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Berthelot v. Berthelot

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

July 18, 2018

JEFFREY MIKAL BERTHELOT
v.
HEATHER LEIGH BERTHELOT

          On Appeal from the Twenty-First Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of Tangipahoa State of Louisiana No. 2010-0002845 The Honorable Jeffrey T. Oglesbee, Judge Presiding

          Nicole R. Dillon April Ford Jackson Hammond, LA Attorneys for Plaintiff/Appellee Jeffrey Mikal Berthelot

          Mary E. Heck Barrios Denham Springs, LA Attorney for Defendant/Appellant Heather Leigh Berthelot

          BEFORE: HIGGINBOTHAM, HOLDRIDGE, AND PENZATO, JJ.

          HOLDRIDGE, J.

         This appeal arises from a trial court judgment finding that Heather Leigh Berthelot was unjustly enriched pursuant to La. C.C. art. 2298. For the reasons that follow, we reverse.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         A companion case, Berthelot v. Berthelot, 2017-1055, (La.App. 1 Cir. 07/18/18), also rendered by this court, contains a thorough recitation of the factual and procedural background of the parties' ongoing litigation.

         Heather Leigh Berthelot and Jeffrey[1] Mikal Berthelot were married on July 10, 1999, and two children were born of the marriage. On July 14, 2010, Jeffrey filed a petition for divorce. On October 26, 2010, the trial court signed a stipulated judgment, which ordered Jeffrey to maintain health insurance coverage for the parties' two minor children. The judgment further ordered that "Jeffrey ... maintain Heather ... on his health insurance policy, until the divorce [was] finalized, unless Heather ... [chose] to leave the plan." Heather had been the policyholder of the family's insurance since 2006 and the policy provided additional coverage to Jeffrey and the two minor children. The parties' divorce became final on January 23, 2012. However, the parties remained cohabitating together until October 2014.

         On April 17, 2015, the parties entered into another stipulated judgment, ordering Jeffrey to "provide medical, dental and vision insurance coverage for the minor children and [he] shall be responsible for the payment of said premiums." On May 27, 2015, Jeffrey filed a Rule to Clarify the Stipulated Judgment, stating that because Heather was the policyholder, only she had the authority to modify the insurance policy. Jeffrey alleged that he could not open a new insurance policy himself because of his preexisting medical conditions. Jeffrey stated that Heather refused to cooperate with the insurance company to have Jeffrey and the two minor children separated into a different insurance policy. Therefore, in order for Jeffrey to fulfill his court ordered duty to pay for the two minor children's insurance, he alleged that he also had to pay Heather's insurance premiums because she refused to remove herself from the insurance policy. From October 2014 through August 2016, Jeffrey attempted several times to remove Heather from the insurance policy, but was told that only Heather could make this change since the insurance policy was in her name.

         On March 8, 2017, Jeffrey filed a Rule for Contempt of Court against Heather for failing to reimburse him for paying for her insurance premiums. Alternatively, Jeffrey argued that if the trial court determined that Heather's actions did not rise to the level of contempt, she had been unjustly enriched by Jeffrey. Jeffrey argued that Heather was obligated to reimburse him for the medical insurance premiums that he paid on her behalf from October 2014 through August 2016. Jeffrey argued that Heather was given notice and an opportunity to reimburse him for the medical insurance premiums he paid on her behalf; however, she refused to do so. In support of his argument, Jeffrey attached an exhibit that listed the payments he made on Heather's insurance premiums totaling $8, 224.80.

         On April 24, 2017, Jeffrey's Rule for Contempt was tried along with his unjust enrichment claim.[2] After hearing the parties' testimonies, the trial court determined that Heather "was enriched in the amount of $8, 224.80." The trial court signed a judgment on May 22, 2017, in accordance with its oral ruling, ordering Heather to pay Jeffrey the sum of $150.00 per month beginning May 1, 2017, until said amount of $8, 224.80 had been paid in full. Heather suspensively appealed the trial court's May 22, 2017 judgment. In her appeal, Heather argues that the trial court erred in ruling that Jeffrey met his burden of proving that she was unjustly enriched.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The unjust enrichment remedy is only applicable to fill a gap in the law where no express remedy is provided. Mouton v. State, 525 So.2d 1136, 1142 (La.App. 1 Cir.), writ denied, 526 So.2d 1112 (La. 1988). Louisiana Civil Code article 2298 provides that "[a] person who has been enriched without cause at the expense of another person is bound to compensate that person. The term 'without cause' is used in this context to exclude cases in which the enrichment results from a valid juridical act or the law. The remedy declared is subsidiary and shall not be available if the law provides another remedy for the impoverishment or declares a contrary rule." To prevail on an unjust enrichment claim, the plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence all five elements: (1) an enrichment; (2) an impoverishment; (3) a connection between the enrichment and the resulting impoverishment; (4) an absence of justification or cause for the enrichment and impoverishment; and (5) the lack of another remedy at law. Davis v. Elmer, 2014-1298 (La.App. 1 Cir. 3/12/15), 166 So.3d ...


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