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Noel v. Noel

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

August 2, 2017

THEODULE P. NOEL, JR., ET AL.
v.
THEODULE PIERRE NOEL, SR., ET AL.

         APPEAL FROM THE FIFTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF VERMILION, NO. 2013-96657 HONORABLE THOMAS R. DUPLANTIER, DISTRICT JUDGE.

          Ralph E. Kraft, Bryan E. Lege, Kraft Lege LLC., COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFFS/APPELLANTS: Theodule P. Noel, Jr., Christine Noel Devenport, Catherine A. Noel, Individually and as Executrix of the Succession of Irene Joyce Trahan Noel

          R. Chadwick Edwards, Jr. Edwards & Edwards P.O. COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANTS/APPELLEES: Samuel J. Noel, Individually and as Executor of the Succession of Theodule P. Noel, Sr. Pamela A. Noel

          Gary McGoffin Jonathan R. Villien Durio, McGoffin, Stagg & Ackerman, P.C. COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANTS/APPELLEES: Samuel H. Shuffler, M.D., Ross Hebert.

          Court composed of John D. Saunders, Elizabeth A. Pickett, and Van H. Kyzar, Judges.

          VAN H. KYZAR JUDGE.

         The plaintiffs-appellants, Theodule P. Noel, Jr., Christine Noel Devenport, and Catherine A. Noel, individually and as executrix of the Succession of Irene Joyce Trahan Noel, appeal from a trial court judgment finding that their mother had the mental capacity to execute a power of attorney and that the power of attorney authorized the defendant-appellee, Samuel J. Noel, to self-deal. For the following reasons, we vacate in part; reverse in part; and remand for further proceedings.

         DISCUSSION OF THE RECORD

         The facts of this matter were fully addressed in our prior opinion, Noel, Jr. v. Noel, Sr., 15-37 (La.App. 3 Cir. 5/27/15), 165 So.3d 401, writ denied, 15-1121 (La. 9/18/15), 178 So.3d 147, and we adopt those facts as though fully incorporated herein. In addition to other rulings, we reversed the trial court's sua sponte finding that Theodule P. Noel, Jr., Christine Noel Devenport, and Catherine A. Noel (the Appellants) had no right of action; its grant of summary judgment in favor of Theodule P. Noel, Sr., Samuel J. Noel, and Pamela A. Noel (the Appellees)[1] on the issue of the authenticity of Mrs. Noel's January 12, 2006 power of attorney; and its denial of the Appellants' motion to file a third supplemental and amending petition.

         Upon remand, a trial on the merits was held on January 25, 2016, which was limited by the trial court to whether Mrs. Noel possessed the necessary mental capacity to execute the January 12, 2006 power of attorney and whether the power of attorney allowed self-dealing by Samuel. At the close of the trial, the matter was taken under advisement, after which the trial court rendered written reasons on February 26, 2016, which affirmed its preliminary rulings to sever/bifurcate several matters, including the Appellants' farm-lease claims. The judgment held that Mrs. Noel possessed the necessary mental capacity to execute the January 12, 2006 power of attorney. It also held that the power of attorney authorized Samuel to sell Mrs. Noel's immovable property to himself and that her authorization for the sales was unnecessary because she benefited from the sales. A written judgment was recorded on April 6, 2016. It is from this judgment that the Appellants perfected their appeal.

         The Appellants list seven assignments of error committed by the trial court:

1. The District Court committed manifest error in finding that Mrs. Noel had the requisite capacity to execute the [power of attorney] on 12 January 2006.
2. The District Court committed manifest error in finding that the [power of attorney] bearing the date 12 January 2006 was an authentic act.
3. The District Court committed legal error in finding that Samuel J. Noel had the authority to self deal pursuant to the [power of attorney] bearing the date 12 January 2006 where there was no language in the [power of attorney] granting such authority.
4. The District Court committed legal error/manifest error in finding under the power of attorney that Samuel J. Noel's payment of the sale price of the property fulfilled a fiduciary duty to Mrs. Noel, though he judicially admitted the motive of Samuel J. Noel's sale of the property to himself was for his personal benefit, to not inconvenience his farming operations.
5. The District Court abused its discretion in excluding relevant and admissible evidence offered by Plaintiffs/Appellants as respects Mrs. Noel's capacity and the lack of authenticity of the [power of attorney], made the subject of the proffers by Plaintiffs/ Appellants.
6. The District Court abused its discretion in dismissing Plaintiffs/Appellants' claims for fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, simulation and a claim for an accounting by the mandatory, Samuel J. Noel, without allowing Plaintiffs/Appellants to conduct relevant discovery or present evidence.
7. The District Court abused its discretion in severing/bifurcating and precluding Plaintiffs/Appellants' right to conduct discovery and setting the trial date, denying Plaintiffs/Appellants the opportunity to conduct relevant discovery.

         In answer to the appeal, the Appellees filed an exception of no cause of action asserting that the Appellants failed to state a cause of action for damages on behalf of Mrs. Noel's estate because the trial court held that Mrs. Noel suffered no damages since each property sold for its appraised value. The Appellees also moved to strike the proffer of evidence filed by the Appellants pertaining to Mrs. Noel's capacity to execute the January 12, 2006 power of attorney.

         OPINION

         The law pertaining to "power of attorney" was laid out by the second circuit in Tatum v. Riley, 49, 670, pp. 6-7 (La.App. 2 Cir. 5/6/15), 166 So.3d 380, 384 (alteration in original), as follows:

A power of attorney is a common law term, whereas our civil code uses the term procuration to designate the same contractual relationship. La. C.C. art. 2986, Revision Comments (a); In re Succession of Hunt, 47, 372 (La.App.2d Cir.9/20/12), 135 So.3d 654. As defined by La. C.C. art. 2987, "[a] procuration is a unilateral juridical act by which a person, the principal, confers authority on another person, the representative, to represent the principal in legal relations." A procuration is governed by the rules applicable to mandate to the extent that those rules are compatible with the nature of the procuration. La. C.C. art. 2988.
The rules governing mandate allow the principal to confer general authority for the mandate "to do whatever is appropriate under the circumstances." La. C.C. art. 2994; Hunt, supra. However, some actions require express authorization. The authority to alienate, encumber, acquire, or lease a thing must be express. La. C.C. art. 2996. Express authorization is also required for the agent to make an inter vivos donation on behalf of the principal. La. C.C. art. 2997(1); Hunt, supra. Self-dealing also requires express authorization as provided by La. C.C. art. 2998, which states, "A mandatary who represents the principal as the other contracting party may not contract with himself unless he is authorized by the principal, or, in making such contract, he is merely fulfilling a duty to the principal."

         Although this court, in Succession of Love, 16-245 (La.App. 3 Cir. 9.28/16), 201 So.3d 1027, held that the authority to self-deal may be either verbal or in writing, because the authority to self-deal at issue involves the sale of immovable property, that authority must be specific and in writing pursuant to La.Civ.Code arts. 2992 and 2996.[2]

         Because a power of attorney is a contract, we interpret its provisions pursuant to the rules of contract interpretation, which were laid out by the supreme court in Prejean v. Guillory, 10-740, pp. 6-7 (La. ...


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