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J & J Livestock, LLC v. Musa Slaughterhouse, LLC

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

April 10, 2019

J & J LIVESTOCK, LLC Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
MUSA SLAUGHTERHOUSE, LLC, MUSA SIMREEN AND MICHAEL HABASH Defendants-Appellants

          Appealed from the Second Judicial District Court for the Parish of Claiborne, Louisiana Trial Court No. 40523 Honorable Jenifer Ward Clason, Judge

          AYRES, SHELTON, WILLIAMS, BENSON & PAINE, LLC By: Jody T. Benson Alexandra E. Vozzella Counsel for Appellants

          COLVIN, SMITH & McKAY By: Daniel N. Bays, Jr. Counsel for Appellee

          Before WILLIAMS, GARRETT, and STONE, JJ.

          WILLIAMS, C.J.

         The defendants, Musa Slaughterhouse, LLC, Musa Simreen and Michael Habash, appeal a district court judgment denying their petition to nullify a default judgment that was rendered in favor of the plaintiff, J & J Livestock, LLC. For the following reasons, we affirm in part and reverse in part.

         FACTS

         This dispute arose as a result of an open account between the plaintiff, J & J Livestock, LLC ("J & J"), and the defendant, Musa Slaughterhouse, LLC ("Musa Slaughterhouse"). The defendant, Musa Simreen, is the owner of Musa Slaughterhouse; the defendant, Michael Habash ("Habash"), testified that he is the manager of the slaughterhouse. Musa Slaughterhouse is domiciled in Tampa, Florida; Musa Simreen is a resident of New York; Habash is a citizen of Canada. The plaintiff, J & J, is domiciled in Claiborne Parish, Louisiana.

         In December 2014, J & J and Musa Slaughterhouse entered into an agreement to sell/buy livestock. As a result of business transactions between the entities, an open account was created. Generally, the parties' arrangement was as follows: Habash and James Garcia (the owner of J & J) would discuss orders and shipping arrangements via telephone conversations and/or text messages; once the order and shipping arrangements were determined, J & J would ship the orders to Musa Slaughterhouse's headquarters in Tampa, Florida. Normally, once Musa Slaughterhouse received the shipment from J & J, Habash would either mail a check to J & J, or would make a direct wire transfer to J & J's account. On the occasions when Musa Slaughterhouse's payment was insufficient to pay for the entire shipment, J & J would apply the payment to the outstanding balance on the open account. Between December 2014 and April 2015, 14 truckloads of livestock were transported from Claiborne Parish to Musa Slaughterhouse. During that period, the defendants made approximately 22 payments to the plaintiff.

         On April 28, 2015, Habash's nephew and at least two other men traveled to Louisiana to pick up the fourteenth shipment of livestock/fowl.[1]Garcia and Habash discussed the transaction over the telephone, and according to Garcia, Habash instructed him to "[j]ust let my nephew pick it all out." Habash's nephew selected certain livestock and fowl, and transported the load back to the Musa Slaughterhouse headquarters in Florida. At some point thereafter, Musa Slaughterhouse stopped making payments on the open account.

         On June 24, 2015, J & J filed a "Petition on Open Account," naming Musa Slaughterhouse, Musa Simreen and Michael Habash as defendants. On June 29, 2015, the defendants were served with the petition via Louisiana's long-arm statute. The defendants did not file a response to the plaintiff's petition.

         At the plaintiff's request, on August 3, 2015, the trial court entered a preliminary judgment of default against the defendants. On August 10, 2015, the plaintiff filed into the record the required affidavits of mailing of service of process to each of the defendants through the long-arm statute. The citations and petitions were mailed to each defendant at Musa Slaughterhouse's address in Tampa, Florida. The plaintiff attested that the process was sent by United States certified mail, in envelopes properly addressed to each defendant, with sufficient postage attached. The exhibits attached to the affidavits show that three certified mail notices were delivered to Musa Slaughterhouse's address on June 29, 2015. The return receipts were signed; however, the signatures were not legible.

         Thereafter, on September 16, 2015, the district court entered a confirmation of the default judgment, finding that the defendants were liable, in solido, to the plaintiff for $76, 306.11, plus legal interest from the date of judicial demand. The court also awarded to the plaintiff $2, 500 in attorney fees and court costs. J & J made the judgment executory in Florida, resulting in the seizure of Musa Slaughterhouse's property.[2]

         On April 4, 2018, the defendants filed a pleading entitled "Petition for Nullity and to Stay Execution of Judgment and Request for Expedited Consideration." The defendants argued that Louisiana lacked personal jurisdiction over them because Musa Slaughterhouse is a Florida company; Musa Simreen is a resident of New York; and Michael Habash is a resident of Canada. They also argued that service of process was improper because the "green cards" from the certified mail were signed by "an unknown person," rather than by Musa Simreen, who was Musa Slaughterhouse's agent for service of process. [3] According to the defendants, the person who signed the receipt of service cards for all three defendants was not authorized to do so.

         A hearing was conducted on May 10, 2018, during which two witnesses testified, James Garcia and Michael Habash. Garcia testified that Habash learned of his livestock company from someone in Georgia and contacted him about purchasing livestock for Musa Slaughterhouse. Garcia testified as follows:

I did all my business with Michael Habash.
He would call me on the phone or send me text messages about what he needed and when he needed them.
And we provided freight for him, big truck loads, the first four or five loads, and then it'd be cut back to gooseneck loads, and then the last load, he sent his own people up here to pick up the load.

Garcia explained that when Habash called to place the first 13 orders, Habash specified "what type animal, what size animal." He stated that he shipped the livestock to Musa Slaughterhouse in Tampa, Florida. With regard to the fourteenth order/shipment from J & J to ...


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