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Willis v. Holdings

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

December 21, 2018


          On Appeal from the 19th Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge State of Louisiana Trial Court No. 614425, Honorable R. Michael Caldwell, Judge Presiding.

          Marsha A. Willis Baton Rouge, LA Plaintiff -Appellant, In Proper Person.

          A. Jacob Culotta, Jr. David P. Salley New Orleans, LA, Attorney for Defendants -Appellees, EAN Holdings, LLC and ELCO Administrative Services, Inc.


          HIGGINBOTHAM, J.

         Plaintiff-appellant, Ms. Marsha Willis, appeals the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants-appellees, EAN Holdings, LLC (EAN) and ELCO Administrative Services (ELCO), and dismissal of her claims with prejudice.


         The facts and procedural history of this case are set forth in the opinions rendered by this court in two prior appeals. See Willis v. EAN Holdings, 2015-1538 (La.App. 1st Cir. 4/12/17), 218 So.3d 177, writ denied, 2017-789 (La. 9/22/17), 226 So.3d 438, and Willis v. EAN Holdings, 2015-1539 (La.App. 1st Cir. 4/12/17), 218 So.3d 1063, writ denied, 2017-0790 (La. 9/22/17), 228 So.3d 744. In sum, Ms. Willis's mother entered into a rental agreement with EAN for the use of a Toyota Corolla. While driving the Corolla the next day, Ms. Willis was involved in an accident with Mr. Troy Thibodeaux, after which Mr. Thibodeaux filed suit. After the accident, Rental Insurance Services, Inc. (RIS), without the permission of Ms. Willis, negotiated a settlement agreement with Mr. Thibodeaux whereby Mr. Thibodeaux dismissed his claims against all parties, including Ms. Willis, in exchange for payment made by RIS. (Thibodeaux litigation). Thereafter, Ms. Willis sought discovery responses from RIS and Mr. Thibodeaux; but, because of the agreement settling all the claims of Mr. Thibodeaux, the trial court signed an order suspending discovery. The trial court also awarded sanctions in favor of RIS related to an answer filed by Ms. Willis under La. Code Civ. P. art. 863. Ms. Willis appealed the trial court's judgments awarding sanctions and suspending discovery. The judgments were affirmed by this court. See Thibodeaux v. Rental Ins. Services, Inc., 2013-1947 (La.App. 1st Cir. 4/24/15) 2015 WL 1882456 (unpublished), writ denied, 2015-1213 (La. 9/25/15), 178 So.3d 567.

         The litigation forming the basis of this appeal by Ms. Willis began on August 6, 2012, when Ms. Willis, an attorney representing herself, filed a Petition for Damages naming EAN, ELCO, Toyota Motor Corporation, and Mr. Thibodeaux as defendants. Ms. Willis then filed an amended petition adding RIS and Empire Fire and Marine Insurance Company (Empire) as defendants. In her original petition, she contended that EAN failed to properly maintain or repair the Corolla, specifically the brakes, thereby causing the accident.

         After Ms. Willis filed the original petition and first supplemental and amending petition, RIS and Empire filed exceptions of vagueness. Thereafter, Ms. Willis again amended her petition on November 26, 2014, and set forth eleven different causes of action against the defendants. Ms. Willis's complaints primarily arise out of her contention that RIS settled the Thibodeaux litigation without her permission, prevented her from being able to prove that the accident was not her fault, and placed her in a position in which she could potentially have to pay the debt RIS paid to Mr. Thibodaux. Ms. Willis's causes of action were mainly asserted against RIS and Empire and included state law claims of fraud and breach of contract, and federal law claims under the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C.A. § 1985 and 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983, and equal rights violations under 42 U.S.C.A. § 1981. The only cause of action against EAN and ELCO were as follows:

9. ELCO committed acts of fraud, tortious conduct and failure to negotiate in good faith in violation of Louisiana tort law, Louisiana contract law, and laws governing insurers and brokers in threatening me with economic retaliation for explaining and reporting the brake failure of the rental vehicle; and when it failed to properly inspect the [rental] following the accident.
10. [EAN] is liable in solido in regards to the foregoing acts and omissions of its agents and insurers, RIS, ELCO, and Empire. Further, [EAN] is liable for failing to properly maintain and/or repair the rental vehicle, specifically in that the brakes of the vehicle failed and thereby caused the accident, and also in regards to the airbag that was apparently defective.

         Subsequently, RIS and Empire filed motions for summary judgment that were granted by the trial court, finding that no genuine issues of material fact existed regarding any of the causes of action that Ms. Willis had set forth in her petition. This court affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment also finding no evidence in the record to support any causes of action raised by Ms. Willis. While this court declined to award attorney fees for frivolous appeal, one judge disagreed with that portion of the decision and would have awarded damages for frivolous appeal. Additionally, this court in a related appeal found that the trial court's award of attorney fees in favor of Empire as the prevailing party under 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1981 and 1985 and under La. Code Civ. P. art. 863(D) was abusively low. In finding the award was abusively low, this court pointed out that "[a] thorough review of the record revealed that Ms. Willis, a licensed attorney, presented a case against Empire with no basis in law or fact, filed numerous unfounded pleadings, and caused unnecessary litigation. As a result, Empire was forced to expend funds in an effort to defend Ms. Willis['s] frivolous claims." Willis v. EAN Holdings, 2016-0473 (La.App. 1st Cir. 4/12/17), 218 So.3d 661, 665, writ denied, 2017-0791 (La. 9/22/17), 228 So.3d 740.

         Ms. Willis filed writs with the supreme court, which were denied on September 22, 2017. Justice Crichton concurred and added reasons pointing out that he found it troubling that Ms. Willis failed to present even a scintilla of evidence to support her allegations. See Willis v. EAN Holdings, 2015-1538 ...

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