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Richard v. Guillotte

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

March 14, 2018

JOE RICHARD
v.
EUGENE GUILLOTTE

         APPEAL FROM THE SIXTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF IBERIA, NO. 128418 HONORABLE ANTHONY THIBODEAUX, DISTRICT JUDGE

          Michael W. Campbell Caffery, Oubre, Campbell & Garrison, L.L.P. COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT: Joe Richard

          Leon J. Minvielle, III Haik, Minvielle & Grubbs COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE: Eugene Guillotte

          Court composed of Marc T. Amy, Shannon J. Gremillion, and Candyce G. Perret, Judges.

          SHANNON J. GREMILLION JUDGE

         The plaintiff/appellant, Joe Richard, appeals the trial court's judgment awarding him $500 and court costs. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Richard is the owner of a metal building located in New Iberia, Louisiana, which was leased to the defendant/appellee, Eugene Guillotte, for a period of about fifteen years ending in November 2015. Guillotte operated a collision repair and auto sales shop. In January 2011, a fire accidentally occurred in the building when a truck floorboard ignited from sparks emitted while Guillotte was welding.

         Richard filed a petition for breach of contract on rent agreement in June 2016, alleging that Guillotte owed him $1, 734.75 for the removal of a sign, $6, 792.00 for a damaged overhead door, $36, 780.00 for replacement of a metal roof and metal walls, and $966.00 in back rent.

         Following an April 2017 trial, the trial court awarded Richard $500.00 for remaining smoke damage related to the welding fire and cast him with all court costs. Richard now appeals. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR

         1. The trial court's denial of awarding Appellant the property damages resulting from the fire in the amount of $36, 780.00 was manifest error and clearly wrong.

         2. The trial court's award of only $500.00 in damages to the Appellant was manifest error and clearly wrong.

         3. The manifest error and clearly wrong Judgment of the trial court warrants a de novo review of the record which supports a finding of liability and damages in favor of Appellant with Appellee to pay all court costs.

         DISCUSSION

         Manifest Error

         The supreme court summarized the manifest error standard of review:

This court has announced a two-part test for the reversal of a factfinder's determinations: (1) the appellate court must find from the record that a reasonable factual basis does not exist for the finding of the trial court, and (2) the appellate court must further determine that the record establishes that the finding is clearly wrong (manifestly erroneous). See Mart v. Hill, 505 So.2d 1120, 1127 (La.1987). This test dictates that a reviewing court must do more than simply review the record for some evidence which supports or controverts the trial court's findings. See id. The reviewing court must review the record in its entirety to determine whether the trial court's finding was clearly wrong or manifestly erroneous. See id.

Lobell v. Rosenberg, 15-247 p. 10 (La. 10/14/15), 186 So.3d 83, 90.

         A trial court is in a better position to make credibility determinations as it has the benefit of examining the nuances of a witness's testimony and demeanor. Lopez v. Lopez, 00-660 (La.App. 3 Cir. 11/2/00), 772 So.2d 364.

         The trial court set forth oral reasons for its findings at the conclusion of trial. First, it found no rent was due because it had been paid through October 15, 2015, with the rent for the month of November having been bartered for a clear coat application by Guillotte to a car owned by Richard. Therefore, the claim for back rent was dismissed. The trial court further found that the damages to the overhead door pre-existed the fire based on the testimony, the chain system used to raise and lower it, and the "constant" calls to have it repaired. Therefore, damages related to the overheard door were dismissed as the trial court found "they probably existed prior to the Guillottes taking possession of the place." Relating to the sign, the trial court found Richard failed to prove that it was not a gift given to Guillotte by Richard. Therefore, it dismissed any claims relating to the sign.

         Relating to the smoke damage, the trial court found:

[T]here's no doubt that the cause of any damages to this building, the remainder of it . . . the fire damage . . . was definitely caused by Eugene Guillotte welding on a vehicle inside that building for its intended purposes, okay? . . .[T]he vehicle overheated, and it caught on fire, and that's what caused the damages to the building[.]
The court finds that the condition of the building, as demonstrated in Defendant's Exhibit 1, is the manner in which it was as of November 15, 2015, the day that the Guillottes exited the building in question. The lighting was repaired, and the building was pressure-washed. It looks like the entire - that entire section of that building did receive some soot damage to the - probably to the inside of the whole building, the purlings, the rafters, the plastic that holds up the - that rests on the purlings which holds up the ...

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