FRUGE AQUAFARMS, INC.
ROBERT R. HICKS, JR.
FROM THE FIFTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF ACADIA,
NO. 2014-11142 HONORABLE THOMAS R. DUPLANTIER, DISTRICT JUDGE
Michael H. Landry Landry, Landry & Landry COUNSEL FOR
PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT: Fruge Aquafarms, Inc.
Stephen A. Stefanski Edwards, Stefanski & Zaunbrecher,
L.L.P. COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE: Robert R. Hicks, Jr.
composed of D. Kent Savoie, Van H. Kyzar, and David E.
Aquafarms, Inc. appeals from a judgment of the Fifteenth
Judicial District Court for Acadia Parish denying its request
for specific performance of an agricultural lease contract
and for damages, including damages for unjust enrichment,
following the termination of the lease. For the reasons
assigned, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and
remand for proceedings consistent herewith.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
dispute arises from an agricultural lease between the lessee,
Fruge Aquafarms, Inc. (hereinafter Fruge), and the landowner,
Robert Hicks, Jr. (hereinafter Hicks), executed in writing in
June of 2010. The lease was referenced in Fruge's
original petition and attached thereto. The lease involved
six separately described tracts of land and was for the
specific purpose of permitting Fruge to "use and occupy
said premises for agricultural and aquacultural purposes
only." The lease further provided Fruge the
"authority to plant said premises in rice, soybeans, and
wheat, and to farm crawfish, only during the term of this
lease in keeping with the farming practices for the
cultivation of crops in the locality of said property."
The term of the lease as specifically stated therein "is
five (5) years, commencing on January 1, 2010, and ending at
midnight on January 1, 2015." As to rent, the lease
provided that Fruge would pay "Twenty-Five (25%) Percent
of the gross revenue derived from the production of rice; and
Fifteen (15%) Percent of the gross revenue derived from the
production of soybeans" and further provided that Fruge
would pay "FORTY AND NO/100 ($40.00) DOLLARS per acre
per year for each acre on which crawfish operations are
conducted." Further, Fruge agreed to "[r]emove any
of its crops from the leased premises prior to the expiration
of this lease, it being agreed between the parties that upon
Lessee's failure to do so, title thereto shall thereupon
vest in Lessor and Lessee shall forfeit any rights
therein." Finally, and of particular importance to this
litigation, Section 10 of the contract entitled
"CONDITION OF SURRENDER" provided as follows:
Lessee agrees that it will peaceably surrender the leased
premises at the end of the term hereby granted in the same
good order and condition as the premises are at the
Lessor agrees that if the Lessor terminates the lease for any
reason, that the Lessee shall have until the following July
of the successive year to complete the harvest of all
alleged in Fruge's petition, prior to the termination of
the lease by its express terms, Hicks provided written notice
to Fruge by letter dated October 15, 2014, that he did not
intend to renew the lease upon the expiration date.
Thereafter, Fruge filed a "Petition for Specific
Performance" with the trial court on December 23, 2014.
In the petition, Fruge asserted that he:
[D]esires to demand specific performance of the
defendant's promise and contractual obligation to allow
plaintiff to remain on the defendant's land on which a
crawfish crop has been prepared and to remain undisturbed in
the use of equipment necessary to complete that harvest by
July, 2015, all as specifically set forth in the agricultural
lease made the subject of this litigation.
[A]lternative[ly] and only in the event that this Honorable
Court finds that the aforementioned agricultural lease does
not allow the plaintiff to remain on the tracts of land on
which a crawfish crop has already been prepared, plaintiff
alleges that it is entitled to an award of damages concerning
its preparation of a crawfish crop, all such damages to be
proven at the time of trial.
matter first came before the trial court for a hearing on
January 5, 2015. On that date, according to the minutes of
court, the matter was heard on a "Petition for
Injunction." According to the minutes, following the
arguments of counsel for both parties, the trial court denied
the injunction. A judgment was signed by the court on
February 9, 2015. The judgment states as follows:
After reviewing the memoranda of the parties and hearing the
argument of counsel, the Court denied plaintiffs Petition for
Injunction, dismissing plaintiffs claims for injunctive
relief against the defendant.
IT IS ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that the Petition for
Injunction is DENIED, dismissing plaintiffs claim for
injunctive relief against the defendant.
of judgment was mailed on March 3, 2015. Prior thereto, an
answer and reconventional demand had been filed by counsel
for Hicks, denying the original claims for specific
performance under the contract. Fruge then amended and
supplemented its petition with leave of court, seeking
damages against Hicks for the value of its efforts in
preparing the crawfish crop that allegedly went unharvested
prior to July 1, 2015, as it claimed was its right pursuant
to the lease, and for unjust enrichment. Hicks answered and
reconvened seeking damages for unpaid rent pursuant to the
trial date on June 27, 2016, substituted counsel appeared for
Fruge, while Hicks was represented by his original attorneys.
No evidence was presented by either side. After discussion in
open court and arguments of counsel, the trial court ruled as
THE COURT: - I'm not. I mean, I've - Mr. Landry,
I've heard this argument. And it's not unjust
enrichment. It's not unjust enrichment when somebody,
who's involved in a lease, knows the term that the lease
ends. Whether he believed it not to end or not, is not a
legal binding belief. I mean, his belief doesn't sway the
Court that it's a legal belief, and the fact that he put
money into it in 2014 to continue, not to mention my guess is
Mr. Fruge made quite a ...