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Willis v. EAN Holdings

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

April 12, 2017

MARSHA A. WILLIS
v.
EAN HOLDINGS D/B/A ENTERPRISE RENT A CAR, ELCO INSURANCE GROUP, INC., TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION, AND TROY DAVID THIBODEAUX

         On Appeal from the 19th Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge State of Louisiana Trial Court No. 614, 425 Honorable R. Michael Caldwell, Judge Presiding

          Marsha A. Willis Baton Rouge, LA Plaintiff-Appellant, In Proper Person

          David A. Salley A. Jacob Culotta, JL New Orleans, LA Attorneys for Defendant-Appellee, EAN Holdings, LLC

          Thomas W. Darling Baton Rouge, LA Attorney for Defendant-Appellee, Empire Fire & Marine Insurance Co.

          Donna Powe Green Hattiesburg, MS Attorney for Defendant-Appellee, Rental Insurance Services, Inc.

          BEFORE: HIGGINBOTHAM, THERIOT, AND CHUTZ, JJ.

          HIGGINBOTHAM, J.

         Plaintiff-appellant, Ms. Marsha A. Willis (Ms. Willis), appeals the judgment of the trial court granting defendant-appellee's, Empire Fire and Marine Insurance Company (Empire), motion for summary judgment and dismissing her claims against Empire with prejudice.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On August 3, 2011, Ms. Ida Mae Willis entered into a car rental agreement with EAN Holdings, LLC d/b/a Enterprise Rent A Car (Enterprise) for the use of a Toyota Corolla. The next day, Ms. Ida Mae Willis' daughter, Ms. Willis, was driving the vehicle when she was involved in an automobile accident with Mr. Troy Thibodeaux. After the accident, on June 23, 2012, Mr. Thibodeaux filed a petition for damages in the 19th Judicial District Court against Rental Insurance Services, Inc. (RIS) and Ms. Willis (hereafter referred to as the Thibodeaux litigation).

         Enterprise was the policyholder of a supplemental liability insurance policy issued by Empire. After Mr. Thibodaux filed suit, his petition was sent to Empire's claim specialist, Trisha Green, to make a determination as to whether a defense would be provided to Ms. Willis. On September 19, 2012, Ms. Green sent a letter to Ms. Willis notifying her that Empire was denying coverage for her accident, because she was not an additional authorized driver on Ms. Ida Mae Willis' car rental agreement with Enterprise. Eventually, through the assistance of RIS, Mr. Thibodeaux's claims against Ms. Willis and RIS were settled. Empire was never made a party to the Thibodeaux litigation.

         The litigation forming the basis of this appeal began on August 6, 2012, when Ms. Willis filed a Petition for Damages naming Enterprise, Toyota Motor Corporation, and Mr. Thibodeaux as defendants. Subsequently, Ms. Willis filed an amended and supplemental petition adding as defendants RIS and Empire.[1] In her petition, Ms. Willis set forth several theories of recovery against Empire which appear to be based on Empire's conclusion that she was not an authorized driver under the car rental agreement, and Empire's timeliness of informing her of its conclusion. Ms. Willis alleged that RIS and Empire conspired to deprive her of free speech and a fair trial in asserting the unauthorized driver defense more than one year after the automobile accident. Ms. Willis' theories of recovery against Empire include state law claims of fraud and breach of contract, and federal law claims under the Fourteenth Amendment as well as civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C.A. §1985, and equal rights violations under 42 U.S.C.A. §1981.

         On April 7, 2015, Empire filed a motion for summary judgment contending that Empire's decision to deny coverage to Ms. Willis was based solely upon review of the car rental agreement and the allegations in Mr. Thibodeaux's petition for damages, and that no genuine issues of material fact exist regarding any of the causes of action Ms. Willis set forth in her petition. Empire's motion for summary judgment was heard by the trial court on June 1, 2015, after which the trial court concluded that Ms. Willis "has no evidence to support any issues of material fact against [Empire]" and "has shown no basis for recovery against [Empire]." On June 16, 2015, judgment was signed granting Empire's motion for summary judgment and dismissing Ms. Willis' claims against Empire with prejudice. It is from this judgment that Ms. Willis appeals.[2] In response, Empire answered Ms. Willis' appeal, seeking attorney fees incurred in connection with defending this appeal and contending that Ms. Willis' appeal was frivolous and was filed for the sole purpose of harassing Empire.

         LAW ...


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