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Wholesale Auto Group, Inc. v. Louisiana Motor Vehicle Commission

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

May 23, 2018

WHOLESALE AUTO GROUP, INC.
v.
LOUISIANA MOTOR VEHICLE COMMISSION

          ON APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-FOURTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF JEFFERSON, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 772-076, DIVISION "L" HONORABLE DONALD A. ROWAN, JR., JUDGE PRESIDING

          COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT, WHOLESALE AUTO GROUP, INC. Mark D. Plaisance.

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE, LOUISIANA MOTOR VEHICLE COMMISSION Adrian F. LaPeyronnie, III.

          Panel composed of Judges Susan M. Chehardy, Fredericka Homberg Wicker, and Hans J. Liljeberg.

         AFFIRMED

         FHW

         SMC

         HJL

          FREDERICKA HOMBERG WICKER JUDGE.

         Appellant, Wholesale Auto Group, Inc. ("Wholesale"), appeals the district court's August 2, 2017 judgment dismissing its "Petition for Appeal of Administrative Adjudication" for lack of jurisdiction, as the petition was impermissibly filed on its behalf by a non-lawyer corporate representative and therefore, without effect. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the district court's judgment.[1]

         Factual and Procedural History

         On March 13, 2017, the Louisiana Motor Vehicle Commission ("LMVC") conducted a hearing addressing a complaint that Wholesale had engaged in both the unlicensed business of financing motor vehicles and in misleading and prohibited advertising for the period between January 27, 2015, and March 13, 2017, all in violation of Louisiana law. Following its hearing, on April 19, 2017, LMVC issued its judgment against Wholesale in both regards, finding Wholesale had violated both La. R.S. 6:969.35 and Louisiana Administrative Code 46.V.703, 713, 745 and 749. LMVC assessed a $100, 000.00 fine against Wholesale as well as costs in the amount of $35, 583.56, related to the LMVC proceedings, and $2, 940.24, related to the Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court proceedings.[2]Wholesale was represented by counsel during the LMVC proceedings. Thereafter, on May 12, 2017, in response to the judgment, fine, and costs assessed, Wholesale filed a "Petition for Appeal of Administrative Adjudication and Request for Stay Order Pending Appeal" in the Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court. Danny Alonzo, Wholesale's corporate agent and owner, filed the appellate petition in the 24th Judicial District Court on Wholesale's behalf.[3] Alonzo is not licensed to practice law in Louisiana. Wholesale in its petition for administrative appeal sought reversal of LMVC's April 19, 2017 judgment, arguing the judgment (1) violates the Louisiana Constitution; (2) violates the Louisiana Administrative Procedure Act; (3) exceeds the statutory authority of the Motor Vehicle Sales Finance Act; and (4) is not supported by the preponderance of the evidence. On May 16, 2017, pending a hearing on the merits of the appeal, the Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court issued an order staying the execution of the LMVC judgment.

         In response to Wholesale's petition for administrative appeal, LMVC filed an "Opposition to Rule Nisi and Request for this Court's Dismissal of Appeal Ex Proprio Motu, " arguing that Wholesale's petition for appeal was null and without legal effect because Danny Alonzo, as a non-lawyer corporate agent for Wholesale, was not authorized to represent Wholesale, and had engaged in the unlawful practice of law in violation of La. R.S. 37:213. Consequently, LMVC argued that because the petition for appeal was not properly filed within thirty days of the mailing of the notice of judgment, pursuant to La. R.S. 49:964(B), the filing of the petition for appeal in the Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court was without effect and must be dismissed.

         On July 19, 2017, Wholesale filed an opposition to the request for dismissal claiming Alonzo's motion for appeal was legally valid as a corporation is entitled to tend to its own business and legal demands. Wholesale argued the filing of its petition for appeal falls within the narrow exception, set forth in La. R.S. 37:212(C), to the general rule provided in La. R.S. 37:213, precluding non-lawyers from practicing law. Wholesale argued La. R.S. 37:212 (C) generally permits a non-lawyer corporate representative to appear in court on behalf of a corporate entity, particularly in this case as the LMVC judgment issued only a fine and costs, which is distinguishable from a judgment arising out of a claim for money damages.

         On July 24, 2017, the district court heard arguments on LMVC's request for dismissal and on August 2, 2017, the district court granted LMVC's motion and dismissed Wholesale's appeal. On August 15, 2017, Wholesale filed a motion for ...


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