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Robinson v. Mighty One, LLC

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

December 21, 2017

WILFRED ROBINSON, III
v.
MIGHTY ONE, LLC, MICHAEL R. CHAMBERLAIN AND KELLER WILLIAMS REALTY

         Appealed from the Twenty-Second Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of St. Tammany State of Louisiana Docket Number 2014-13846 Honorable Richard A. Swartz, Judge Presiding

          Sarabeth T. Bradley William M. Magee Covington, LA Counsel for Plaintiff/ Appellant, Wilfred Robinson, III

          Shawn W. Rogers Louis M. Butler Mandeville, LA Counsel for Defendants/Appellees, Mighty One, LLC & Michael Chamberlain

          Michael P. Bienvenu Baton Rouge, LA Counsel for Defendant/ Appellee, Group Integrity, LLC d/b/a Keller Williams Realty Services

          BEFORE: WHIPPLE, C.J., McDONALD, AND CHUTZ, JJ.

          WHIPPLE, C.J.

         This matter is before us on appeal by plaintiff, Wilfred Robinson, III, from a judgment of the trial court granting Robinson's motion for partial summary judgment against defendant, Mighty One, LLC ("Mighty One"). For the reasons that follow, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In June of 2013, Robinson contacted Keller Williams Realty ("Keller Williams") for assistance in purchasing undeveloped property on which to build a home. With the assistance of his agent, Lance Williams, Robinson ultimately entered into a "Louisiana Residential Agreement to Buy or Sell" ("the agreement" or "the contract") with Mighty One for the purchase of land and construction of a new home in Covington, Louisiana.

         The agreement, dated December 13, 2013, provided that Mighty One would build a home for Robinson at a location to be determined at a later date, that upon acceptance, the parties would be bound to the terms of the agreement, and that upon acceptance, Robinson would provide a deposit in the amount of $9, 000.00. The agreement, which was signed (initialed) by Robinson and Mighty One, also contained default provisions that would apply in the event of a default by either party, which set forth that the buyer or the seller suffering a default by the other party had the option to either declare the agreement null and void "with no further demand" or to demand and/or sue for: (1) termination of the agreement; (2) specific performance; or (3) termination of the agreement and an amount equal to 10% of the sales price as stipulated damages, and return or retention of the deposit. The default provisions further provided that the prevailing party to any litigation brought to enforce provisions of the agreement "shall be awarded attorney fees and costs." By its terms, the initial offer made in the December 13, 2013 agreement to buy or sell was made binding and irrevocable until December 17, 2013, at 5:00 p.m.

         Thereafter, with regard to a final sales price for construction of the home, which was to be determined after Robinson chose his lot, Mighty One subsequently proposed the following counter offer on December 17, 2013, at 3:20 p.m.:

The final sales price will be determined after Purchaser chooses lot location, house plans/specs and a new cost estimate is completed by the Seller. Both parties must agree to sign the new cost estimate and agree that estimate will be the sales price. From that point forward any additions, changes, [or] alterations must be made in writing, signed by both parties and paid for upfront by Purchaser and such payment shall be [nonrefundable]. The completion of the house must be within 180 days of the slab being poured. [Emphasis added.]

         All other terms and conditions of the prior agreement were to remain in effect and the "Counter Offer" would be void if not accepted in writing by 5:00 p.m. on December 18, 2013. On December 18, 2013, at 10:19 a.m., Robinson responded to the counter offer extended by Mighty One by replacing it with a new counter offer, which was accepted and agreed upon by both Robinson and Mighty One respectively on December 19, 2013 and December 20, 2013, and provided as follows:

Buyers Deposit shall be refunded and the contract declared Null and Void in the event that a suitable property cannot be acquired by the Seller.
The Buyers Deposit Shall be refunded and the contract shall be Null and Void in the event that the total cost of the home exceeds $242, 148.45 unless all parties agree prior to finalizing final cost estimate.
Deposit shall become nonrefundable once the lot to be built on is purchased by Seller/Builder. [Emphasis added.]

         Pursuant to the above agreement ultimately accepted by the parties on December 20, 2013, Robinson then tendered a check in the amount of $9, 000.00 to Mighty One as a deposit under the contract to purchase the lot he had chosen. On that same date, Mighty One, in turn, entered into an agreement to purchase with the listing agent, Gardner Realtors, to purchase the lot for $25, 000.00. Mighty One then tendered a deposit check, using Robinson's funds, to Gardner Realtors in the amount of $9, 000.00, with the closing on the lot scheduled for later in February.[1]

         However, according to Robinson, on February 6, 2014, Robinson's agent informed him that Mighty One had decided to unilaterally terminate and cancel the contract. After being informed of this development, on February 7, 2014, Robinson requested that Mighty One return his deposit and provide him with a written cancellation "in order to move forward toward some resolution" as to his possible purchase of the property, all to no avail. Instead, after purportedly being unable to obtain a return of the deposit it had paid on the lot from Gardner Realtors, Mighty One then proceeded to complete, in its name, the purchase of the lot previously selected by Robinson, and on February 14, 2014, Mighty One closed on its purchase of the lot.

         After the passage of several months without receiving the return of his deposit, on August 25, 2014, Robinson filed a "Petition for Breach of Contract and Fiduciary Duty" against: Mighty One; its owner and manager, Michael R. Chamberlain; and Keller Williams. Therein, Robinson sought a judgment against Mighty One and Chamberlain ordering them to either specifically perform under the terms of the contract or, pursuant to the default provision of the agreement, return his deposit, along with ten percent of the sale price as liquidated damages, plus attorney's fees and costs associated with filing the petition, and "all damages allowed under the law."[2] ...


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