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White v. Cox Operating LLC

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

April 5, 2017

WADE WHITE
v.
COX OPERATING, LLC

         APPEAL FROM ST. BERNARD 34TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT NO. 14-1484, DIVISION "D" Honorable Kirk A. Vaughn, Judge

          William L. Roberts Pro Hac Vice FAEGRE BAKER DANIELS, LLP AND Stephen S. Kreller Katie M. Cusimano THE KRELLER LAW FIRM COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT, WADE WHITE.

          Robert C. Clotworthy Christopher M. Hannan Daniel J. Dysart BAKER, DONELSON, BEARMAN, CALDWELL & BERKOWITZ, PC COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE, COX OPERATING, LLC.

          (Court composed of Chief Judge James F. McKay III, Judge Terri F. Love, Judge Sandra Cabrina Jenkins)

          Terri F. Love Judge.

          This appeal arises from damages to plaintiff's oyster beds sustained during the drilling of oil wells by defendant. Plaintiff filed suit against defendant to recoup for the damages to his oyster beds. Defendant filed an exception of res judicata, contending that the written releases barred plaintiff's suit. The trial court did not accept testimony or evidence, but granted the exception. We find that the record is incomplete for an appellate review, as the trial court erred by not holding a formal evidentiary hearing. Therefore, we reverse and remand the matter for said hearing. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court is vacated and the matter remanded.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Wade White, a lifetime oysterman, is the owner of multiple oyster leases. Cox Operating, LLC[1] ("Cox") entered into a "Receipt and Release" for $100, 000 with Mr. White in 2000, when Cox began drilling wells near some of his oyster leases. Subsequently, Cox sought to drill more wells near Mr. White's leases. In 2012, Cox negotiated another drilling release with Mr. White for $175, 000.

         Around April 1, 2012, Mr. White discovered Cox's pilings driven into his oyster leases and water traffic that differed from the agreed upon routes on ingress/egress. Mr. White then contacted Cox, who allegedly admitted the error and promised payment for damages. Cox removed the pilings and then continued following the previous agreed upon ingress/egress routes. Cox later maintained that the executed drilling releases covered any damages caused by the pilings and extra water traffic.

         Mr. White then filed a Petition for Damages against Cox due to the pilings. Cox filed a reconventional demand for breach of contract of settlement/compromise, declaratory judgment, and attorney's fees/costs. Cox also filed peremptory exceptions of res judicata and no right of action and sought expedited consideration from the trial court. The trial court heard oral argument, but did not accept live testimony or evidence. After taking the matter under advisement, the trial court granted Cox's exception of res judicata and denied the exception of no right of action. Mr. White's devolutive appeal followed.

         MOTION TO DISMISS

         Cox filed a Motion to Dismiss Mr. White's appeal, asserting that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because the judgment was not final and appealable. Cox avers that La. C.C.P. art. 1915(B) applies to the judgment because its reconventional demand remains, which would require a designation by the trial court that the judgment is final and appealable. Cox's contention lack merit.

         "A judgment that determines the merits in whole or in part is a final judgment." La. C.C.P. art. 1841. La. C.C.P. art. 1915(B)(1) provides:

When a court renders a partial judgment or partial summary judgment or sustains an exception in part, as to one or more but less than all of the claims, demands, issues, or theories against a party, whether in an original demand, reconventional demand, cross-claim, third-party claim, or intervention, the judgment shall not constitute a final judgment unless it is designated as a final ...

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