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Chauvin v. Shell Oil Co.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

October 25, 2017

ALDEN CHAUVIN, ANYCE CHAUVIN LAMBERT AND MELVIN A. CANNON
v.
SHELL OIL COMPANY, VALERO REFINING -NEW ORLEANS, L.L.C., SHELL PIPELINE COMPANY, LP, AIR PRODUCTS & CHEMICALS, INC., SOUTHERN NATURAL GAS COMPANY, L.L.C., PARKWAY PIPELINE & ST. CHARLES PARISH SEWERAGE DISTRICT NO. 1 THROUGH THE ST. CHARLES PARISH COUNCIL

         ON REMAND FROM THE LOUISIANA SUPREME COURT

         AN APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-NINTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT, PARISH OF ST. CHARLES, STATE OF LOUISIANA, NO. 76, 932 DIVISION "E" HONORABLE TIMOTHY S. MARCEL, JUDGE PRESIDING

          COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT, ALDEN CHAUVIN, ANYCE CHAUVIN LAMBERT AND MELVIN A. CANNON PATRICK W. PENDLEY JESSICA A. PEREZ

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE, SHELL OIL COMPANY AND SHELL PIPELINE COMPANY, L.P. TROY J. CHARPENTIER JENNIFER J. THOMAS

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE, AIR PRODUCTS & CHEMICALS, INC. W. SCOTT KEATY JOSHUA G. MCDIARMID

          Panel composed of Judges Susan M. Chehardy, Fredericka Homberg Wicker and Hans J. Liljeberg

          SUSAN M. CHEHARDY CHIEF JUDGE

         We consider this appeal on remand from the Louisiana Supreme Court, and for the reasons that follow, we affirm the March 24, 2016 judgment of the district court.

         BACKGROUND

         This appeal stems from a March 24, 2016 judgment in which the 29th Judicial District Court granted motions for summary judgment filed by defendants-appellees, Shell Oil Company ("Shell Oil"), Shell Pipeline Company, LP ("Shell Pipeline"), Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. ("Air Products"), Valero Refining-New Orleans, LLC ("Valero"), and Bengal Pipeline Company, LLC ("Bengal"), and dismissed with prejudice the claims of plaintiffs-appellants, Alden Chauvin, Anyce Chauvin Lambert, and Melvin Cannon. Plaintiffs appealed this judgment, but this Court dismissed their appeal as untimely. See Chauvin v. Shell Oil Co., 16-609 (La.App. 5 Cir. 11/16/16), 204 So.3d 1100. We reached that conclusion based on the following.

         The designated record before us reflects that the notice of judgment was mailed on March 30, 2016. Thus, in accordance with La. C.C.P. art. 1974, plaintiffs had until April 8, 2016 to file a motion for new trial, but did not file their motion until April 14, 2016. Pursuant to La. C.C.P. art. 2087(A)(1), a motion for devolutive appeal must be filed within sixty days of the expiration of the delay for applying for a new trial, if no application has been filed timely. Because we found plaintiffs' motion for new trial had not been filed timely, plaintiffs had sixty days from April 8, 2016 to file a motion for appeal. We concluded plaintiffs' motion for appeal, filed June 22, 2016, was untimely and dismissed the appeal.

         Plaintiffs sought certiorari review. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted review and issued a per curiam finding that plaintiffs' motion for new trial was timely because it had been filed within seven days after the sheriff had served notice of the judgment in accordance with La. C.C.P. art. 1974. See Chauvin v. Shell Oil Co., 17-43 (La. 03/31/17), 214 So.3d 855. As a result, the court found plaintiffs' devolutive appeal was timely, reinstated the appeal, and remanded the matter to this Court for consideration of the merits. Id.

         As we did upon our original review of the record, and now again on remand, we find nothing in the record to indicate that plaintiffs were served by the sheriff with notice of judgment. Consequently, upon the designated record before us, we are still of the opinion that plaintiffs' appeal is untimely. However, the Louisiana Supreme Court has ruled on this issue and we are bound by that ruling. Accordingly, we now turn to the merits of this appeal.

         STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         This appeal arises out of a property dispute. Plaintiffs, who claim to own a certain tract of land in St. Charles Parish, filed suit in 2013 alleging trespass and seeking damages caused by oil and gas pipelines that had been installed on the land by defendants. Defendants dispute plaintiffs' claims of ownership. Defendant Shell Oil claims that it purchased the property in question from plaintiffs' ancestors-in-title in 1971 and granted servitudes to other defendant pipeline companies over the ensuing years. On this basis, Shell Oil and other defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that plaintiffs cannot prove they own the property and, thus, cannot succeed on their trespass action. The district court agreed, granting summary judgment in favor of defendants and dismissing plaintiffs' claims with prejudice. Plaintiffs appealed that ruling.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY[1]

         The property at issue was once a portion of a larger tract acquired by plaintiffs' ancestors-in-title in 1927, when Lorenza Toussa sold a portion of Lot G and all of Lot H of the original Goodhope Plantation in St. Charles Parish to Frank Szubinski. In 1929, Frank Szubinski sold half of his interest in this property to his brother, Theodore Szubinski.

         On March 21, 1930, the Szubinksi brothers granted a 275-foot-wide right of way over the property to the State of Louisiana for the construction and maintenance of Airline Highway. Defendant Shell Oil first acquired an interest in the property in 1948 when the Szubinskis sold to Shell Oil a 25-foot-wide strip of land on the north end of the property.

         Between 1950 and 1953, the Szubinskis subdivided the property south of Airline Highway and sold off the lots. After Frank Szubinksi's death in 1959, his wife, Bertha Miller Szubinski, inherited his estate, including his one-half interest in the property. In 1961, Theodore and Bertha sold a 20-foot-wide strip of the property north of Airline Highway to Gravity Drainage District No. 2 of St. Charles Parish ("Gravity").

         After Theodore's death, his wife, Annie Glover Szubinski, and daughter, Josephine Szubinski Chauvin, inherited his estate, including his one-half interest in the property. In 1966, by act of partition, Annie, Josephine, and Bertha, as owners in indivision, partitioned the remaining portion of the property north of Airline Highway into Parcels A and B as depicted on a survey prepared by S.P. Landry ...


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