WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEAL, FIFTH CIRCUIT,
PARISH OF JEFFERSON
case concerns a post-divorce community property partition.
The former husband, Daniel Webb, filed a claim for
reimbursement and for the classification of a promissory note
of $250, 000 as a community obligation. The promissory note
corresponds to a loan secured by a mortgage on the family
home. Mr. Webb contended that Mrs. Webb owed reimbursement
for loan payments and that the loan should be considered a
community obligation because he borrowed the money to pay
loan has a pernicious history. Mr. Webb, who is an attorney
licensed to practice law in Louisiana, admitted that he
caused a forged signature for Mrs. Webb to be placed on the
loan documents and that he concealed the existence of the
loan and the mortgage on the family home from Mrs. Webb.
Webb's forgery was eventually discovered, and formal
attorney disciplinary charges were brought against him. In
the ensuing disciplinary proceedings, Mr. Webb admitted his
misconduct, but represented to this court that he was taking
"sole financial responsibility" and"full
responsibility"for the loan and was otherwise committed
to "making right" what he had done. Mr. Webb
consented to being professionally disciplined by this court,
but he prayed for leniency, citing his "[t]imely good
faith effort to rectify consequences of misconduct."
This court responded to Mr. Webb's petition for consent
discipline by imposing a fully-deferred six-month suspension.
after this court's disciplinary order was issued, Mr.
Webb returned to the district court where the community
property partition was pending. There, Mr. Webb claimed that,
although he personally incurred the $250, 000 debt,
responsibility for the loan should be an obligation shared by
both Mr. and Mrs. Webb, rather than solely by Mr. Webb.
district court rejected Mr. Webb's claim, finding that
Mr. Webb's representations to this court in his attorney
discipline case amounted to a judicial confession that he
alone was responsible for the debt. Mr. Webb appealed, and
the appellate court ruled in his favor by classifying the
loan as a community obligation and ordering Mrs. Webb to
personally reimburse Mr. Webb for loan payments he made after
the community property regime was terminated.
Webb sought this court's review of the appellate
court's ruling. We granted certiorari to determine
whether Mr. Webb's representations to this court in his
attorney disciplinary case precluded him from shifting any
financial responsibility for the loan to Mrs. Webb or to the
Webbs' former community property. Finding that Mr. Webb
represented to this court in his disciplinary case that Mrs.
Webb would suffer no financial harm from his fraudulent loan
for which he took "full responsibility," we further
find the doctrine of judicial estoppel is appropriate for
analyzing these unique circumstances. Applying the doctrine
of judicial estoppel, which serves to prevent a party from
manipulating the court system, we hold that, in the community
property litigation, Mr. Webb cannot shift to the position of
a creditor as to Mrs. Webb or to the Webbs' former
community property for his fraudulent loan-a position which
is contrary to the position of "sole financial
responsibility" for the loan that he previously
expressed to this court.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
facts of this matter and a prior disciplinary proceeding are
intertwined. Accordingly, we begin our review of the record
December 12, 2011, while an attorney licensed to practice law
in this state, Mr. Webb executed a loan for $250, 000. It is
presently undisputed that the proceeds of the loan were used
for purposes that would be considered community debts, such
as tax liabilities and a payment on their daughter's
secure the loan, Mr. Webb executed a home equity mortgage on
the family home. He obtained the loan and mortgaged the
family home without Mrs. Webb's knowledge. More to the
point, Mr. Webb actively concealed all of this from Mrs.
Webb, going so far as to arrange for Mrs. Webb's
signature to be forged on the mortgage documents and causing
that forgery to be notarized. Mr. Webb also indicated on the
loan documents that correspondences regarding the loan should
be sent to his law office. However, the lending bank
apparently overlooked Mr. Webb's efforts to change the
correspondence address and, about a month after Mr. Webb
obtained the loan, the bank mailed copies of the documents to
the Webb family home. Mrs. Webb opened the mail from the bank
and discovered the existence of the $250, 000 loan, the
mortgage on the family home, and observed that her signature
had been forged on the mortgage documents.
Webb confronted Mr. Webb about the mortgage documents. Mr.
Webb admitted to forging Mrs. Webb's signature and also
informed her of the existence of an unsecured loan of $120,
000 and lines of credit of $50, 000 and $75, 000 of which
Mrs. Webb was previously unaware. In the wake of these
revelations, Mrs. Webb filed for divorce and a community
property partition, and also filed an attorney misconduct
complaint with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC).
opened an investigation into the allegations that Mr. Webb
had forged the mortgage documents. Through counsel, Mr. Webb
admitted Mrs. Webb's allegations were "essentially
correct." In this written response dated July 12, 2012,
Mr. Webb explained that he asked his secretary to sign Mrs.
Webb's name on the mortgage and presented the forged
document to his law partner for notarization. Mr. Webb agreed
with Mrs. Webb's characterization that he forged the
mortgage because Mrs. Webb would not have agreed to the loan.
Mr. Webb characterized his actions as a one time "lapse
in judgment" which he "deeply and sincerely
regrets." Mr. Webb committed to "make it
right." He elaborated: "As to 'making it
right,' Mr. Webb has been actively working with the
lender to renegotiate the loan, cancel the home equity
mortgage, and to remove his wife from any possible personal
exposure associated with the underlying loan." Mr. Webb
further indicated that he "has been making the payments
on the note" and reiterated that: "once again he
accepts full responsibility for it." Mr. Webb also
acknowledged that "he faces some level of discipline as
a result of his actions," and he expressed a desire to
explore consent discipline.
by letter dated July 27, 2012, Mr. Webb submitted to the ODC
an extensive proposal for consent discipline. Just as before,
when describing the fraudulent loan, Mr. Webb "accepts
responsibility for it." When urging that mitigating
factors justified a public reprimand, Mr. Webb added:
"Further, neither his wife nor any financial institution
has suffered any financial loss as a result of his conduct.
… While he cannot undo what he did, he can and does
acknowledge his conduct, accept responsibility for it, and
express his deep remorse." When proposing probation as
an alternative, Mr. Webb referenced his first admissions to
the ODC and stated: "As noted in our letter dated July
12, 2012, Mr. Webb has taken measures to cancel the home
equity mortgage in question and to accept sole financial
responsibility for the loan amount."
the course of the ODC's investigation, the ODC obtained a
request for extension to file federal income taxes submitted
on behalf of Mr. and Mrs. Webb, but Mrs. Webb's signature
was also forged on that document. Mr. Webb admitted to the
ODC that he was responsible for that forgery as well. Mr.
Webb contended that, just as he was afraid to tell his wife
about the need for the $250, 000 loan, he "feared his
wife's reaction when he learned in October, 2011, that
their tax bill for the year 2010 would be higher than
expected." The fraudulent loan, Mr. Webb explained, was
in part used to pay the 2010 tax liability, and "there
have been no issues raised regarding the tax return
itself." To ODC's inquiry whether Mr. Webb had
forged any other documents, Mr. Webb "advise[d] he [was]
not aware of any other documents containing a signature
purporting to be that of Mrs. Webb which he knows to be
apparently determined it had ascertained the full scope of
Mr. Webb's misconduct, and reached an agreement with Mr.
Webb to submit a joint petition for consent discipline to
this court. All of the foregoing representations by Mr. Webb
were among the exhibits to the "Joint Petition for
Consent Discipline Pursuant to Rule XIX, § 20"
submitted by ODC and personally signed by Mr. Webb. Moreover,
the Joint Petition described that "[a]ll relevant facts
… are set forth in the Joint Stipulation of Facts
accompanying this petition, and more fully reflected in
the exhibits submitted herewith." (Emphasis added.)
court accepted the petition for consent discipline on
December 6, 2013, and issued to Mr. Webb a six-month
suspension, but that suspension was fully deferred. In re
Webb, 13-2583 (La. 12/06/13), 129 So.3d 526.
weeks later, on December 30, 2013, Mr. Webb filed a motion
for summary judgment in the community property case, seeking
to characterize the fraudulent loan, not as his sole
obligation to repay, but an obligation for which the
community was responsible. Alternatively, Mr. Webb claimed
that if the obligation to repay the loan was solely his, he
was owed reimbursement for using the loan proceeds for
community debts. The trial court deferred ruling on these
issues until a trial on the merits. However, on February 14,
2014, the trial court issued a partial summary judgment in
favor of Mrs. Webb, finding that she was not bound by the
mortgage on the ground that she did not consent to the loan,
but the trial court made no ruling as to whether Mrs. Webb
had any liability on the underlying debt.
trial, the trial court issued a community property partition
judgment, which denied Mr. Webb's reimbursement claims
for the fraudulent loan and found that loan to be Mr.
Webb's separate obligation. The trial court's ruling
stated "that First NBC Account … debt … in
the amount of $244, 356.92 is the separate debt of Daniel
Webb. Accordingly, Daniel Webb shall assume full
responsibility for the above described debt and remove the
liability that it may have to Elizabeth Webb
written reasons for judgment, the trial court explained:
La. C.C. art. 1853 provides that "[a] judicial
confession is a declaration made by a party in a judicial
proceeding. That confession constitutes full proof against
the party who made it. A judicial confession is indivisible
and it may be revoked only on the ground of error of
fact." In the Louisiana Supreme Court disciplinary
proceedings against him, Mr. Webb through his counsel made
declarations which establish that he assumed the First NBC
loan as his separate obligation.
The Joint Stipulation filed in the Louisiana Supreme Court
disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Webb states that he has
taken appropriate steps to try and have the mortgage
transferred into his name alone. The Louisiana Supreme Court
found as a mitigating factor Mr. Webb's "good faith
effort to rectify the consequences of his conduct." The
Court finds that the First NBC loan is a separate obligation
of Daniel Webb in the amount of $244, 356.92.
Webb filed a motion for new trial on this issue. The trial
court denied Mr. Webb's motion. Mr. Webb then
appellate court reversed the trial court's judgment
allocating the fraudulent loan as Mr. Webb's separate
obligation. The appellate court ruled that "although
obtained through fraudulent means," the $250, 000 loan
"is a community obligation." Webb v. Webb,
16-567, p. 19 (La.App. 5 Cir. 1/24/18), 238 So.3d 566, 580.
Having found the fraudulent loan was a community obligation,
the appellate court also ruled Mrs. Webb must reimburse Mr.
Webb one half of the $21, 216.64 that Mr. Webb paid toward
the loan after the Webbs' community property regime was
court granted Mrs. Webb's request for review of the
correctness of the appellate court's ruling, which
characterized the fraudulent loan as a community property
obligation and ordered Mrs. Webb to reimburse half of Mr.
Webb's post-termination payments toward the loan.
Webb v. Webb, 18-0320 (La. 4/27/18), 247 So.3d 113.
as here, former spouses do not reach a voluntary partition,
an action to partition property following the termination of
the community property regime is governed by La. R.S. 9:2801.
In pertinent part, the ...