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Double NRJ Trucking, Inc. v. Johnson

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

May 16, 2018

DOUBLE NRJ TRUCKING, INC. AND RAMESH RAMSARUP
v.
MICHAEL G. JOHNSON

          ON APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-FOURTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF JEFFERSON, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 771-559, DIVISION "I" HONORABLE NANCY A. MILLER, JUDGE PRESIDING

          COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT, DOUBLE NRJ TRUCKING, INC. AND RAMESH RAMSARUP Corey E. Dunbar

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE, MICHAEL G. JOHNSON Marc R. Michaud

          Panel composed of Judges Susan M. Chehardy, Fredericka Homberg Wicker, and Marc E. Johnson

          SUSAN M. CHEHARDY, CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiffs, Double NRJ Trucking, Inc. and Ramesh Ramsarup, appeal the district court's June 20, 2017 judgment denying with prejudice plaintiffs' petition for cancellation of lease and return of vehicle. After our de novo review, we affirm this judgment.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On April 28, 2017, plaintiffs filed a "Petition for Cancellation of Lease and Return of Vehicle, " in which they asserted that because defendant, Michael G. Johnson, failed to make timely payments in accordance with the parties' agreement, they elected to dissolve the lease pursuant to La. C.C. art. 2704 and demand return of the vehicle. The court issued a rule to show cause order that was set for hearing on May 25, 2017. Having not been served with plaintiffs' petition or the show cause order, on May 9, 2017, defendant filed a petition for a declaratory judgment in another division of 24th Judicial District Court.[1] Once defendant was served with plaintiffs' petition and the show cause order, on May 19, 2017, he pled the dilatory exception of unauthorized use of a summary proceeding, arguing that summary procedure was not proper for resolution of the instant dispute pursuant to La. C.C.P. art. 2592. At the show cause hearing on May 25, 2017, the district court overruled this exception and the matter proceeded to a bench trial.

         Introduced into evidence was an agreement signed by Mr. Johnson, as "BUYER, " and Mr. Ramsarup, as "OWNER, " in the presence of two witnesses and a notary. It appears to be dated May 9, 2015[2] and provided:

This agreement is between Hemwatie and Ramesh Ramsarup and Michael G. Johnson[.] Michael G. Johnson agree[s] to lease to own this 2006 PTRB VIN# 2NPLLZOX16M891894 from Hemwatie and Ramesh Ramsarup[.] Michael G. Johnson agree[s] to pay $1056.00 a week includ[ing] ins[urance] for 192 weeks[.] Michael G. Johnson also agree[s] to fully maintain the truck until all payment is made in full.

         Also introduced into evidence was a payment agreement signed by Mr. Johnson, as "BUYER, " and Mr. Ramsarup, as "OWNER, " in the presence of one witness that provided: "This payment agreement is between Hemwatie and Ramesh Ramsarup and Michael G. Johnson[.] Starting on April 6, 2015 $1056.00 is due on every Monday of the week for 192 weeks until all payment is made in full."

         Mr. Johnson, and his wife, Michelle McFarland, both testified that at the time of the agreement they believed Mr. Johnson was buying the truck from Mr. Ramsarup for $70, 000, for which he would make 92 weekly payments with a 20% interest rate. Mr. Johnson explained he believed he would obtain the title when the $70, 000 had been paid. Mr. Johnson further added that when he signed the agreement, he pointed out to Mr. Ramsarup the inclusion of 192 weeks, instead of the 92 weeks he believed was their agreement. According to Mr. Johnson, Mr. Ramsarup assured him that once the $70, 000 had been paid, he would turn over the title.

         Ms. McFarland, who handled the financial side of her husband's trucking business, testified that they had initially agreed upon the weekly payment of $1, 056, but that shortly thereafter, Mr. Ramsarup tacked on an additional $100 to cover insurance, for a total of $1, 156 per week. Ms. McFarland added that she understood $829.08 was for the principal and interest, and $326.92 was for insurance.

         Ms. McFarland additionally testified that in her and her husband's efforts to procure more affordable insurance, she obtained a "bill of sale" from plaintiffs on March 28, 2016. This document, which was introduced into evidence, provided: "Michael Johnson is leasing to own this 2006 PTRB VIN# 2NPLLZOX16M891894[.] Sale price is $70, 000 and he have 192 payment[s] of $829.08 weekly[.] For the 2015 year he made payment of $33, 992.28 and insurance payment of $326.92 weekly." Thereafter, on or about May 23, 2016, Mr. Johnson obtained his own insurance policy on the truck, and continued making weekly payments of $829.08 to plaintiffs.

         Mr. Johnson added that some time after the agreement had been signed, Mr. Ramsarup contacted him and imposed a 20% annual interest rate on their agreement. To cover this increased cost, Mr. Johnson and Ms. McFarland both explained that they made 105 payments. They introduced into evidence a log of 105 payments Mr. Johnson made to Mr. Ramsarup via Chase QuickPay, each in the amount of $829.08, from April 7, 2015 until April 10, 2017.

         Mr. Ramsarup offered differing testimony. He testified that he believed the agreement was for Mr. Johnson to pay $829.08 for 192 weeks. He further stated that upon completion of these payments, he would sign the title over to Mr. Johnson.

         Mr. Johnson explained he made his last payment, his 105th, on April 10, 2017. With no payment forthcoming on April 17, 2017, Mr. Ramsarup cancelled the license plate on the truck, rendering it practically inoperable. Thereafter, in a letter dated April 20, 2017, counsel for plaintiffs notified Mr. Johnson that because of his failure to make the weekly payment due on April 17, 2017, "the lease of above-referenced vehicle is terminated and the vehicle should be ...


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