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Hatfield v. Bossier Parish Police Jury

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

April 10, 2019

GEORGE ERIC HATFIELD, HATFIELD ENTERPRISES, LLC, and HATFIELD DEVELOPMENT CO., LLC Plaintiffs-Appellants
v.
BOSSIER PARISH POLICE JURY Defendant-Appellee

          Appealed from the Twenty-Sixth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Bossier, Louisiana Trial Court No. 144, 262 Honorable Allen Parker Self, Jr., Judge

          SHUEY SMITH, LLC By: Richard E. Hiller Counsel for Appellants

          COOK, YANCEY, KING & GALLOWAY By: Robert Kennedy, Jr. James Ashby Davis Counsel for Appellee

          Before PITMAN, GARRETT, and BLEICH (Pro Tempore), JJ.

          PITMAN, J.

         Plaintiffs-Appellants George Eric Hatfield; Hatfield Enterprises, LLC; and Hatfield Development Company, LLC;[1] appeal the trial court's denial of their motion for partial summary judgment and the granting of Defendant-Appellee Bossier Parish Police Jury's (the "Police Jury") motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, we affirm the trial court's denial of Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment, reverse the trial court's granting of the Police Jury's motion for summary judgment and dismissal of Plaintiffs' suit and remand for trial.

         FACTS

         On April 21, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a petition against the Police Jury alleging that on October 6, 2013, Hatfield Enterprises purchased from Richard Connell for $28, 000 an airport hangar located at the Downtown Shreveport Airport. Mr. Hatfield agreed to assume all of Mr. Connell's obligations to the Shreveport Airport Authority with respect to the lease agreement covering the hangar. He was aware that property taxes were due to both the City of Shreveport and Bossier Parish because the hangar is located inside the city limits of the City of Shreveport and also within Bossier Parish. In September 2013, he obtained a redemption figure from the revenue department of the City of Shreveport and delivered a check in the amount of $2, 786.14, representing the redemption of a prior tax adjudication. He also contacted the Bossier Parish Sheriff's Office (the "Sheriff's Office") to obtain the redemption amount for unpaid 2009 Bossier Parish taxes. The Sheriff's Office provided him with a redemption amount, but then advised him that the Police Jury was responsible for handling redemptions that were more than three years old and would provide him with a new redemption amount. He attempted to obtain the new redemption amount from the Police Jury but was never provided with an amount. The Police Jury's policy required Plaintiffs to request that the Police Jury declare the hangar as surplus and have it sold at auction. The auction was conducted on November 2, 2013, and he bid the highest amount, i.e., $44, 000 plus a 10 percent buyer's premium. He and Hatfield Enterprises obtained a loan with interest to pay the auction price. Plaintiffs alleged that the Police Jury refused to provide them with the redemption amount, that they were entitled to receive this amount and that the refusal resulted in them paying an amount at auction that was substantially more than the amount they were legally required to pay. Plaintiffs argued that the Police Jury failed to follow the provisions of La. R.S. 47:2201, et seq., which govern the sale of adjudicated property by political subdivisions. They contended that the Police Jury failed to follow the notice requirements of La. R.S. 47:2206, which forced them to attend an auction and face the prospect of losing their hangar to the highest bidder. Therefore, they argued that the Police Jury is liable for all amounts over and above the required redemption amount, the interest paid on the loan, reasonable damages, attorney fees and court costs.

         On May 19, 2014, the Police Jury filed an answer in which it denied Plaintiffs' allegations and pled affirmative defenses. It argued that Plaintiffs' petition failed to state a cause of action for damages.

         On February 26, 2018, Plaintiffs filed a motion for partial summary judgment. They argued that the Police Jury violated the provisions of La. R.S. 47:2246 by failing to provide them with the amount to redeem the adjudicated tax sale and by failing to send the required post-tax sale notices to all interested parties, resulting in an unlawful auction of the hangar.

         On May 9, 2018, the Police Jury filed a motion for summary judgment. It argued that Plaintiffs cannot establish that the Police Jury is liable to them and, therefore, that their claims should be dismissed with prejudice. It contended that only Hatfield Enterprises has an interest in the hangar and that the claims of Mr. Hatfield and Hatfield Development Company should be dismissed. It argued that the claims of Hatfield Enterprises should be dismissed because the Police Jury is not the tax collector for Bossier Parish; and, therefore, it cannot be held liable under La. R.S. 47:2241, et seq. It contended that it complied with all applicable state laws in selling Bossier Parish's tax sale title to the hangar. It stated that La. R.S. 47:2206 requires that notice be given when the political subdivision intends to terminate the interest of the tax sale party. It explained that it never intended to terminate the interest of any tax sale party, and the auction resulted in the sale of Bossier Parish's tax sale title. It noted that Hatfield Enterprises had notice and attended the auction. It further contended that Hatfield Enterprises suffered no damages because it acquired full and unburdened ownership of the hangar for less money as a result of the auction. It stated that Hatfield Enterprises originally agreed to pay Mr. Connell $198, 000, including a $170, 000 promissory note, for the hangar. As a result of taxes not being paid and the auction, the note was forgiven, and Hatfield Enterprises paid Mr. Connell only $28, 000. Having gone through the auction, Hatfield Enterprises has full ownership of the hangar and obtained that ownership for $76, 400 ($28, 000 to Mr. Connell plus the $48, 400 auction price), rather than $198, 000, which is a benefit of $121, 600.

         On July 12, 2018, the trial court filed an opinion. It noted that La. R.S. 47:2243[2] states that "redemptions shall be made through the tax collector" and that in this case, the Police Jury is not the tax collector. Accordingly, the trial court determined that Plaintiffs cannot establish that the Police Jury is liable to them. It stated that Plaintiffs' claim to redeem tax sale title must be brought against the tax collector for Bossier Parish. Therefore, it found that Plaintiffs could show no genuine issue of material fact. It granted the Police Jury's motion for summary judgment, denied Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment and dismissed Plaintiffs' claims. The trial court filed a final judgment on July 25, 2018.

         Plaintiffs appeal.

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