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Aguillard v. Chatman

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

January 31, 2018



          M. Terrance Hoychick Hoychick & Aguillard (A Professional Law Corporation) COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE: Caleb Kent Aguillard

          Randy M. Guidry Durio, McGoffin, Stagg & Ackermann COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT-APPELLANT: John Christopher Chatman

          Court composed of Sylvia R. Cooks, Elizabeth A. Pickett, and Phyllis M. Keaty, Judges.


         The defendant filed a reconventional demand seeking a declaration that a confirmed default judgment awarded against him is null and vacated or set aside because it was obtained through ill practices. The trial court denied the requested relief, and the defendant appealed. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm the judgment.


         On June 17, 2016, Caleb Aguillard filed a Petition for Injunctive Relief and for Damages [1] seeking a temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction, a permanent injunction, and an award of damages against John Chatman. In his petition, Mr. Aguillard alleged that Mr. Chatman had been stalking and harassing him and that his acts constituted defamation. The trial court issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) which set a hearing for July 8 on the issuance of a preliminary injunction. On that date, Mr. Chatman appeared at the hearing with counsel. Counsel informed the trial court that he was appearing with Mr. Chatman for the purposes of that hearing only and that he could not represent Mr. Chatman thereafter.

         In light of Mr. Chatman being unrepresented, the trial court treated the hearing as a status conference. During the conference, the trial court advised Mr. Chatman to hire counsel and instructed him to file an answer within fifteen days or "there would be consequences." At the conclusion of the conference, the trial court issued an order which reflected the status of the matters at issue before the court at that time. The order, which was reduced to writing and served upon Mr. Chatman, provided:

         The above-captioned and docketed matter came before the Court for status conference on July 8, 2016[, ] on a Petition for Protection from Stalking and a Petition for Injunctive Relief and for Damages filed by the Plaintiff. Present in court were the Plaintiff, Caleb Kent Aguillard, and the Defendant, John Chatman, represented by temporary counsel only for the purpose of that status conference; the hearing was continued upon a finding of just cause therefor by the Court; John Chatman was provided with notice and a copy of the Court's June 23, 2016 Temporary Restraining Order in open court. After the conference[, ] the Court rendered the following orders:

         IT IS ORDERED that this matter is continued without date.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the parties are reciprocally enjoined from any form of harassment, abuse, stalking, and defamation of each other; this prohibition shall remain in full force and effect until further order of this Court.

         The court minutes and transcript for the July 8 hearing also reflect that Mr. Aguillard filed a motion for preliminary default during the hearing which the trial court denied.

         On August 9, Mr. Aguillard filed a Rule for Contempt, Motion for Preliminary Default and to Fix for Hearing/Order/Certification No Pleadings Filed. That same date the trial court signed an order that entered a preliminary default and ordered Mr. Chatman to show cause on September 16 why he should not be held in contempt for his willful violations of the trial court's previous order and why the injunctive relief and permanent order of protection should not be granted. Mr. Aguillard mailed Mr. Chatman notice of the order and the entry of preliminary default by certified mail and also had Mr. Chatman personally served with a copy of his rule for contempt and the order that entered the preliminary default against him and set the September 16 hearing date.

         Mr. Aguillard appeared before the trial court on September 12 to confirm the preliminary default. After considering Mr. Aguillard's presentation of evidence and arguments in support of his claims, the trial court rendered judgment against Mr. Chatman, ordering him to pay Mr. Aguillard $60, 000 in damages, together with legal interest from the date of demand and all costs of the proceeding.

         By letter dated September 14, Mr. Chatman, in proper person, sought a continuance of the hearing scheduled for September 16, explaining that he had been impacted by flooding that occurred August 12-13 in the area. The trial court granted the continuance and re-set the hearing for November 4. On November 2, Mr. Chatman filed a Reconventional Demand for Nullity, To Vacate and/or Set Aside Judgment of Default for Ill. Practices. After conducting a telephone conference, the trial court rescheduled the November 4 hearing. A hearing on Mr. Chatman's Reconventional Demand was held December 13. The trial court denied his request to annul or vacate the confirmed default judgment, and Mr. Chatman filed this appeal.

         ASSIGNMENTS ...

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