RAJENDRA T. GANDHI, M.D. and VIBHA R. GANDHI, Plaintiffs-Appellees
SONAL FURNITURE AND CUSTOM DRAPERIES, L.L.C., SHYAM GARG, and LYNN GUNTER, Defendants-Appellants
Appealed from the First Judicial District Court for the
Parish of Caddo, Louisiana. Trial Court No. 568891. Honorable
Scott J. Crichton, Judge.
PLAISANCE, RICK FAYARD, Counsel for Appellant.
ODOM, L.L.P., By: John S. Odom, Jr., J. Marshall Jones, Jr.,
Counsel for Appellees.
CARAWAY, DREW and LOLLEY, JJ.
La.App. 2 Cir. 1] CARAWAY, J.
redhibition and unfair trade practices suit against the
seller of designer furniture, the trial court granted
judgment in favor of the furniture buyer against both the
seller furniture company and its representative. Rescission,
the return of price, nonpecuniary damages and attorney fees
were awarded. Violations of both redhibition and unfair trade
practices law were recognized. The seller appeals this ruling
and its representative also contests the judgments assessment
of personal liability against him. We amend the judgment and
as amended, affirm.
2012, Dr. Rajendra Gandhi and his wife, Vibha (" the
Gandhis" ), began investigating the idea of redecorating
their home with custom designer furniture and draperies. In
pursuit of this plan, Dr. Gandhi, a devout Hindu, visited the
Sonal Furniture and Custom Draperies, L.L.C. ("
Sonal" ) website. The company is located in Georgia. Dr.
Gandhi became interested in the business which represented
itself to be culturally and religiously like-minded with him
and advertised the finest furniture and
by what he saw on the website, Dr. Gandhi placed a phone call
to Shyam Garg, a " partner" and employee of Sonal.
The two arranged an appointment to meet, and Garg first
visited the Gandhis' home on December 24, 2012. During
this visit, Garg took photographs of the home [49,959 La.App.
2 Cir. 2] and indicated to the Gandhis that his interior
designer, Lynn Gunter, was the best designer to be found.
the first week of January 2013, the Gandhis and their son,
Viraj, traveled to visit Sonal's Global Mall showroom.
The Gandhis and Garg walked through the showroom for 45
minutes before traveling to Garg's show house in Macon
Georgia, some 70 minutes away. Dr. Gandhi observed that the
furniture in the showrooms appeared to be of very high
quality and stressed to Garg his expectations that he receive
high quality furniture in his home. Garg assured Dr. Gandhi
that he would receive nothing but the best and guaranteed
that everything would be delivered " on approval"
and could be returned if the client did not want it.
parties agreed that Garg and Gunter would return to the
Gandhis' home at a later date. No written contract was
ever entered into between the parties who corresponded by
email and telephone. On January 10, 2013, upon Garg's
return to Shreveport with Gunter to take measurements and
solicit Dr. Gandhi's business, Dr. Gandhi gave Garg a
the second week of February, Dr. Gandhi was in India visiting
his ill father when he received a telephone call from Garg.
Garg indicated that he and Gunter had " laid out
furniture" and wanted to show it to the Gandhis. No date
was set, but on February 18, 2013, Garg, Gunter and a
four-person team arrived at the Gandhis' home with three
to four trucks, only two days after Dr. Gandhi returned from
India. Dr. Gandhi was at work when he received a frantic call
from his wife regarding the situation. He was unable to leave
his practice until noon and could not supervise the work
going on in his home.
La.App. 2 Cir. 3] Garg's entourage worked in the
Gandhis' home for five days. Dr. Gandhi trusted Garg to
do his job and provide the best furniture. When Mrs. Gandhi
pointed out scratches, Garg assured the couple that he would
fix any problems or remove any unwanted items when he
returned on March 31, 2012. When the work was completed, in
the late evening hours of February 23, 2012, Garg presented
the Gandhis with an invoice for a total amount of $210,000.
The February 23rd invoice showed the individual cost of each
item installed in the office, foyer, dining room, family
room, grand room, breakfast room, master bedroom, temple room
and landing, in addition to a bed for the Gandhis'
daughter and a grandfather clock and draperies. Dr. Gandhi
had been unable to completely inspect the work and denied
ever approving the work and furniture. Six items were
returned at that time, however.
following morning, Garg showed up at the house to discuss
payment. Dr. Gandhi tendered a check for $150,000 (dated
February 23, 2013 and deposited on February 27) from his
personal account and a March 15, 2012 postdated second check
from his business account in the amount of $40,000. In turn,
Garg claimed to have presented the February 23rd several page
final invoice to the Gandhis. Garg claimed that he provided
the Gandhis with a final invoice containing handwritten notes
indicating the parties' agreement to 100% satisfaction
after 7 days' inspection with no questions or returns
upon final payment on February 23, 2013. The Gandhis
acknowledged receipt of an invoice, but denied ever seeing
the handwritten [49,959 La.App. 2 Cir. 4] notes or agreeing
that final payment precluded their return of unfavorable
two weeks that followed, the Gandhis began to notice issues
with the goods. Upon closer inspection, they found that
" every piece was damaged," and of a much lesser
quality than what they had seen in the showroom and expected
to receive. Mrs. Ghandi called Garg on March 11 reporting
that one of the breakfast chairs was broken. She called again
on March 15 with complaints about a broken leg on an Italian
console and black nails in the woodwork. During school break,
Viraj also contacted Garg about the family's
dissatisfaction with the work and goods. After these events,
Dr. Gandhi placed a stop payment on the $40,000 check on
March 18, 2013. He spoke with Garg and informed him of the
emails of March 18 and 19, 2013, Garg acknowledged the
Gandhis' complaints and attempted to prevent Dr. Gandhi
from stopping payment on the check by warranting the "
furniture for 25 years," and explaining away any
complaints. Garg also continued to promise his removal of
anything unsatisfactory to the Gandhis.
March 21, 2013, Garg emailed Dr. Gandhi again, requesting
that he be allowed to come to the house on March 31, 2013,
" to fix and do whatever is necessary to make looks
things good to your satisfaction." However, on March 28,
2013, Dr. Gandhi sent an email to Garg instructing [49,959
La.App. 2 Cir. 5] him to pick up everything delivered and
installed in the house and requesting a full refund by April
Garg did not respond, Dr. Gandhi sent him a second email on
March 31. Garg responded by email informing Dr. Gandhi that
he had filed a criminal complaint against him and his wife
for stopping payment on the $40,000 check and defrauding the
IRS by using corporate funds to pay for home furniture. Garg
also claimed that Dr. Gandhi failed to pay for services
rendered. Garg informed Dr. Gandhi that the case was going
before a grand jury and he would be arrested. He threatened
to report Dr. Gandhi to the IRS and suggested that he would
lose his medical license. Garg informed Dr. Gandhi that a
wire transfer of $42,500 would be sufficient for him to
withdraw the criminal complaint.
claimed that as he had promised, he had returned to
Shreveport on March 30 and 31, 2012, and unsuccessfully made
several attempts to contact the Gandhis. When he failed to
make contact with the Gandhis, however, Garg filed the
criminal complaint. No further communication between the
Mrs. Gandhi instituted suit against Sonal, Garg and Gunter on
June 3, 2013, initially seeking restitution, reasonable
damages and sums for violation of the Louisiana Racketeering
Act. In October of 2013, the Gandhis' amended their suit
to add claims in redhibition and violations of the Louisiana
Unfair Trade Practices Act (LUTPA).
trial occurred on February 4 and 5, 2014. Garg, the Gandhis,
Viraj and two experts testified.
La.App. 2 Cir. 6] Specifically, plaintiffs' expert Kirk
Thomas, an expert in interior design, testified that he had
inspected the furniture and accessories at issue in April of
2013 and based his opinion upon his personal observations.
Upon his inspection, Thomas " began to question what
kind of materials the pieces were constructed of," and
ultimately concluded that the furnishings were " not
actually intended for functional use, almost like movie set
furniture," and " would be very difficult to
repair," because they were " a product of how they
were originally constructed." In Thomas's opinion,
the furniture was not functional. He testified that much of
the actual quality of the furniture was misrepresented and
pointed to items that had been previously repaired. Thomas
also testified to " many inconsistencies in how the
draperies were fabricated and installed," and ultimately
described the workmanship as " shoddy."
plaintiffs submitted into evidence 157 photographs of the
furniture and draperies placed in the home by Sonal.
Defendants also introduced 42 photographs into evidence
showing the furniture delivered and work done by the
defendants on the Gandhi home.
written reasons for judgment on the issue of liability on
March 5, 2014, the trial court concluded that the Gandhis had
proven liability under redhibition and LUTPA. Specifically,
the court determined that Garg's action amounted to a
" bait and switch" tactic, misrepresented the
quality of the furniture, preyed upon the cultural and
religious heritage of the Gandhis and included outrageous
threats, coercion and extortive behavior. The court also
rejected Garg's testimony and determined that he had
fraudulently [49,959 La.App. 2 Cir. 7] submitted the February
23 final invoice to the court. The liability assessment was
against both Sonal and Garg.
subsequent written reasons for judgment on March 20, 2014,
the court ruled that the Gandhis had proven their entitlement
to nonpecuniary damages under redhibition and LUTPA. With
regard to redhibition damages, the court determined that the
" customized furnishing of [the Gandhis'] unique
home consistent with their Indian culture and inclusive of a
temple for worship, was made for the gratification of a
nonpecuniary interest," and that Garg should have known
that his failure to perform would cause extreme mental
anguish, humiliation, and inconvenience. The trial court
fixed the nonpecuniary award pertaining to this ruling at
to LUTPA damages, the court concluded that the "
extortive conduct of Garg was outrageous and abhorrent and
the multiple violations of the unfair trade practices act
were shocking." The court therefore awarded $50,000 as a
nonpecuniary award for the mental anguish associated with the
written judgment memorializing these rulings was entered on
April 25, 2014, in favor of the Gandhis against Sonal and
Garg in his individual capacity, awarding the Gandhis
pecuniary damages of $170,000 (for refund of price paid) and
nullification of the $40,000 obligation on the stop payment
check. Additionally the court entered judgment for $100,000
in nonpecuniary damages, awarded attorney fees in the amount
of $69,163.75, costs of $3,171.10 and expert witness fees of
La.App. 2 Cir. 8] Defendants moved for a new trial contesting
the admissibility of the photographic evidence and on the
grounds that the law and evidence failed to support recovery
in either redhibition or LUTPA. When the ...