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Marable v. Empire Truck Sales of La., LLC

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

April 27, 2015

WAYNE MARABLE, ET AL.
v.
EMPIRE TRUCK SALES OF LOUISIANA, LLC, ET AL. CONSOLIDATED WITH: WAYNE MARABLE , ET AL.
v.
EMPIRE TRUCK SALES OF LOUISIANA, ET AL

ON APPLICATION FOR WRITS DIRECTED TO CIVIL DISTRICT COURT, ORLEANS PARISH. NO. 2012-10471 C\W 2012-10523, 2013-04560, DIVISION " I" . Honorable Piper D. Griffin, Judge.

C.G. Norwood, Jr., Patrick J. O'Cain, McGlinchey Stafford, PLLC, New Orleans, Louisiana, COUNSEL FOR RELATOR/DAIMLER TRUCKS NORTH AMERICA LLC.

John B. Davis, Andrew C. Kolb, Mackenzie S. Ledet, Robert L. Blankenship, Baker Donelson Berman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, OUNSEL FOR RELATOR/KLLM TRANSPORT SERVICES, LLC.

Caleb H. Didriksen, Erin B. Saucier, Didriksen Law Firm, PLC, New Orleans, Louisiana, COUNSEL FOR RESPONDENT/WILLIAM JONES, IV AS COCURATOR FOR CONNIE MARABLE.

Andrew D. Weinstock, Sheryl Howard, Joseph G. Glass, Duplass, Zwain, Bourgeois, Pfister and Weinstock, Metairie, Louisiana, COUNSEL FOR RESPONDENT/FIREMAN'S FUND INSURANCE COMPANY.

Court composed of Judge Dennis R. Bagneris, Sr., Judge Roland L. Belsome, Judge Rosemary Ledet. LEDET, J., DISSENTING WITH REASONS.

OPINION

Roland L. Belsome, J.

Page 1070

[2014-1082 La.App. 4 Cir. 1] In compliance with the directive of the Louisiana Supreme Court, Wayne Marable, et al v. Empire Truck Sales of Louisiana, LLC, et al,[1] remanding this matter for consideration on the merits, we consider the relators' request for review of the trial court's denial of their exceptions of res judicata.

Standard of Review

In Countrywide Home Loans Servicing, LP v. Thomas, 12-1304 (La.App. 4 Cir. 3/20/13), 113 So.3d 355, 357, writ denied, 13-0894 (La. 5/31/13), 118 So.3d 397, this Court articulated that appellate courts review issues of fact in connection with an exception of res judicata under a manifest error or clearly wrong standard; however, appellate courts review issues of law de novo. Additionally, because the legal doctrine of res judicata is stricti juris, any doubt regarding its applicability must be resolved against its application. Fletchinger v. Fletchinger, 10-0474 (La.App. 4 Cir. 1/19/11), 56 So.3d 403. Finally, the moving party bears the onus of proving the essential elements of res judicata. Porter v. Louisiana Citizens Prop. Ins. Corp., 11-0101 (La.App. 4 Cir. 8/31/11), 72 So.3d 946.

Page 1071

[2014-1082 La.App. 4 Cir. 2] Facts and Procedural History

The facts of this case are not in dispute. The only question before this Court is whether a comatose interdict was properly before the trial court when motions for summary judgment were granted, dismissing the relators, Daimler Trucks North American, LLC (DTNA) and KLLM Transport Services, LLC (KLLM), from the suit with prejudice.

Connie Marable (Connie) was seriously injured in an accident when her husband's freight truck allegedly shifted into forward gear, and dragged her underneath the vehicle.

Connie was rendered comatose and subsequently interdicted. Her husband Wayne Marable (Wayne) was appointed curator. The interdiction proceeding was filed in Orleans Parish Civil District Court and was allotted to Division " D" . Following the interdiction, Wayne filed suit personally and on behalf of Connie against Empire Truck Sales (Empire) and its general manager Curtis Hudspeth (Hudspeth) in Orleans Parish Civil District Court (Marable suit), alleging that Empire's faulty work or failure to work on the truck caused the accident which injured Connie. That suit was allotted to Division " I" .

Later, Bill and Engelique Jones (the Jones plaintiffs), Connie's adult children from a previous marriage, filed suit on their own behalf in Orleans Parish Civil District Court (Jones suit) against not only Empire and Hudspeth, but also: Wayne; Great West Casualty Company, Wayne's insurer; and DTNA and KLLM. More specifically, the petition claimed that DTNA was negligent in the defective design of the truck, and that KLLM, as Wayne's employer and lessor of the freight truck, was responsible for the truck's defective condition. At some point, the Jones suit was consolidated with the Marable suit in Division " I" .

[2014-1082 La.App. 4 Cir. 3] On September 13, 2013, DTNA and KLLM filed motions for summary judgment as to the Jones suit's claims. Several months later, on January 6, 2014, Bill Jones filed a first amended and supplemental petition, reasserting the claims contained in the original petition and further asserting that he, as " undertutor" to Connie, brought the claims not only on behalf of himself, but also on behalf of Connie. However, at that point in time, Wayne was Connie's curator and the only person who had authority to act on her behalf in a legal capacity.

At the hearing on the motions for summary judgment, the Jones plaintiffs maintained that they did not have sufficient evidence to oppose the motions. Accordingly, on January 24, 2014, the trial court granted DTNA and KLLM's motions for summary judgment dismissing the claims against DTNA and KLLM with prejudice.

Thereafter, on March 10, 2014, Division " I" issued an order appointing Wayne and Mr. Jones co-curators of Connie: Wayne with respect to future litigation against Empire, including its excess insurer, Fireman's Fund Insurance Company (Fireman's Fund); and Mr. Jones with respect to future litigation against potential parties, including the relators, but excluding Empire and Fireman's Fund. Thereafter, Mr. Jones on behalf of Connie filed a second supplemental and amending petition reasserting claims against all defendants contained in the original and first amending petitions and adding factual allegations against DTNA and KLLM in connection with the truck's lack of safety interlocks and precautions. DTNA and KLLM responded by filing exceptions of res judicata and/or motion to dismiss, arguing that the trial court's January 2014 judgment granting their motions for summary judgment and dismissing the claims

Page 1072

with prejudice precluded Mr. Jones' reasserted claims.

[2014-1082 La.App. 4 Cir. 4] Mr. Jones filed an opposition to the exceptions of res judicata arguing that the claims that were dismissed by the granting of summary judgment were brought on behalf of the Jones plaintiffs, personally, not on behalf of Connie, since Mr. Jones was legally barred from asserting such claims until he was assigned cocurator on March, 10, 2014. Connie's rights, at the time the motions for summary judgment were granted, were exclusively represented by Wayne. The trial court denied relators' exceptions of res judicata. Writ applications were filed in this Court and denied.[2] Subsequently, relators sought review from the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court remanded the matter to this Court for argument, briefing, and a full opinion.

Discussion

Louisiana's res judicata statute provides in pertinent part:

Except as otherwise provided by law, a valid and final judgment is conclusive between the same parties, except on appeal or other direct review, to the following extent:
* * * *
(2) If the judgment is in favor of the defendant, all causes of action existing at the time of final judgment arising out of the transaction or occurrence that is the subject matter of the litigation are extinguished and the judgment bars a subsequent action on those causes of action.

La. R.S. 13:4231.

The Louisiana Supreme Court has set forth five requirements that must be satisfied for a finding that a second action is precluded by res judicata: (1) the judgment is valid; (2) the judgment is final; (3) the parties are the same; (4) the cause or causes of action asserted in the second suit existed at the time of the final judgment in the [2014-1082 La.App. 4 Cir. 5] first litigation; and (5) the cause or causes of action asserted in the second suit arose out of the transaction or occurrence that was the subject matter of the first litigation. Chevron USA, Inc. v. State, 2007-2469, p. 10 (La. 9/8/08), 993 So.2d 187, 194.

The issue before this court questions whether the party currently asserting claims against DTNA and KLLM and the same party whose claims were dismissed when the motions for summary judgment were granted are the same.

DTNA and KLLM argue that the trial court's judgment granting the motions for summary judgment and dismissing them with prejudice precluded Bill Jones' reasserted claims. However, Mr. Jones maintains that at the time the motions for summary judgment were granted the only claims against DTNA and KLLM that existed were those brought by the Jones plaintiffs, in their individual capacity, not on behalf of Connie. Consequently, Connie has not brought suit against either of DTNA or KLLM before this time, and therefore the " same parties" requirement of res judicata cannot be met.

Mr. Jones cites to Burguieres v. Pollingue, 02-1385 (La. 2/25/03), 843 So.2d 1049, to support that position. In Burguieres, the decedent's children twice sued their aunt, who was decedent's curatrix and executrix. After the testament was probated, the children filed suit to nullify the testament and alleged fraud, duress, and/or undue influence on the aunt's part. The trial court nullified the will and disqualified the aunt as executrix, naming one of the children in her place. Id.

Page 1073

Subsequently, the children filed suit against the aunt, again, this time alleging breach of fiduciary duties and responsibilities as curatrix and trustee. Subsequently, the aunt filed an exception of res judicata, the trial court denied it, and this Court reversed. The Louisiana Supreme Court sustained the exception as [2014-1082 La.App. 4 Cir. 6] to claims against the aunt in her capacity as executrix, but denied the exception as to claims against her in her capacity as curatrix and trustee. The Court provided a thorough examination of res judicata doctrine on same party's capacities and concluded that:

Although not explicitly stated in the amended statute, we find the requirement in La. R.S. 13:4231 that the parties be the same in order for a second suit to be precluded by operation of res judicata retains this " identity of capacity" component. That is, under La. R.S. 13:4231 the parties are the same when they appear in the same capacities in both suits. We reach this conclusion based on the language of La. R.S. 13:4231, the history of this requirement in the law of res judicata, and the application of the doctrine in both the civil law and common law systems.

Burguieres, 02-1385, pp. 8-11, 843 So.2d at 1053-55 .

DTNA and KLLM rely on Myers v. Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co. of La., 09-1517 (La.App. 4 Cir. 5/19/10), 43 So.3d 207, to support their argument that res judicata applies. There, the plaintiffs were injured in an emergency helicopter landing. The first plaintiff filed suit against the operator of the helicopter, and the operator joined the manufacturer as a third-party defendant, raising issues of redhibition and breach of warranty. The trial court entered a judgment against the manufacturer, allotting it one hundred percent fault for causing the malfunction which led to the emergency landing. The second plaintiff then filed suit against the operator and manufacturer; after the allotment of fault in the first case, the trial court granted the second plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, ruling that the plaintiff had no fault in connection to the accident. Thereafter, the operator filed an exception of res judicata as to the manufacturer's fault, since it had been adjudicated in the first plaintiff's suit. Id.

[2014-1082 La.App. 4 Cir. 7] Like Mr. Jones in the instant case, the manufacturer argued that the " same parties" prong of the res judicata analysis was not met, since the plaintiff in the first case was not the same plaintiff in the subsequent case. The trial court granted and this Court affirmed the exception of res judicata as to the manufacturer's liability. This Court reasoned that there was, in fact, identity of the parties. Because both trial courts freed plaintiffs from liability, the only potentially liable parties to both actions, the operator and manufacturer, were in the same position in the first and second cases and thus appeared in the same capacities. Furthermore, the Court articulated, the second plaintiff's interests were adequately represented in the first case stating that " the preclusive effect of an earlier judgment could bind a nonparty plaintiff whose interests were adequately represented in the prior litigation." Myers, 09-1517 p. 9, 43 So.3d at 212 (citing Forum for Equality PAC v. McKeithen, 04-2551 (La. 1/19/05), 893 So.2d 738).

We find the Myers case distinguishable from this matter. The record before this Court is void of any representation on the part of Connie in opposing the relators' motions for summary judgment.[3] The

Page 1074

Jones plaintiffs represented on the record at the hearing for the motions for summary judgment that they were there on behalf of themselves, and there was no mention of them representing Connie's interest at the hearing. Once Mr. Jones was appointed as Connie's co-curator his legal capacity changed and he was no longer prohibited from asserting claims on Connie's behalf. Therefore, the January 24, 2014 judgments dismissing claims against DTNA and KLLM cannot preclude the claims brought by Mr. Jones in his [2014-1082 La.App. 4 Cir. 8] capacity as Connie's co-curator. Accordingly, the " same parties" requirement cannot be satisfied under these circumstances and the trial court was correct in denying the DTNA and KLLM's exceptions of res judicata.

WRIT DENIED

DISSENT

LEDET, J., DISSENTING WITH REASONS

[2014-1082 La.App. 4 Cir. 1] On remand from the Louisiana Supreme Court, the majority again denies the writs filed by the Relators, KLLM Transport Services, L.L.C. (" KLLM" ) and Daimler Trucks North America, LLC (" DTNA" ) (" collectively the " Relators" ). For the reasons that follow, I would grant the Relators' writs and reverse the trial court's ruling denying the Relators' peremptory exception of res judicata.

The Supreme Court remanded this matter to this court with the following instructions:

[The court of appeal] is directed to review the transcript and other relevant pleadings filed in connection with the motion for summary judgment granted on January 24, 2014 and render a full opinion in this matter, after appropriate briefing and argument by the parties.

In their briefs to this court, the Relators assigned as error the trial court's failure to grant their peremptory exception of res judicata. Five elements must be met to preclude a second action under the theory of res judicata ; the five elements are as follows:

[2014-1082 La.App. 4 Cir. 2] (1) the judgment is valid; (2) the judgment is final; (3) the parties are the same; (4) the cause or causes of action asserted in the second suit existed at the time of final judgment in the first litigation; and (5) the cause or causes of action asserted in the second suit arose out of the transaction or occurrence that was the subject matter of the first litigation.

Burguieres v. Pollingue, 02-1385, p. 8 (La. 2/25/03), 843 So.2d 1049, 1053.

It is undisputed that all of the elements except for the third one are satisfied. The narrow issue presented is thus whether the third element--the parties are the same--is satisfied. Answering that question in the negative, the majority reasons that the same parties requirement cannot be satisfied in this case for the following reasons:

Once Bill [Jones] was appointed as Connie's co-curator his capacity changed and the legal prohibition to him asserting claims on Connie's behalf was removed. Therefore, the January 24, 2014 judgment dismissing claims against DTNA and KLLM cannot preclude the claims brought by Bill [Jones] in his capcity as Connie's co-curator.

The Relators contends that the third requirement--the parties are the same--was met. The Relators point out that both in fact and in law the parties now before the trial court are the same as the parties to its motion for summary judgment. It points out that the prior case--the first supplemental and amending petition--and the current case present the same claim asserted against them by Bill Jones on

Page 1075

Connie Marable's behalf through the same attorney. The Relators further contend that a final summary judgment, which dismissed claims that a son--Bill Jones--asserted on his mother's--Connie Marable's--behalf, precludes the son from thereafter reasserting the same claims on his mother's behalf, especially given that the mother--through her own counsel and court-appointed curator (Mr. Marable)--joined in requesting the summary judgment.

Connie Marable, William " Bill" Jones, and Engelique Jones (the " Respondents" ) counter that Connie Marable has never before filed suit against the Relators. The Respondents contend that the claims against the Relators at the time the summary judgment was granted were brought solely on behalf of Bill and [2014-1082 La.App. 4 Cir. 3] Engelique Jones, themselves, and not on their mother's, Connie Marable's, behalf. They explain that this was so since Bill Jones was not appointed co-curator until the March, 10, 2014 order was issued. Moreover, the Respondents contend that their repeated attempts to join the Relators as defendants in suit filed by Mr. Marable, on Connie Marable's behalf, failed due to Mr. Marable's refusal to do so. The Respondents contend that at the time of the motion for summary judgment, Connie Marable appeared in a different capacity than she does now. Before Bill Jones was appointed co-curator, the Respondents contend, Connie Marable's rights were exclusively represented by Mr. Marable. Because Connie Marable had not filed claims against the Relators before Bill Jones did so as her appointed cocurator, the Respondents contend that the " same parties" requirement was not present to trigger preclusion under res judicata . As noted above, the majority finds merit to the Respondents' arguments. For the following three reasons, I disagree.

First, Bill Jones, albeit without proper authority, filed a first supplemental and amending petition asserting the same claims against the Relators on Connie Marable's behalf. Second, the Respondents did not appeal the trial court's judgment dismissing all of the claims that had been asserted against the Relators, including those set forth in the first supplemental and amending petition. Third, nothing precluded the Respondents from seeking authority from the trial court to appoint Bill Jones as co-curator before either filing the first supplemental and amending petition or allowing a final judgment to be obtained dismissing the claims against the Relators.

For these reasons, I would find that all of the requirements for res judicata were satisfied and would reverse the trial court's ruling.[1]


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