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Port City Glass & Paint Inc. v. Brooks

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

February 27, 2019

PORT CITY GLASS & PAINT INC. Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
SIMMIE BROOKS, ERIC WEST, & NATASHA WEST Defendants-Appellees

          Appealed from the Monroe City Court for the Parish of Ouachita, Louisiana Trial Court No. 2017CV89672 Honorable Tammy D. Lee, Judge

          JOSEPH A. BOOTHE Counsel for Defendant-Appellant, Winnsboro Auto Ventures, LLC, d/b/a Winnsboro Chrysler Dodge Jeep

          RONALD KIP GATES Counsel for Plaintiff-Appellee, Port City Glass & Paint, Inc.

          SIMMIE BROOKS In Proper Person

          ERIC WEST In Proper Person

          NATASHA WEST In Proper Person

          Before WILLIAMS, GARRETT, and McCALLUM, JJ.

          GARRETT, J.

         Winnsboro Auto Ventures, LLC, D/B/A Winnsboro Chrysler Dodge Jeep ("Winnsboro Auto"), appeals from a city court judgment which found it liable to Port City Glass & Paint, Inc. ("Port City") for $575 owed on an open account and $1, 000 in attorney fees. We affirm the lower court's judgment.

         FACTS

         In June 2016, Eric and Natasha West purchased a 2015 GMC Yukon Denali from Winnsboro Auto. That dealership, which is popularly known as Winnsboro Dodge, is owned by Brett Oubre. Simmie Brooks was the salesman who sold the vehicle to the Wests. He and the Wests lived in Vicksburg, Mississippi. When the Wests required service on the vehicle's entertainment system shortly after the purchase, Brooks drove the vehicle back to Winnsboro to have the work performed. While he was driving the vehicle, a rock struck the windshield. Brooks arranged to have the windshield replaced by Port City, a Monroe business which frequently performed that sort of work for Winnsboro Auto. Subsequently, Jerry Donald, a driver who often worked for Winnsboro Auto, picked up the vehicle, took it to Port City, and returned it after the repair. Between the time when the windshield was damaged and when it was replaced, Brooks was fired by Wayne Marceau, the general manager of Winnsboro Dodge; however, he went to work at a Mississippi dealership owned by Oubre.

         A question arose as to which party should pay for the windshield. Brooks testified at trial that he called Port City about the repair only after securing permission from his general manager, Marceau, to do so. He stated that Marceau later reneged on paying for the windshield out of vindictiveness toward him.

         After trying unsuccessfully to obtain payment, Port City filed a petition and suit on open account in Monroe City Court against Brooks and the Wests on August 2, 2017. It alleged that the defendants contracted for service and owed $575, together with legal interest from date of judicial demand until paid in full, reasonable attorney fees, and all costs. Specifically, it asserted that Brooks, an employee of the Winnsboro dealership, sold the Denali to the Wests on June 15, 2016, and authorized installation of glass in the vehicle and that Port City installed the glass as requested. The petition alleged that, despite numerous demands, the defendants had refused to pay Port City's bill. Attached to the petition were copies of the invoice and the demand letters sent to the defendants. The invoice identified the customer as "Winnsboro Chrysler Dodge."

         Brooks answered the petition in proper person. He stated that the dealership was supposed to pay for the windshield to be replaced because it was broken during transit. However, since he left the company, it had refused to pay the bill. Brooks further stated he had contacted Port City's attorney, who advised him to file papers on his own behalf.

         On October 31, 2017, a default judgment was rendered against Ms. West in the amount of $575, plus legal interest and attorney fees of $1, 500.

         On November 7, 2017, Port City filed a motion for summary judgment against Brooks. An affidavit by Cindy Hayes, Port City's manager, was filed in conjunction with this motion. She recited the same facts alleged in the original petition. The motion was set for hearing on December 14, 2017. Although Brooks did not attend, the Wests were present for the hearing. In accordance with the plaintiff's request, the matter was continued without date. Plaintiff's counsel admitted that service on Brooks under the long-arm statute had not been perfected.

         Ms. West, acting in proper person, filed a motion to vacate judgment on November 17, 2017. She asserted that the windshield was damaged when Brooks was driving the vehicle back to the dealership several weeks after the original purchase. The dealership had failed to add a second television console as agreed. The television was ordered and the dealership subsequently installed it once it arrived. Ms. West stated that she was told by Brooks that, during transit, a rock damaged the windshield, and they had to repair it. She alleged that she had no knowledge of the facts of the repair and that she never authorized Port City to install anything. She stated that, had she been liable, she could have simply filed an insurance claim. She also asserted that she was in possession of several documents, including the Port City bill of sale/repair identifying Winnsboro Dodge as the client; a Winnsboro Dodge document stating that Port City had not followed protocol for receiving a proper work order for them; and the answer submitted by Brooks to the court stating that his employer was to pay for the windshield. Ms. West stated that she was not a resident of Louisiana, she was never notified of any hearing, and she was unable to afford legal representation. She concluded by stating that she believed this matter should have been resolved between the dealership, the plaintiff, and the salesman. The motion was set for argument on February 8, 2018.

         On January 8, 2018, Port City filed an amended petition and suit on open account, in which it added Winnsboro Auto as a defendant. On February 9, 2018, Winnsboro Auto filed a peremptory exception of no cause of action. It asserted that Port City failed to allege any conduct by it or by its employee, Brooks, acting on its behalf. In the alternative, Winnsboro Auto raised a dilatory exception of vagueness, in which it contended that Port City's failure to expressly allege the conduct giving rise to Winnsboro Auto's liability created an undue hardship on it in preparing its defense. The exceptions were set for April 24, 2018. Port City filed an opposition to the exceptions. On March 6, 2018, the parties were sent notice of trial, which was also set for April 24, 2018.

         On the morning of April 24, 2018, the court heard arguments on Winnsboro Auto's exceptions. It denied the peremptory exception of no cause of action and ordered the matter to proceed to trial later that morning.

         At trial, Port City presented the testimony of Brooks and Lawson Criswell. Criswell testified that his parents owned Port City and that he worked for them. He stated that he was familiar with the accounts payable and also handled glass installation. He testified that Port City had installed multiple windshields for Winnsboro Dodge and that they never got purchase orders from Winnsboro Dodge prior to performing the work. According to Criswell, cars were sent to Port City by various people at Winnsboro Dodge, and, after the work was completed, they contacted Winnsboro Dodge for a purchase order number. Up until the instant case, they had never encountered any problem with receiving payment.

         Brooks testified that, after the rock hit the windshield, he called Ms. West and Marceau, who told him that the dealership would pay for the repair. He stated that, during the two years he worked at the dealership, he was given authority to make purchases on its behalf, but the authorization was not in writing. He recounted verbally authorizing windshield repairs prior to the instant case. He also stated that he was aware of Winnsboro Auto paying Donald to pick up the vehicle for the windshield repair and returning it afterwards.

         At the conclusion of the plaintiff's case, Winnsboro Auto moved for a directed verdict or dismissal and reurged its exceptions. After the trial court denied its motion, it called its controller, Pat Roberts, as a witness. She testified that she had worked for the dealership for 32 years; she had worked for Oubre since April 2014. According to her testimony, the Wests purchased their vehicle on June 13, 2016, and Brooks was fired on June 29, 2016. Roberts testified that no one was allowed to authorize payments for repairs without a purchase order, which was obtained in advance of the work being performed. She maintained that a purchase order was refused in the instant case because they were unaware of anything happening to the windshield. She also stated that she was unaware that the work had already been done in the instant case or that there was a history of Port City obtaining purchase order numbers from Winnsboro Auto after doing work. She indicated that, while she was authorized to issue purchase orders, another person in the office actually handled that. Roberts testified that, while she had an invoice for some repair on the Wests' vehicle on June 23, 2016, she could find no record of any work pertaining to its entertainment system. She also denied paying Donald to take the vehicle to Port City. Roberts admitted that she was not privy to any conversations between Brooks and Marceau about the windshield. According to her, Marceau no longer worked at the dealership and Donald had retired.

         At the conclusion of the evidence, Port City moved to set aside the previously rendered default judgment against Ms. West. It also filed a written motion to that effect. Winnsboro Auto objected to the motion on the grounds that Port City had an obligation to mitigate its damages. The trial court subsequently granted the motion and signed an order setting aside that judgment.

         In oral reasons, the trial court ruled in favor of Port City and against Winnsboro Auto, finding that proper authorization was given to Brooks by the general manager to have the windshield repaired. It specifically held that Brooks was the most credible witness, while finding Roberts' testimony that she did not know that purchase orders were being submitted after performance of the work was not credible. The court concluded that, although the dealership might have had the purchase order authorization policy in place, it was not followed in the course of day-to-day business. Furthermore, the court found the actions of Winnsboro Auto in the instant case to be "highly vindictive."

         On May 8, 2018, the court signed a judgment against Winnsboro Auto, awarding Port City $575, plus attorney fees of $1, 000.

         Winnsboro ...


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