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Broussard v. Broussard

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

March 7, 2019

RANDALL H. BROUSSARD
v.
LINDA WAGGONER BROUSSARD

          APPEAL FROM THE FIFTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF VERMILION, NO. 99380 HONORABLE EDWARD D. RUBIN, DISTRICT JUDGE.

          Anthony J. Fontana, Jr. A Professional Law Corporation COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE: Randall H. Broussard

          Gabe A. Duhon James S. Broussard Wyman E. Bankston Duhon & Broussard, L.L.C. COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT: Linda Waggoner Broussard

          Court composed of John D. Saunders, Phyllis M. Keaty, and John E. Conery, Judges.

          JOHN D. SAUNDERS JUDGE.

         The issue presented in this case is whether a judgment of involuntary dismissal that rejected Defendant-in-Reconvention's claim for final spousal support was manifestly erroneous.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:

         Plaintiff, Randall H. Broussard ("Randall") and Defendant, Linda Waggoner Broussard ("Linda"), were married on August 8, 2008. No children were born of the marriage.

         On October 13, 2014, Randall filed a Petition for Divorce under La.Civ.Code art. 103, requesting a divorce on the basis that the parties had lived separate and apart continuously for more than six (6) months, and specifically alleging that the parties separated on November 20, 2013.

         On November 5, 2014, Linda filed an Answer and Reconventional Demand for Divorce under La.Civ.Code art. 102, denying, inter alia, that the parties separated on November 20, 2013, and asserting instead that the parties separated on July 9, 2014. Linda's reconventional demand alleged, inter alia, that she was free from fault in the breakup of the marriage, that at all times relevant she had been a loving, abiding, and dutiful wife to Randall, that Randall's conduct alone was the proximate cause of the separation of the parties, and that Randall was solely responsible for the breakup of the marriage.

         A consent judgment adopting certain hearing officer recommendations as modified therein was signed on April 13, 2015, dispensing with the issues of interim spousal support, use of community property, and mutual injunctions regarding community property.

         On July 27, 2015 Linda filed a Petition for Final Spousal Support reiterating all of the allegations contained in her Answer and Reconventional Demand and again averring that she was free from fault in the breakup of the marriage. By order signed July 29, 2015, Linda's Petition for Final Spousal Support was set for a merit trial on the issue of "Legal Fault" to be heard on February 1, 2016.

         A Judgment of Divorce was rendered on September 1, 2015, having come before the trial court in the nature of an uncontested matter. Thereafter, on November 12, 2015, Randall filed a Petition for Partition of Community Property and certain discovery was conducted.

         The minute entries indicate that the "Fault Hearing for Spousal Support" was continued three times: once on February 1, 2016, again on March 1, 2017, and finally on December 4, 2017, at which time said hearing was reset for February 20, 2018, with all witnesses being ordered to appear without the necessity of being subpoenaed by counsel.

         The matter of fault for final spousal support was tried before the trial court on February 20, 2018. After the close of Linda's case, Randall moved for a directed verdict/involuntary dismissal[1] pursuant to La.Code Civ.P. art. 1672(B), contending that Linda failed to show any right to relief under the evidence presented. After hearing oral argument from the parties, the trial court granted the motion for directed verdict/involuntary dismissal. In its written reasons for ruling, the trial court stated:

The Court has authority in a proceeding for divorce or thereafter, to award final periodic support to a party who is in need of support and who is free from fault in the filing of a proceeding to terminate the marriage. Civil Code Article 111, et seq. The burden of proof is on the claimant. The mover, Mrs. Broussard has simply not met her burden of showing that she is not [sic] free from fault in the breakup of the marriage. Evidence at the hearing was not sufficient to establish that Mrs. Broussard is entitled to relief (that is, permanent spousal support based upon being free from fault).

         Judgment was rendered on March 26, 2018, granting Randall's motion for involuntary dismissal and dismissing Linda's claims. It is from this judgment that Linda appeals, alleging six assignments of error.

         ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR:

         1. The trial court committed manifest error in granting Appellee's motion for involuntary dismissal.

         2. The trial court committed manifest error in finding that Appellant failed to show that she was free from fault in the breakup of the marriage.

         3. The trial court committed manifest error in finding that the timespan of Appellant's relationship with another man was unclear.

         4. The trial court committed legal error by misapplication of the burden of proof applicable to a claimant spouse in a fault hearing relative to final spousal support.

         5. The trial court committed legal error by misapplication of the legal standards governing fault sufficient to bar a claimant spouse from final spousal support.

         6. The trial court committed legal error by misapplication of the legal standards governing involuntary dismissal under [La.Code Civ.P. art.] 1672.

         ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NUMBER ONE:

         In her first assignment of error, Linda contends that the trial court committed manifest error in granting Appellee's motion for involuntary dismissal. We agree.

         In Fontenot v. Safeway Insurance Co. of Louisiana, 17-780, pp. 3-4 (La.App. 3 Cir. 6/13/18), 249 So.3d 900, 902-03, writ denied, 18-1223 (La. 10/29/18), 254 So.3d 1214, (citations omitted), this court stated:

A motion for involuntary dismissal is the proper procedural vehicle in cases where the action is not tried before a jury. The procedure governing motions for involuntary dismissal is found in La.Code Civ.P. art. 1672(B), which provides as follows:
B. In an action tried by the court without a jury, after the plaintiff has completed the presentation of his evidence, any party, without waiving his right to offer evidence in the event the motion is not granted, may move for a dismissal of the action as to him on the ground that upon the facts and law, the plaintiff has shown no right to relief. The court may then determine the facts and render judgment against the plaintiff and in favor of the moving party or may decline to render any judgment until the close of all the evidence.
Pursuant to Article 1672, the trial court must consider and weigh the Plaintiffs' evidence and dismiss the matter if it determines they have not met their burden of proof. The trial court's grant of an involuntary dismissal is subject to the well-settled manifest error standard of review. Accordingly, in order to reverse the trial court's grant of involuntary dismissal, we must find, after reviewing the record, that there is no factual basis for its finding or that the finding is clearly wrong or ...

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