J. GRANGER HARRISS, IV Plaintiff-Appellee
ARCHIVES GRILL, LLC, JAMES KEEFER, SARAH EVE KEEFER, AND PATRICK D. BELL Defendants-Appellants
from the First Judicial District Court for the Parish of
Caddo, Louisiana Lower Court Case No. 550, 776 Honorable
Michael Pitman, Judge
KEEFER Appellant, In Proper Person.
EVE KEEFER Appellant, In Proper Person.
GRANGER HARRISS, IV Appellee, In Proper Person.
WILLIAMS, DREW, and GARRETT, JJ.
defendants, James and Sarah Keefer, appeal from a trial court
order denying their "Motion to Dismiss and Order to Stop
Garnishment." For the following reasons, we affirm the
trial court ruling.
case arose from a lease dispute between the plaintiff, J.
Granger Harriss, IV, and the defendants, Archives Grill, LLC
("Grill"), James and Sarah Keefer, and Patrick D.
Bell. The Grill executed a lease with Harriss for restaurant
space in the Mid-City Plaza building ("MCP") in
Shreveport. Harriss is the majority owner of MCP. The lease
was to run from June 3, 2010, through November 30, 2012. The
rent was $3, 000 per month, with a six-month abatement. It
contained an acceleration clause in the event of a default.
The Grill was to pay the gas and electricity bills. The
Keefers operated the restaurant. They both signed a lease
guaranty agreement for all the obligations under the lease on
June 3, 2010.
February 2011, Mr. Keefer accepted a job with the Department
of Defense ("DOD") that required him to move to
Georgia. The Keefers talked with Harriss about getting out of
the lease and having Bell take over. On April 30, 2011, Bell
also signed a guaranty on the existing lease. The Keefers
executed a promissory note for the payment of past-due rent.
Although it appears that the parties discussed a possible
agreement releasing the Keefers from their obligation under
the guaranty, no final agreement was ever reached or signed.
The Keefers left Shreveport and moved out of state. Bell did
not pay the obligations under the lease. In May 2011, Harriss
discovered that substantially all of the property had been
removed from the space without giving notice of intent to
23, 2011, Harriss filed the instant suit against the Grill,
the Keefers, and Bell, claiming they defaulted on the
lease. Harriss sought to collect past-due rent of
$10, 999.96, and accelerated rent through the end of the term
of $54, 000. He also claimed that a $540.95 electric bill was
due. Pursuant to the guaranty agreements, Harriss sought
judgments against the Keefers and Bell.
Grill failed to answer after being served with process
through the Louisiana Secretary of State. With regard to the
Keefers, Harriss proceeded against them pursuant to the
provisions of the Louisiana long-arm statute, La. R.S.
13:3201 et seq. On July 7, 2011, Harriss filed into the
record the required affidavits of mailing of service of
process to each of the Keefers through the long-arm statute.
The citations and petitions were mailed to the Keefers at an
address in Byron, Georgia. Harriss attested that the process
was sent by United States certified mail, in envelopes
properly addressed to the Keefers, with sufficient postage
attached. The exhibits attached to the affidavits show that
both certified mail notices were left at the Byron, Georgia,
address on June 3, 2011. The envelopes were returned
"unclaimed" on June 18, 2011.
Grill and the Keefers did not file an answer, and preliminary
defaults were entered on August 15, 2011. A confirmation
hearing was held in open court on August 22, 2011, before
Judge Leon Emanuel. Harriss filed an affidavit in support of
confirmation of default, detailing service of process on the
Grill and his attempts to serve the Keefers at their address
in Georgia. He noted the affidavits of mailing of long-arm
service of process previously filed in the record. The lease,
the lease guaranty, and itemization of court costs were
included as an exhibit to the affidavit. Harriss obtained a
default judgment against the Grill and the Keefers on that
date, for $65, 901.65, costs of $360.74, and legal
interest. Pursuant to La. C.C.P. art. 1913, the
clerk of court mailed notices of the default judgment to the
Keefers at the address in Byron, Georgia, on that same date.
the appeal delays ran, Harriss filed a petition to garnish
Mr. Keefer's wages on October 6, 2011. On October 10,
2011, an order was signed making the judgment executory and
the clerk of court was ordered to issue a writ of fieri
facias. The DOD/Defense Finance and Accounting Service
was made garnishee and ordered to answer interrogatories. On
November 8, 2011, the DOD filed answers to the
interrogatories. At some point, the DOD began sending the
wage garnishment payments to the Caddo Parish Sheriff's
Office ("CPSO"), pursuant to the court orders.
Keefers eventually secured the services of an attorney. On
April 13, 2012, they filed a pleading in the existing suit
record captioned as a "Motion for Rule to Show Cause,
for New Trial, and to Stay or Set Aside the Judgment and
Garnishment." They alleged that they never received
service of process, and that the judgment against them was
based on fraud or ill practices, misrepresentations to the
court, and other unspecified acts or omissions. They alleged
that the service was returned, not through any action on
their part, but because it was not mailed to the current
address they claimed to have furnished to Harriss.
Keefers also alleged they had an agreement with Harriss
releasing them from any further obligation under the lease
and detailed their version of what they thought had
transpired. They asserted that Harriss had a dispute with
Bell, and wrongfully sued them for breach of contract. They
asked for a new trial, to set aside the garnishment, and to
stay the garnishment, pending a hearing on their motions. The
trial court did not sign the portion of the ex parte
order they submitted to stop the garnishment. A rule to show
cause on the motion was set for a hearing on June 11, 2012. A
hearing was not held on that date. It appears that the
Keefers did not obtain service upon Harriss. The matter lay
dormant for several years. The DOD continued to remit the
wage garnishment payments to CPSO.
January 9, 2015, the Keefers' attorney filed another
pleading captioned "Amended Petition, " reiterating
all of their prior claims and asserting cross-claims against
Harriss and Bell for damages caused by the garnishment.
According to the Keefers, Harriss and Bell had an agreement
whereby Bell was substituted as guarantor on the lease and
was made the member-manager of the Grill, releasing the
Keefers from all obligations. The Keefers claimed that
Harriss and Bell breached an agreement to indemnify and hold
them harmless in the substitution of Bell on the lease. They
asserted that the garnishment was obtained by fraud and ill
practices and on insufficient grounds. They demanded a
concursus proceeding to determine the ownership of the
garnishment funds being held by the CPSO. They again
requested a new trial and an injunction to stop the
garnishment. Due to the retirement of Judge Emanuel, the case
was assigned to Judge Michael Pitman. A hearing was set by
the court for February 23, 2015, but was not held. It appears
that the Keefers were unable to serve Harriss.
Keefers had a dispute with their attorney, dismissed him, and
chose to represent themselves. On May 2, 2016, they filed a
pleading entitled "Motion to Dismiss and Order to Stop
Garnishment, " in which they asked that the court grant
their "motion for summary judgment" pursuant to the
"Federal Rules of Civil Procedure." They again
sought dismissal of the default judgment and the garnishment
based on their claim that they did not get service of the
suit. They did not raise any complaints regarding the
substance of the default judgment in their pleading. However,
they attached numerous exhibits to their filing, outlining
some negotiations for the substitution of Bell on the lease.
They did not supply any documentation or proof that a final
agreement was ever reached or signed by the parties. Some of
the emails attached to the pleading actually indicate that
the negotiations had broken down. The ex parte order
submitted to the court, along with the inartful pleadings,
were somewhat unintelligible. The order purported to grant
relief without a court hearing and was not signed by the
court. Instead, the court generated its own order which
appropriately set the matter for a hearing.
trial court held a hearing on the Keefers' motions on
June 13, 2016. The Keefers traveled to Shreveport and were
present in court along with Harriss. Prior to the hearing,
Harris filed a legal memorandum in opposition to the motions.
The Keefers and Harriss argued their positions, but the
parties were not sworn to testify.
Keefers argued that they were never served with process and
that they had an agreement with Harriss to be relieved of the
lease obligation. They claimed they did not receive a copy of
the default judgment and only became aware of the judgment
when Mr. Keefer's wages were garnished.They outlined all
of their attempts to attack the default judgment through the
efforts of their attorney and claimed that he did not perform
satisfactorily in representing their interests. Curiously,
they submitted an affidavit from Bell which denied that the
Keefers were released from any agreement they had with
Harriss or that Bell agreed to meet the Keefers'
pointed out that a motion to dismiss and a motion for summary
judgment were not proper procedural devices considering the
posture of this case. He argued that a motion for new trial
would be an appropriate method to attack the default
judgment. However, since the Keefers failed to file that
motion within seven days of the mailing of the notice of the
default judgment, as required by law, it was untimely.
Harriss also maintained that he complied with all the
requirements for entry of a valid default judgment and for
service of process under the long-arm statute. He noted that
the certified letters came back "unclaimed." He
argued this did not mean the notices did not reach the
recipients. Rather, it meant that the notices for the
certified mail were left at the address and the Keefers did
not go pick up the certified mail from the post office.
Harriss pointed to jurisprudence holding that the parties
cannot defeat service under the long-arm statute by failing
to claim the letters. He introduced into evidence proof that he
also utilized the services of a commercial courier to make
delivery of the process to the Keefers at the Byron, Georgia,
address, which is another method of service provided for
under the long-arm statute. See La. R.S. 13:3204 and 3205.
The package was returned on June 15, 2011, with a notation,
"RECEIVER DID NOT ORDER, REFUSED." Harriss also
presented the testimony of the MCP property manager, Ms.
Emery, who stated that there was no agreement to release the
Keefers from their obligations under the lease.
trial court found that the Keefers' reference to a motion
for summary judgment was misplaced because that is a pretrial
procedure, and they were seeking to overturn a default
judgment. The trial court construed the Keefers' most
recent pleading as a motion for new trial and a motion to
dismiss and stop the garnishment. The court noted that a
motion for new trial must be filed within seven days of the
judgment, and pointed out that the first motion for new trial
was filed by the Keefers' attorney in April 2012, some
eight months after the default judgment, and the latest
motion for new trial was filed by the Keefers, in proper
person, in 2016, more than four years after the judgment. The
motion for new trial was denied as untimely. The requests for