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Singleton v. United Services Automobile Association

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

October 17, 2018

TONYEL SINGLETON
v.
UNITED SERVICES AUTOMOBILE ASSOCIATION

          ON APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-FOURTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF JEFFERSON, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 763-644, DIVISION "F" HONORABLE MICHAEL P. MENTZ, JUDGE PRESIDING

          COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT, TONYEL SINGLETON Gregory J. Chiartano Donald C. Douglas, Jr.

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE, UNITED SERVICES AUTOMOBILE ASSOCIATION William H. Dunckelman, Jr. T. Gregory Schafer

          Panel composed of Judges Susan M. Chehardy, Fredericka Homberg Wicker, Jude G. Gravois, Marc E. Johnson, Robert A. Chaisson, Stephen J. Windhorst, Hans J. Liljeberg, and John J. Molaison, Jr.

          JUDE G. GRAVOIS JUDGE

         Plaintiff/appellant, Tonyel Singleton, appeals a trial court judgment that granted a peremptory exception of res judicata filed by defendant/appellee, United Services Automobile Association ("USAA"). For the reasons that follow, we reverse and remand.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On July 1, 2015, Tonyel Singleton was involved in an automobile accident with Jamie Lynn Petkovich. No suit was filed against Ms. Petkovich or her liability insurer, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company ("State Farm"). On August 5, 2016, Ms. Singleton executed a release, in consideration of State Farm's liability policy limits of $15, 000.00, which stated, in pertinent part:

the undersigned hereby releases and forever discharges Louis Petkovich, Julie Petkovich, Jayna Petkovich, Jamie Lynn Petkovich and State Farm Mutual, their heirs, executors, administrators, agents and assigns, and all other persons, firms or corporations liable or, who might be claimed to be liable, none of whom admit any liability to the undersigned but all expressly deny any liability, from any and all claims, demands, damages, actions, causes of action or suits of any kind or nature whatsoever, and particularly on account of all bodily injuries, known and unknown, which has resulted or may in the future develop from an accident which occurred on or about the 1st day of July, 2015, at or near, Gretna, LA.

(Emphasis added.)

         Also on August 5, 2016, Ms. Singleton filed a petition for damages against USAA, her uninsured/underinsured motorist ("UM") insurer. In due course, on August 4, 2017, USAA filed a peremptory exception of res judicata asserting that the clear and unambiguous language of the release, discharging "all other persons, firms or corporations liable or, who might be claimed to be liable," demonstrated Ms. Singleton's intent to release and discharge USAA from the causes of action asserted against it in her petition.

         Ms. Singleton filed an opposition to the exception, arguing that the release was a relative simulation[1] and that by looking outside of the release, specifically to correspondence between Ms. Singleton and State Farm, and between Ms. Singleton and USAA, the true intent of the parties was revealed-that Ms. Singleton released State Farm and its insureds in exchange for State Farm's policy limits and never intended to compromise her claims against USAA. Ms. Singleton also argued that regardless of the intent, res judicata is not applicable in this case since USAA was not a party to the release agreement.

         Following a hearing, by written judgment rendered and signed on September 7, 2017, the trial court granted the peremptory exception of res judicata and dismissed all claims against USAA with prejudice. This appeal followed.

         On appeal, Ms. Singleton argues that the trial court erred: 1) in granting the exception of res judicata based on a compromise raised by a non-party to that compromise; and 2) in refusing to consider extrinsic evidence regarding the intent of the parties to the compromise when there is evidence in the record substantiating that she did not intend to compromise her claim against USAA for UM benefits.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Under Louisiana law, a release executed in exchange for consideration is a compromise. Tran v. Farmers and Merchants Ins. Co., 04-793 (La.App. 5 Cir. 12/14/04), 892 So.2d 88, 89, writ denied, 05-147 (La. 4/1/05), 897 So.2d 604. La. C.C. art. 3071 defines a compromise as a contract whereby the parties, through concessions made by one or more of them, settle a dispute or an uncertainty concerning an obligation or other legal relationship. A compromise settles only those differences that the parties clearly intended to settle, including the necessary consequences of what they express. La. C.C. art. 3076. A compromise precludes the parties from bringing a subsequent action based upon the matter that was compromised. La. C.C. art. 3080. The compromise instrument is governed by the same general rules of construction applicable to contracts. Ortego v. State, Dept. of Transp. and Dev., 96-1322 (La. 2/25/97), 689 So.2d 1358, 1363. While the doctrine of res judicata is ordinarily premised ...


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