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Castille v. Estate of Hargrave

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

April 5, 2017

BRITTNI CASTILLE
v.
ESTATE OF TRISSY HARGRAVE, ET AL.

         APPEAL FROM THE FIFTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF LAFAYETTE, NO. C-20103865 HONORABLE DAVID MICHAEL SMITH, DISTRICT JUDGE

          Paul D. Gibson Thomas M. Long Gibson Law Group, PLLC COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT/APPELLEE. Lafayette City-Parish ConsolidatedGovernment Officer Todd Rogers.

          Sera Hearn Russell, III Attorney at Law Post Office COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE/APPELLANT: Estate of Trissy Hargrave.

          Jeffery F. Speer George A. Wright Doucet-Speer A Professional Law Corporation COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE/APPELLANT: Brittni Castille Ella Hargrave Raywood Hargrave.

          Court composed of John D. Saunders, Phyllis M. Keaty, and John E. Conery, Judges.

          JOHN E. CONERY JUDGE.

         All remaining parties to this litigation have appealed a part of the judgment rendered by the trial court on August 4, 2016. Defendants, Lafayette Consolidated Government and Officer Todd Rogers (LCG Defendants), appeal the denial by the trial court of their peremptory exception of prescription. The plaintiff, Brittni Castille, and third party claimants, the Estate of Trissy Hargrave and Raywood and Ella Hargrave, who during the litigation substituted themselves in place of the Estate of Trissy Hargrave (collectively referred to as the Estate of Trissy Hargrave), appeal the ruling of the trial court after a trial on the merits finding that the LCG Defendants were free from fault, and thereby dismissing all claims against the LCG Defendants made by Brittni Castille and the Estate of Trissy Hargrave at their cost.

         For the following reasons, we reverse the trial court's denial of the LCG Defendants' peremptory exception of prescription, which renders moot the appeal of Brittni Castille and the Estate of Trissy Hargrave of the trial court's ruling in favor of the remaining LCG Defendants, Lafayette Consolidated Government and Officer Rogers.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The initial appeal of the plaintiff, Brittni Castille, was taken from the trial court's reason's for judgment, and docketed under number 16-798. However, subsquent to its granting the plaintiff's order of appeal, the trial court signed a judgment in conformity with its reasons for judgment on August 4, 2016. The Louisiana Supreme Court in Overmier v. Traylor, 475 So.2d 1094, 1094-95 (La.1985) (emphasis added and footnote omitted), overturned the appellate court's dismissal of an appeal taken from the trial court's reasons for judgment and stated, "an appeal granted before the signing of a final judgment is subject to dismissal until the final judgment is signed. However, once the final judgment has been signed, any previously existing defect has been cured, and there is no useful purpose in dismissing the otherwise valid appeal."

         The August 4, 2016 judgment was transmitted to this court and docketed under number 16-1049. Although these two cases are not consolidated, they are idential, and this court's ruling under this docket number will be reflected in docket number 16-1049.

         FACTS

         On December 4, 2009, an automobile accident took place on Ambassador Caffery Parkway in Lafayette, Louisiana, when Andrew Garner, driving a black Infiniti at a high rate of speed, lost control of the vehicle, entered the opposing lane of travel, and collided with a vehicle driven by Trissy Hargrave. Both Mr. Garner and Ms. Hargrave died at the scene and Brittni Castille, the guest passenger in the Hargrave vehicle, suffered injuries.

         Actions Prior to the Filing of a Formal Petition

         On April 12, 2010, prior to the formal filing of any lawsuit, Brittni Castille signed a document entitled "Release of All Claims" (Release) with Catherine D. Garner, the Estate of Andrew M. Garner (Garner Estate), and its insurer USAA Casualty Insurance Company (USAA). In the Release, Brittni Castille agreed to discharge Catherine D. Garner, the Garner Estate, and USAA, their heirs, executors, and assigns:

[F]rom any liability now accrued or hereafter to accrue on account of any and all claims or causes of action, which I/we now or may hereafter have for personal injuries, damage to property, loss of services, medical expenses, contribution, indemnification, losses or damages of any kind or nature whatsoever, known or unknown or that may hereafter develop, by me/us sustained or received on or about December 4, 2009 through an auto accident[.]

         The Release signed by Brittni Castille further states "IT BEING FURTHER AGREED AND UNDERSTOOD that this settlement is a compromise of a disputed claim and that the payment is not to be construed as an admission on the part of the party or parties hereby released of any liability whatever in consequence of said accident." (Emphasis added.)

         Also on May 14, 2010, prior to the formal filing of any lawsuit, Ella and Raymond Hargrave signed a document entitled "Release of All Claims (1st Party and 3rd Party)" with "Catherine D. Garner, Richard M. Garner, Andrew M. Garner, and its insurer USAA-CIC." In the Release, the Hargraves agreed to discharge Catherine D. Garner, Richard M. Garner, Andrew M. Garner, USAA-CIC, and their heirs, executors, and assigns (emphasis added):

[F]rom any liability now accrued or hereafter to accrue on account of any and all claims or causes of action, which I/we now or may hereafter have for personal injuries, damage to property, loss of services, medical expenses, contribution, indemnification, losses or damages of any kind or nature whatsoever, known or unknown or that may hereafter develop, by me/us sustained or received on or about December 4, 2009 through an auto accident[.]

         The Release signed by the Hargraves further stated, "IT BEING FURTHER AGREED AND UNDERSTOOD that this settlement is a compromise of a disputed claim and that the payment is not to be construed as an admission on the part of the party or parties hereby released of any liability whatever in consequence of said accident." (Emphasis added.)

         Filing of a Formal Petition

         On June 7, 2010, Brittni Castille filed suit naming the Estate of Trissy Hargrave as the only defendant and asking that service be withheld on the "ESTATE of Trissy Hargrave." The petition filed by Brittni Castille alleged negligence on the part of Andrew Garner in causing the accident, but neither the Estate of Andrew Garner nor his insurer, USAA, were named as defendants. Interestingly, the petition did not allege any negligence on the part of the only named defendant, the Estate of Trissy Hargrave.

         On June 14, 2010, the Estate of Trissy Hargrave filed an answer denying liability, despite never being served with the petition filed by Brittni Castille. The Estate of Trissy Hargrave also filed a third party demand, cross claim, and intervention against only one defendant, Pilot's Sports Pub, Inc. (Pilot's). The Estate of Trissy Hargrave alleged Andrew Garner was drinking heavily at Pilot's, despite the fact that he was a minor. Further, it was alleged that Pilot's failed to check Andrew Garner's ID, and he became intoxicated, which led to the death of Trissy Hargrave and the injuries to Brittnii Castille. Once again, although the negligence of Andrew Garner was alleged to be the cause of death and injury, neither Garner nor his insurer, USAA, was named as a defendant in the third party cross claim of the Estate of Trissy Hargrave.

         On January 28, 2011, thirteen months after the accident, Brittni Castille filed a first supplemental and amended petition naming the LCG Defendants and Pilot's as additional co-defendants with the Estate of Trissy Hargrave. Brittni Castille claimed that Pilot's served alcohol to a minor, Andrew Garner, without checking for his ID, ...


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