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Citadel Builders, L.L.C. v. Dirt Worx of Louisiana, L.L.C.

Supreme Court of Louisiana

May 1, 2015

CITADEL BUILDERS, L.L.C.
v.
DIRT WORX OF LOUISIANA, L.L.C

IN RE: Dirt Work of Louisiana, L.L.C.; - Defendant; Applying For Writ of Certiorari and/or Review, Parish of Jefferson, 24th Judicial District Court Div. M, No. 725-313; to the Court of Appeal, Fifth Circuit, No. 14-CA-495.

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEAL, FIFTH CIRCUIT, PARISH OF JEFFERSON.

John L. Weimer, Bernette J. Johnson, Greg G. Guidry, Marcus R. Clark, Jefferson D. Hughes, III. CRICHTON, J., additionally concurs and assigns reasons. Knoll, J. dissents.

OPINION

Page 909

[2014-2700 La. 1] PER CURIAM

This matter involves a default judgment for $1,256,205.39, plus legal interest, which was entered in favor of plaintiff and against defendant, Dirt Worx of Louisiana, L.L.C. We find the trial court's failure to conduct a contradictory hearing on plaintiff's motion to strike defendant's answer from the record was erroneous based on La. C.C.P. art. 964 and that the error was not harmless. Accordingly, we vacate and set aside the default judgment entered against defendant and remand for further proceedings.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed suit against defendant for breach of a contract to provide demolition work, earthwork, and a storm drainage system on a construction project. After defendant was served with the citation and petition, plaintiff moved for and obtained a preliminary default. Thereafter, a letter from defendant was filed into the record. The letter, signed by defendant's registered agent, stated:

I'm writing in response to your petition for damages as outlined in case 725-313 Citadel Builders. Dirt Worx of Louisiana, LLC denies all claims mentioned. If you have any supporting documents to your claim, please forward them to our office for review.

The clerk of court for the trial court filed the letter as an " Answer to Original [2014-2700 La. 2] Petition" and charged a filing fee for the answer, which was paid by defendant.

A few months later, plaintiff sent a letter via private carrier and certified mail to defendant's registered agent stating that it intended to file a motion to confirm a default judgment against defendant. The letter explained that while plaintiff had not received the letter " purporting to be a response to the petition," plaintiff did not consider that letter to be an answer as it did not comply with the requirements of La. C.C.P. arts. 853, 854, and 1005. Further, plaintiff advised that, to the extent the letter could be considered a pleading, it was filed by a non-lawyer in violation of La. R.S. 37:213.

Thereafter, plaintiff filed two pleadings: a motion to strike answer and a motion for final default judgment. The same day, the

Page 910

court granted ex parte the motion to strike answer, ordered defendant's answer be stricken from the record, and rendered a ...


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