CONNIE B. VILLENUVE
MICHAEL EUGENE CASH AND BRENDA SUE CASH
Appeal from the 21st Judicial District Court In and for the
Parish of Livingston State of Louisiana Trial Court No. 142,
620, Honorable Charlotte H. Foster, Judge Presiding.
H. Harrison, Jr. Watson, LA, Maryanna B. Haynes Brian K.
Abels Denham Springs, LA, Attorneys for
Defendants-Appellants-Michael Eugene Cash and Brenda Sue
Carlton Jones, III Ryan R. Brown Baton Rouge, LA, Attorneys
for Plaintiff-Appellee, Connie B, Villenuve.
BEFORE: HIGGINBOTHAM, HOLDRIDGE, AND PENZATO, JJ.
appeal concerns the review of a judgment declaring a donation
inter vivos of immovable property null and void for
lack of authentic form.
B. Villenuve is a widow with no children. In 2012, Ms.
Villenuve was living on approximately 25 acres of property in
Denham Springs, Louisiana. She originally acquired the
property, including three houses and a barn, from her
parents. On July 31, 2012, Ms. Villenuve went with
her neighbors and close friends, Michael Eugene Cash and
Brenda Sue Cash, to a local notary's office to sign
documents that she believed were related to the succession of
her husband so that she could sell the Cashes two acres of
land for their daughter. Instead, Ms. Villenuve signed a
document in which she purported to donate all of her property
to the Cashes, which was not her intention. Ms. Villenuve had
previously executed a will that left all of the property to
the Cashes upon her death, but she never intended to donate
the property to them while she was still living.
Cashes informed Ms. Villenuve later that same day that they
now owned all of her property. Upon learning this news, Ms.
Villenuve became very upset and returned to the office of the
notary, Sandra M. Allen Causey, to attempt to have the
donation revoked. She was not successful. Approximately one
week later, the Cashes moved into one of the empty houses on
the property where Ms. Villenuve still lived. At that point,
the previously close relationship between Ms. Villenuve and
the Cashes quickly deteriorated, leading to a complete lack
of trust and many phone calls to the local sheriffs office
concerning harassment and trespassing, as well as threats to
evict each other from the property. Ms. Villenuve
subsequently revoked her will.
September 13, 2013, Ms. Villenuve filed a petition against
the Cashes, seeking to declare the act of donation an
absolute nullity and to return Ms. Villenuve into full
possession and ownership of the property, to cancel and erase
the act of donation from the Livingston Parish conveyance
records, for an injunction enjoining the Cashes from filing
any eviction proceedings against Ms. Villenuve, and for
damages, Ms. Villenuve alleged that at the time that she
signed the document, she did not understand that she was
transferring all of her property to the Cashes, whom she had
trusted. She also alleged that at the time she was under
duress and the Cashes had perpetrated a fraud in
misrepresenting what she was signing. Additionally, Ms.
Villenuve alleged that the act of donation document was void
and without effect, because it was not executed in the
presence of two witnesses as required by law. The Cashes
answered the petition, generally denying all of the
allegations and requesting that the lawsuit be dismissed.
matter proceeded to a bench trial on October 14, 2015. The
trial court signed a judgment in favor of Ms. Villenuve on
December 30, 2015, granting all of the remedies she sought in
her petition, including a declaration that the act of
donation was an absolute nullity. In reasons for judgment,
the trial court explained that the donation document was void
for proper form because one of the witnesses was not present
at the execution of the donation and the other witness did
not actually observe any of the parties or the notary sign
the document. The Cashes filed a motion for new trial, which
was denied by the trial court. The Cashes then filed a motion
for devolutive appeal, which the trial court granted. The
record was lodged in this Court on November 22,
appeal, the Cashes contend the trial court erred in finding
that the act of donation: (1) was an absolute nullity; (2)
was not an authentic act; and (3) was subject to revocation
for the Cashes' acts of ingratitude. Ms. Villenuve
maintains that the trial court's judgment should be
affirmed since the act of donation was not signed in the
presence of two witnesses as required by law for an authentic
Civil Code article 1541 requires that donations inter
vivos be accomplished by authentic act under the penalty
of absolute nullity. An "authentic act" is defined
as a "writing executed before a notary public . . .,
in the presence of two witnesses, and signed
by each party who executed it, by each witness, and by each
notary public before whom it was executed." La. Civ.
Code art. 1833(A) (emphasis added). Any material deviation
from the requirements governing authentic acts is fatal.
Hardin v. Williams,468 So.2d 1302, 1304 (La.App.
1st Cir.), affd, 478 So.2d 1214 (La. 1985). To invalidate an
act that purports to be authentic on its face, the proof ...