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Villarrubia v. Villarrubia

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

December 27, 2018

TODD M. VILLARRUBIA
v.
HEATHER G. VILLARRUBIA

          ON APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-FOURTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF JEFFERSON, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 739-281, DIVISION "O" HONORABLE DANYELLE M. TAYLOR, JUDGE PRESIDING

          COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT, TODD M. VILLARRUBIA, APLC D/B/A/ WEALTH PLANNING LAW GROUP Jack A. Ricci, Michael S. Ricci, Jonathan L. Schultis, Brian G. LeBon, Jr.

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE, HEATHER G. VILLARRUBIA Steven J. Lane, John S. Creevy, Alexandra E. Faia, Christopher T. Grace, Jr.

          Panel composed of Judges Fredericka Homberg Wicker, Jude G. Gravois, and Marc E. Johnson

          JUDE G. GRAVOIS, JUDGE.

         In this community property partition suit between former spouses Heather Grace Villarrubia and Todd Villarrubia, intervenor/appellant Todd M. Villarrubia, PLC d/b/a Wealth Planning Law Group ("the PLC"), appeals the trial court's judgment of January 22, 2018 (as amended on July 18, 2018), [1] granting Heather's exceptions of no right of action and no cause of action, dismissing the PLC's intervention in the community property partition proceeding. Following the PLC's appeal to this Court, Heather filed a motion to dismiss the appeal, arguing that the PLC's appeal is moot as "the final judgments impose no obligation" on the PLC in this matter.[2] For the following reasons, we deny the motion to dismiss the appeal and affirm the judgment that dismissed the PLC's intervention in the community property partition proceeding.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY AND FACTS

         Todd M. Villarrubia, plaintiff, filed a petition for divorce against Heather Grace Villarrubia, defendant, on June 10, 2014. In 2001, prior to the parties' marriage in 2002, Todd, an attorney, formed a professional law corporation, a Subchapter S corporation ("the PLC"), for his law practice, of which he was 100 per cent owner, the sole member, and where he was employed throughout the marriage and after his filing of the petition for divorce.[3] Following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the PLC entered into contingency fee contracts for the adjustment of BP claims of many of the PLC's clients. Todd performed work on the BP files both before and after the filing of the petition for divorce for which settlement proceeds were received after the petition for divorce was filed. In the community property partition proceeding, a dispute arose concerning the amount of Todd's compensation for the work he performed on the BP contracts during the time of the marriage, which Heather claimed was community property and for which she sought her statutory share from the BP settlement proceeds held by the PLC. Heather also claimed that the value of the PLC was enhanced, during the marriage, by the uncompensated or undercompensated labor of Todd, which could form the basis of a reimbursement claim in her favor pursuant to La. C.C. art. 2368. Todd claimed that he was compensated during the community by a salary and that all fees received from the contingency fee contracts were the property of the PLC. Heather propounded discovery upon Todd individually, seeking records and information from the PLC regarding the BP contracts, as well as other contingency fee contracts, and information relative to Todd's income and compensation during the marriage.

         On December 8, 2014, the PLC intervened in the community property partition proceeding, claiming that intervention was necessary "to protect the PLC's rights and property," noting Heather's discovery requests. On April 2, 2015, the PLC filed a motion for summary judgment in the intervention, arguing that the BP contingency fee contracts were the property and assets of the PLC, a distinct legal entity separate from Todd, and were neither community property nor the separate property of Todd. Heather filed exceptions of unauthorized use of summary proceedings as per La. C.C.P. art. 969, no cause of action, and no right of action, reiterating that she did not claim an ownership interest in the BP contracts. Following a hearing, the trial court issued a written judgment on June 1, 2015 granting the exception of unauthorized use of summary proceedings, declaring the exceptions of no right of action and no cause of action moot, and denying the PLC's motion for summary judgment.[4]

         The appellate record reveals that the parties entered into a consent judgment on February 23, 2015, partially partitioning the community property, but reserving all rights to items not partitioned therein. The record further shows that in a March 29, 2016 Consent Judgment, the parties reached an agreement to partition the rest of the community property, but reserved determination of issues relating to the BP contracts, to wit:

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that each party does expressly reserve any and all rights he or she has or may have with respect to
1. The valuation, enhancement and/or reimbursement claims affecting or relating to the Professional Law Corporation, including but not limited to any BP or Deepwater Horizon claims.

         On November 17, 2017, Heather reurged her previous exceptions of no right of action and no cause of action relative to the PLC's intervention in the community property partition proceeding. She based her exceptions on recent deposition testimony of Todd individually, and of Antonio Cino, the PLC's La. C.C.P. art. 1442 representative, wherein neither deponent claimed to know the reason for the PLC's intervention. Both Todd and the PLC opposed the exceptions. Following a hearing on January 9, 2018, the trial court rendered a written judgment on January 22, 2018 in favor of Heather, granting her exceptions (and by amended judgment dated July 18, 2018, dismissing the PLC's intervention).

         The trial of the remaining community property reimbursement issue went forward on January 29, 2018. The trial court rendered judgment on April 10, 2018, ruling that the BP fees were community property and awarding Heather the amount of $782, 766.83 as her half share thereof. Meanwhile, on March 29, 2018, the PLC filed a motion for a devolutive appeal from the judgment of January 22, 2018 (as amended on July 18, 2018) dismissing its intervention, which appeal was granted.[5]

         MOTION TO DISMISS APPEAL

         In her motion to dismiss the appeal, Heather argues that the PLC's appeal should be dismissed because in the subsequent community property partition judgment rendered on April 10, 2018 (as amended on June 18, 2018), the trial court did not render a judgment either for or against the PLC. Herein, however, the PLC appeals the judgment rendered on January 22, 2018 (as amended on July 18, 2018) which dismissed its intervention in the community property partition proceeding. Such judgment is clearly adverse to the PLC as per La. C.C.P. art. 2082; the fact that the April 10, 2018 judgment on the merits of the partition proceeding imposes "no obligation" on the PLC is not the pertinent criteria for determining the PLC's right to appeal the instant judgment.[6] Accordingly, the motion to dismiss the appeal is denied.

         ANALYSIS

         Interventions are governed by La. C.C.P. art. 1091, which provides:

A third person having an interest therein may intervene in a pending action to enforce a right related to or connected with the object of the pending action against one or more of the parties thereto by:
(1) Joining with plaintiff in demanding the same or similar relief ...

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