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Tractor and Equipment Co. v. Dual Trucking and Transport, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

August 22, 2017

TRACTOR AND EQUIPMENT CO.
v.
DUAL TRUCKING AND TRANSPORT, LLC, AND ANTHONY ALFORD

         SECTION: R

          ORDER AND REASONS

          SARAH S. VANCE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is plaintiff's motion to reopen this matter and for further relief.[1] For the following reasons, the Court grants the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of an open account agreement between Plaintiff Tractor and Equipment Co. and Defendant Dual Trucking and Transport, LLC (DTT).[2] In March 2012, DTT applied for credit from plaintiff.[3]Defendant Anthony Alford, a 50 percent owner of DTT, signed a personal guarantee promising to repay Tractor and Equipment any monies due because of the credit extended to DTT, including late payment charges, costs of collection, and a reasonable attorney's fee for recovery of the debt.[4]

         Tractor and Equipment sued DTT and Anthony Alford in Montana state court, alleging that DTT had an unpaid account balance of $292, 846.30.[5] The Montana court dismissed the claims against Alford for lack of personal jurisdiction in May 2015.[6] On March 8, 2016, the Montana court entered judgment against DTT in the amount of $292, 846.30, plus interest at the rate of 18 percent per annum from October 31, 2013, attorneys' fees in the amount of $30, 508.50, and costs in the amount of $1, 111.55.[7]

         On October 23, 2015, Tractor and Equipment filed suit in this Court seeking a declaratory judgment against Alford and DTT.[8] On April 3, 2017, the Court granted Tractor and Equipment's motion for summary judgment and declared that Alford's personal guarantee is a valid and enforceable surety agreement.[9] On April 12, 2017, Alford and DTT filed a notice of appeal of the Court's declaratory judgment.[10]

         Tractor and Equipment now moves to reopen this matter and requests that the Court grant it further relief in the form of monetary damages, interest, attorneys' fees, and costs.[11]

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Availability of Further Relief

         After entering a declaratory judgment, the Court may grant “[f]urther necessary or proper relief . . . after reasonable notice and hearing, against any adverse party whose rights have been determined by such judgment.” 28 U.S.C. § 2202. The decision to grant further relief, including monetary damages, is within the Court's discretion. See Noatex Corp. v. King Const. of Houston, LLC, 732 F.3d 479, 487 (5th Cir. 2013) (“Monetary damages are allowed under this provision and we review a district court's decision to grant or deny such monetary damages for abuse of discretion.”); see also United Teacher Assocs. Ins. Co. v. Union Labor Life Ins. Co., 414 F.3d 558, 569-71 (5th Cir. 2005).

         The Court's declaratory judgment determined the legal rights of the parties in this matter. The Montana court found that DTT owes plaintiff damages, interest, attorneys' fees, and costs.[12] After the Montana judgment was entered, the Court declared that Alford's personal guarantee accompanying DTT's credit application is a valid and enforceable surety agreement.[13] Alford is therefore liable for DTT's debts to Tractor and Equipment.

         The Court retains jurisdiction to grant further relief even though an appeal is pending in this matter. See United Teacher, 414 F.3d at 572-73. As the Fifth Circuit has explained, courts “have consistently held that neither the filing of an appeal nor a lengthy delay after the trial court's initial ruling terminates the court's authority to grant further relief pursuant to § 2202.” Id. at 572; see also Horn & Hardart Co. v. Nat'l Rail Passenger Corp., 843 F.2d 546, 548 n.3 (D.C. Cir. 1988) (finding that the Declaratory Judgment Act's provision for further relief is a statutory reservation to the general rule that an appeal divests district court of jurisdiction).

         Defendants concede that the Court retains the power to grant some further relief during the pendency of an appeal.[14] But defendants argue that plaintiff's request for interest and attorneys' fees is outside the scope of the Court's declaratory judgment and would impermissibly expand the judgment currently on appeal.[15] See Public Citizen v. Carlin, 2 F.Supp.2d 18, 20 (D.D.C. 1998) (“The filing of a notice of appeal divests this Court of jurisdiction to alter, amend, or expand a declaratory judgment. The Court retains authority, however, to order ‘further necessary or proper relief' to enforce its declaratory judgment.”) (internal citation omitted).

         The relief requested here does not require an expansion of the declaratory judgment. The Court's order[16] granting declaratory judgment included the text of the personal guarantee, which reads as follows:

PERSONAL GUARANTEE
The undersigned, ___, in consideration of your giving credit to the aforesaid applicant, jointly and severally guarantee(s) and agree(s) to pay to TRACTOR & EQUIPMENT CO., N C MACHINERY CO., MACHINERY POWER & EQUIPMENT CO., N C POWER SYSTEMS CO. OR ANY OF THEIR RELATED OR AFFILIATED COMPANIES all monies which shall become due you from Dual Trucking and Transport LLC by reason of any credit you extended as credit you extend as [sic] herein requested, including late payment charges and all costs of collection and reasonable attorney's fee for recovery of the debt if it is due whether it is incurred by the debtor or guarantor or both.

         This guarantee unambiguously obliges Alford to pay Tractor and Equipment the money owed by DTT as a result of the credit extended, including any “late payment charges and all costs of collection and reasonable attorney's fee[s] for recovery of the debt.”[17] Attorneys' fees based on a contractual agreement to pay fees are a proper subject for collateral relief under § 2202. See Bilmar Drilling, Inc. v. IFG Leasing Co., 795 F.2d 1194, 1200, 1202 (5th Cir. 1986); see also Mercantile Nat'l Bank v. Bradford Trust Co., 850 F.2d 215, 216, 218 (5th Cir. 1988) (finding that attorneys' fees are recoverable under § 2202 where permitted by contract).

         The Montana court has already determined that DTT owes Tractor and Equipment damages, interest, costs, and attorneys' fees.[18] The Court's declaratory judgment in this matter “conclusively established the validity” of Alford's personal guarantee of DTT's debts, including interest and fees, and “the denial of the motion for further relief ...


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