, Wayne's wife, Susan, explained that Wayne was not home because he " was going to get his crawfish boat." Mr. [14-364 La.App. 3 Cir. 6] Spaetgens stated that he did not realize that anything was amiss until Wayne phoned his wife and told her that Reece was following him home. Mr. Spaetgens testified that Wayne arrived at home pulling a trailer and a crawfish boat. Reece arrived soon thereafter, followed by Benjamin.

On direct-examination, Mr. Spaetgens testified that the two brothers' trucks arrived at the house and were " almost side-by-side." Additionally, Mr. Spaetgens testified that he saw Reece throw the first

Page 846

punch, but never saw Wayne throw a punch. However, on cross-examination, counsel for Defendants established that Mr. Spaetgens had testified in his deposition that the trucks were one behind the other and that Mr. Spaetgens had stated that he never saw any of the punches in the fight.

Mrs. Spaetgens testified that after Wayne parked, Reece " came in behind him and parked like towards the back of the trailer, more towards the side." Mrs. Spaetgens stated that the fight took place " [r]ight behind the back wheel of Wayne's truck." She further testified that she did see Reece punch Wayne first, but did not see any punches after the first until she went between the truck and the trailer and saw Reece on top of Wayne punching him. Mrs. Spaetgens testified that she did not see Wayne punch Reece, however, there was a period of time where she could not see anything between the first punch and when she went in between the truck and the trailer where she saw the back end of the fight.

According to Reece Guillot, when he approached Wayne on the farm property as Wayne was attempting to leave with the crawfish boat in tow, Wayne " ran [Reece] off the road." Reece testified that he followed Wayne and witnessed Wayne run into Benjamin's truck. Further, when Wayne arrived at his house with Reese following close behind him, Reece said that he parked right behind the [14-364 La.App. 3 Cir. 7] trailer of the boat. According to Reece, Wayne then went after him " like a crazy man." Reece testified that Wayne then threw the first punch and hit him in the ear, causing it to bleed. Reece claimed that he only threw one punch in self-defense.

Wayne's wife, Susan, testified that she saw Reece " raise his fist," but that there was a truck between the altercation and her view. After Susan saw Reece raise his fist, she saw no other swings either from Wayne or Reece between the first swing and the time that Wayne hit the ground.

Benjamin testified that after being informed that Wayne was taking the crawfish boat from the farm property, he blocked the road in an attempt to get Wayne to stop. Benjamin claimed that Wayne rammed his truck to get by. Benjamin testified that he then followed Wayne and Reece to Wayne's house. According to Benjamin, when he pulled up at Wayne's house, he saw the brothers exiting their vehicles and saw Wayne running towards Reece. Benjamin further testified that when he reached them, the brothers were on the ground in front of Reece's truck, behind Wayne's truck, the trailer, and the crawfish boat. Benjamin testified that he did not see the punches that led to the brothers on the ground and only saw that his father had Wayne in a head lock and was " [j]ust slapping him with a worn out hand, tired man, tired old man on the ground."

According to Wayne, he was intending to crawfish that year to supplement his income. He admitted, however, that he had yet to plant rice and therefore had not yet flooded the field for crawfishing, a time consuming process necessary for crawfish farming as acknowledged by all parties. Wayne stated that when he loaded up the crawfish boat on the farm property, he saw Reece coming very fast and knew there would be a confrontation. Wayne stated that he tried to avoid the inevitable and drove around Reece and headed to his own house. However, Reece [14-364 La.App. 3 Cir. 8] followed right behind him. Travelling only a little faster than normal, Wayne called his wife and told her to call the police and tell them to meet him at his house. Benjamin then blocked the highway with his own truck. Wayne claimed that he drove off of the road and maneuvered around Benjamin,

Page 847

striking the left bumper of Benjamin's truck. According to Wayne, once at his house, Reece allegedly " rushed" towards him and threw the first punch, which landed on Wayne's left eye. Wayne claims that he went down and did not throw one punch at his brother. He was told that Reece jumped on top of him and pummeled him until Reece tired of swinging, but Wayne has no direct recall of what happened after the first punch.

Louisiana has a comparative fault system.

In any action for damages where a person suffers injury, death, or loss, the degree or percentage of fault of all persons causing or contributing to the injury, death, or loss shall be determined, regardless of whether the person is a party to the action or a nonparty, and regardless of the person's insolvency, ability to pay, immunity by statute, including but not limited to the provisions of R.S. 23:1032, or that the other person's identity is not known or reasonably ascertainable. If a person suffers injury, death, or loss as the result partly of his own negligence and partly as a result of the fault of another person or persons, the amount of damages recoverable shall be reduced in proportion to the degree or percentage of negligence attributable to the person suffering the injury, death, or loss.

La.Civ.Code art. 2323(A).

Comparative fault does not apply when one " consents" to a battery, however. The law of consent is well-established. Our supreme court stated, " Consent may be expressed or implied; if implied, it must be determined on the basis of reasonable appearances." Cole v. State Dep't of Pub. Safety & Corr., 01-2123, p. 11 (La. 9/4/02), 825 So.2d 1134, 1142. Further, " When a person voluntarily participates in an altercation, he may not recover for the injuries which he incurs, [14-364 La.App. 3 Cir. 9] unless force in excess of that necessary is used and its use is not reasonably anticipated." Id. at 1143.

Even more relevant in this case, " The defense of consent in Louisiana operates as a bar to recovery for the intentional infliction of harmful or offensive touchings of the victim." Id. at 1142; see also Touchet v. Hampton, 06-1120 (La.App. 3 Cir. 2/7/07), 950 So.2d 895; Frank L. Maraist, H. Alston Johnson III, Thomas C. Galligan, Jr., & William R. Corbett, Answering a Fool According to His Folly: Ruminations on Comparative Fault Thirty Years On, 70 LA. L.REV. 1105, 1107 (2011). " When two parties expressly or impliedly agree to fight the consent of one is not vitiated merely because the other strikes the first blow." Richard v. Mangion, 535 So.2d 414, 416-17 (La.App. 3 Cir. 1988).

Wayne admitted that he had no immediate use for the boat, yet he went on the farm property that no longer belonged to him and took the boat anyway. Wayne also admitted that he knew the second that he started leaving the property with the crawfish boat and saw Reece coming towards him that " [t]here's going to be trouble." He called his wife in route and requested that she call the police. Once arriving home with the boat in tow, Wayne voluntarily exited the vehicle. Had he wanted to avoid the altercation that he stated he knew was inevitable, he could have gone inside the house or remained in the vehicle and waited for the police to arrive. Furthermore, while there is conflicting testimony as to exactly where the actual fight took place, the evidence shows that at the very least, the brothers ...


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