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Jamestown Forestland, L.L.C. v. Setliff

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

December 28, 2017

JAMESTOWN FORESTLAND, L.L.C.
v.
ROBBIE LEE SETLIFF, ET AL.

         APPEAL FROM THE NINTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF RAPIDES, NO. 257, 524 HONORABLE PATRICIA EVANS KOCH, DISTRICT JUDGE

          Michael H. Davis Attorney at Law COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANTS/APPELLANTS: Robbie Lee Setliff Lee Ray Setliff Susan Stark

          Randall B. Keiser Jeremy C. Cedars Keiser Law Firm, P.L.C. COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE: Jamestown Forestland, L.L.C.

          Court composed of Sylvia R. Cooks, John D. Saunders, and Candyce G. Perret, Judges.

          CANDYCE G. PERRET, JUDGE.

         This action was initially filed as an eviction action by plaintiff, Jamestown Forestland, L.L.C. ("Jamestown"), against defendants Robbie Lee Setliff, Lee Ray Setliff, and Susan Stark (collectively "Defendants"). Defendants responded to the eviction action by filing a reconventional demand seeking a judgment of ownership and/or possession of the 3.23 acre property that was the subject of the eviction proceeding. After a hearing, the trial court granted Jamestown's peremptory exception of res judicata. For the following reasons, we vacate the judgment of the trial court and remand this matter to the trial court in order for the owner of the subject property, W.T. Burton Industries, Inc. ("Burton Industries"), to be joined as a necessary party to the litigation.

         FACTS:

         The following facts have been ascertained from the record pleadings and the exhibits to the pleadings. Jamestown is the leasehold tenant of property located in Rapides Parish, Louisiana, described as "[a] 3.23 acre more or less parcel of property lying and being situate in the Northwest Quarter (NW ¼) of Section 29, Township 5 North, Range 5 West . . . ." Jamestown's lease is with Burton Industries, who is the owner of the subject property. On December 7, 2016, Jamestown filed a petition for eviction against Defendants, alleging that they have no ownership or possessory interest in the subject property and that Defendants refuse to vacate the premises despite receiving written notice on November 15, 2016.

         On January 31, 2017, Defendants filed an answer and reconventional demand against Jamestown, alleging that they possess, as owner, the 3.23 acre property that was the subject of the eviction proceeding. In addition, Defendants sought ownership and/or possession of an "adjoining thirty (30) acres also in Section 29, Township 5 North, Range 5 West, Louisiana, Meridian, Northwest Land District, Rapides Parish, Louisiana." Defendants argue that they "had possession as owners of the above described property quietly and without interruption for more than thirty (30) years, immediately prior to the written notice to vacate said premises delivered on November 15, 2016."

         On February 10, 2017, Jamestown filed peremptory exceptions of res judicata and non-joinder of a party and dilatory exceptions of improper cumulation of actions, unauthorized use of summary proceeding, and vagueness. In support of its exceptions, Jamestown attached the following exhibits: (1) a January 20, 1977 judgment [Civil Suit No. 91, 760] that recognized "Wm. T. Burton Industries, Inc. [Burton Industries] . . . as legal owner of the immovable property" and ordered Defendants' grandfather, Leo George ("Mr. George"), to vacate the property, which is now the subject of the eviction action; (2) a July 13, 1977 judgment that denied Mr. George's motion for a new trial; (3) the trial court's reasons for judgment, dated December 22, 1976; and (4) discovery responses from Mr. George in Suit No. 91, 760.

         In its memorandum in support of the exceptions, Jamestown argued that Defendants have pled the same cause of action that existed and was asserted by Mr. George in Civil Suit 91, 760, and that the 1977 judgment is final and valid. Jamestown argued that the parties in this current action are "simply the successors of the 1977 litigation: Jamestown as a lessee of Burton [Industries] and the Plaintiffs-in-reconvention [Defendants] as direct descendants of Leo George." Thus, Jamestown argued that Defendants' reconventional demand is res judicata and should be dismissed with prejudice. Further, Jamestown argued that if the trial court did not dismiss on grounds of res judicata, its peremptory exception of nonjoinder of a party should be granted because Jamestown's lease is with Burton Industries, the owner of the subject property.

         In opposition to the exception of res judicata, Defendants argued that the parties are not the same because the 1975 litigation involved only their grandfather, Mr. George. Further, Defendants assert that the cause of action in the first suit was relying on claims of possession predating 1977 and that their current cause of action relies on thirty year possession following 1977. In regard to Jamestown's exception of non-joinder of a party, Defendants submit that the owner of the property, Burton Industries, is not an indispensable party because Jamestown has a ninety-nine year lease on the subject property that terminates in 2065.

         After a hearing, the trial court signed a judgment on April 24, 2017, that granted Jamestown's peremptory exception of res judicata, "finding that the parties are in the same capacity, and, the claims regarding bad faith acquisitive prescription are the same as asserted in Civil Suit No. 91, 760 (William Burton Industries, Inc., v. Leo George)." The trial court pretermitted the peremptory exception of non-joinder and dilatory exceptions of improper cumulation of actions, unauthorized use of summary proceeding and vagueness. Defendants now appeal this final judgment.

         Jamestown answered the appeal requesting that the judgment of the trial court granting the exception of res judicata be affirmed at Defendants' cost. Further, Jamestown alleges that if, and only if, this court reverses the judgment of the trial court, that this court address the pretermitted exceptions and issue a judgment on the pretermitted exceptions. While on appeal, Jamestown also filed a motion to dismiss Defendants' appeal and an exception of no right of action arguing that even though it has the right to bring an eviction action, it is not a proper party defendant on the issue of ownership because its lease with Burton Industries does not confer any real rights to the property. However, because we are remanding this matter to the ...


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