Appealed from the 19th Judicial District Court in and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana Trial Court No. P95632 Honorable Timothy E. Kelley, Judge
WILUAM C. SHOCKEY BRADLEY C. STIDHAM BATON ROUGE, LA ATTORNEYS FOR PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE JAMES B. RENO
ELLEN S. BALLARD BATON ROUGE, LA ATTORNEY FOR DEFENDANT-APPELLEE DOROTHY LABATUT RENO
MARK D. PLAISANCE THIBODAUX, LA ATTORNEY FOR DEFENDANT-APPELLANT JOSHUA K. FONTENOT
BEFORE: PETTIGREW, WELCH, AND CHUTZ, JJ.
This matter arises out of a family dispute involving the Estate of Vic Reno ("the decedent"). Joshua Fontenot (“Joshua"), the grandson of the decedent, appeals the district court's denial of his petition to vacate and/or annul a judgment that appointed James R. Reno ("Jimmy"), the son of the decedent, as succession administrator.
BACKGROUND FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The decedent died on November 25, 2012. Approximately two months after the death of the decedent, on February 6, 2013, Jimmy filed a Petition for Appointment as Provisional Administrator of the estate, alleging that since the time of decedent's death, no person had made application for appointment as the succession representative. Jimmy represented that he and Tammi Reno Bourgue are the surviving children of the decedent, Dorothy Labatut Reno ("Mrs. Reno") is the surviving spouse, and Joshua is one of the decedent's grandchildren. Jimmy further asserted that he had been informed of the existence of a purported Last Will and Testament by the decedent, dated July 7, 2011, granting naked ownership of the decedent's entire estate to his grandson, Joshua, and a usufruct of his estate to Mrs. Reno, to the exclusion of the decedent's children and other grandchildren. He also noted that the July 7, 2011 will did not name an executor for the succession.
Jimmy further alleged his anticipation that members of the Reno family would challenge that will on the grounds of incapacity of the decedent and undue influence on the part of Joshua. Jimmy stated that, by virtue of the purported will, Joshua and Mrs. Reno were in possession of the property of the estate, and had the power to conceal, dispose of, or waste that property, and the appointment of a provisional administrator was necessary to safeguard the estate. Jimmy asserted he was qualified to serve in that capacity, pursuant to La. C.C.P. art. 3111, which grants such right to "an interested party." He claimed he was an "interested party" due to the existence of a prior last will and testament executed by the decedent, dated December 7, 2007, in which Jimmy was a legatee. Further, Jimmy claimed that he would be an heir, absent a valid last will and testament.
Jimmy was appointed Provisional Administrator by order of the court, dated February 6, 2013, which also ordered him to furnish bond in the amount of $250, 000.00 and to file an inventory or detailed descriptive list of all assets of the estate. Jimmy posted the bond, and letters of administration were issued. Shortly thereafter, on February 28, 2013, Jimmy filed a Petition for Appointment of Notary Public, alleging that his attempts to fulfill his duties as administrator (to gather, preserve, and safeguard the assets of the succession) were being thwarted by Mrs. Reno and Joshua, who were in possession and control of the house where the decedent had lived and would not consent to a search by him, nor would they allow him to take possession of anything found that is believed to be property of the succession. In particular, Jimmy alleged that the decedent historically kept a safe at the house, containing large sums of cash, other valuables, and potentially, the testaments by the decedent, and that the decedent also kept a large quantity of guns in the house. Noting that Mrs. Reno and Joshua had the power to conceal, dispose of, or waste the property of the succession, and asserting that any efforts to make such inventory of decedent's property would be met with animosity and physical resistance, Jimmy sought a court order appointing a notary public, directing a search of the home by the notary, accompanied by Jimmy and the Sheriff of East Baton Rouge Parish. An order granting such relief was signed by the district court on February 28, 2013. (An amending request was also granted on March 5, 2013, appointing a Notary Public, and directing the notary to conduct an inventory, accompanied by Jimmy, of the decedent's safety deposit box at Whitney Bank.)
Also, on March 5, 2013, Jimmy filed a Petition for Appointment of Administrator, representing that no one had applied for appointment as succession representative and that his appointment as full administrator was necessary to authorize him to take action required for the administration of the succession, in particular to make payments of the expenses related thereto, and to collect, preserve, and manage the assets of the estate. Jimmy was appointed full administrator by order of the court, dated March 5, 2013.
On April 30, 2013, Mrs. Reno filed a Petition for Removal of Provisional Administrator based on a pending suit in which Jimmy and the decedent were named defendants, allegedly arising from Jimmy's refusal to pay for mechanical work ordered by the decedent involving R-Square Investments, LLC. According to Mrs. Reno, that suit constituted an actual conflict of interest warranting the removal of Jimmy as administrator of the succession. She requested that Jimmy be removed, and that she and Joshua (as legatees of the will dated July 7, 2011) be given the opportunity to qualify for administrator or, in the alternative, that an independent administrator be appointed. (As noted below, on the date of the hearing on this petition, Mrs. Reno voluntarily dismissed, with prejudice, her petition seeking removal of Jimmy as provisional administrator.)
On July 8, 2013, Mrs. Reno filed a petition to probate the decedent's statutory testament dated July 7, 2011; a copy of said ...