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Succession of Bourg

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

September 21, 2017


         On Appeal from the 32nd Judicial District Court, Parish of Terrebonne, State of Louisiana Trial Court No. 21770, The Honorable John R. Walker, Judge Presiding.

          Philip A. Spence Houma, Louisiana, Attorney for Plaintiffs/Appellants, Jenny Marie Hotard Picou and Geralyn Ann Hotard Verdin.

          Jan S. Brunet Houma, Louisiana Attorney for Defendants/Appellees, Diana Neal Bourg and Anita Bourg Arceneaux.


          HOLDRIDGE, J.

         In this familial property dispute, the plaintiffs appeal the judgment of the trial court that enforced a settlement agreement. We affirm.


         The parties are Diana Neal Bourg and her three daughters, Jenny Marie Hotard Picou, Geralyn Ann Hotard Verdin, and Anita Bourg Arceneaux. Jenny and Geralyn were born to Diana and Gerald Joseph Hotard. After Gerald's death in 1958, Diana married Dudley Bourg, and Anita was born. Dudley died in 1976.

         At issue are the parties' rights to property located in Montegut, Louisiana. The property is comprised of two contiguous tracts of land; one was Gerald's separate property, and one was the community property of Gerald and Diana. A house built by Gerald and Diana was destroyed by Hurricane Betsy, then rebuilt by them partially on Gerald's separate property. Diana and Anita now live in that house. Geralyn and her daughter each live in mobile homes located on the property.

         The property was allegedly involved in the succession proceedings of both Gerald and Dudley. Jenny and Geralyn filed a petition to nullify the judgment of possession from Dudley's 2013 succession, claiming it awarded Diana and Anita property that was previously adjudicated to them (Jenny and Geralyn) in Gerald's succession. Diana and Anita answered, denying Jenny and Geralyn's claim that the same property was involved in both successions, explaining that land was conveyed in Gerald's succession, but Dudley's succession dealt with buildings on the land, specifically a brick house. Diana and Anita also asserted a reconventional demand seeking to partition the disputed property because they, along with Geralyn and Geralyn's daughter, could no longer live on the property peacefully.

         On September 28, 2015, the parties and their attorneys appeared for a bench trial and engaged in settlement negotiations with the trial court. At the conclusion of the negotiations, the trial court stated it had a "lengthy discussion with the attorneys" in an attempt to resolve the pending issues. The trial court pointed out that a home on the disputed property was destroyed, then rebuilt and elevated, raising questions about whether the house and land, respectively, was separate or community property. The trial court said a partition in kind (a physical division of the property) was possible, and continued, saying "The parties have struggled in trying to deal with the issues and come up with some appropriate resolution. And they have, at this point, come up with a possible solution, and they have signed an agreement on a map that is being held by the Court."

         The trial court then outlined the agreement reached to divide the property as shown on the map. The trial court explained that in exchange for the agreement, Jenny and Geralyn gave up any right to the property where the house is located; Diana and Anita gave up any rights to the remaining property; and Anita gave up any rights in the house in favor of her mother. The trial court clarified that Diana would own the house, and the remaining property would be carved out around it. The trial court explained that as additional consideration for the agreement, Jenny and Geralyn would each receive $10, 000. The parties confirmed their signatures on the map and acknowledged on the record that the trial court's description matched their understanding of the agreement. The trial court noted that a completed survey would need to be signed by the parties, after which the remaining issues could be resolved.

         In January, 2016, Diana and Anita filed a motion and rule to show cause alleging they engaged a registered land surveyor to prepare a final map to divide the property and prepared a consent judgment, but Jenny and Geralyn refused to sign. Diana and Anita asked that the surveyor's map be used to finally divide the property. Jenny and Geralyn opposed the motion, arguing they did not voluntarily consent to divide the property as shown on the map signed September 28, 2015, the day of the scheduled bench trial. They claimed they felt intimidated and coerced to sign and referenced a "miscommunication" between them and their former attorney. Jenny and Geralyn additionally argued the surveyor's map was not in accordance with the proposed agreement and included property not part of the partition proceeding.

         The parties appeared in court on February 26, 2016, for Jenny and Geralyn to show cause why the surveyor's map should not be used to divide the property. The trial court continued the hearing after discussing a number of issues with counsel in chambers and hearing suggestions to help resolve differences, including "moving some of the lines, changing some of the previous agreements in connection with this matter." The trial court noted "a number of options" being considered, and reset the hearing to allow the attorneys and their clients to resolve the issues without further litigation expenses. The trial court expressed hope that the parties would reach an ...

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