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Succession of Wilkins

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

April 17, 2019

SUCCESSION OF GABRIA PEPPER WILKINS

          On Appeal from the Nineteenth Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge State of Louisiana Docket No. P98063 Honorable Todd Hernandez, Judge Presiding

          M. Janice Villarrubia Baton Rouge, Louisiana Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellee Charles Elem Wilkins, Jr.

          Robert W. Fenet Todd E. Gaudin Jennifer Treadway -Nixon Baton Rouge, Louisiana Counsel for Defendants/ Appellants Charles Elem Wilkins, Sr. and Randall Glenn Wilkins

          BEFORE: WHIPPLE, C.J., McCLENDON, AND HIGGINBOTHAM, JJ.

          McCLENDON, J.

         In this succession proceeding, the widower and an adult child of the decedent appeal a trial court judgment that granted a motion for summary judgment in favor of another adult child of the decedent. For the following reasons, we dismiss the appeal.

         Charles E. Wilkins, Sr. was married to Gabria Pepper Wilkins. Two sons were born of the marriage, Charles E. Wilkins, Jr. and Randall Glenn Wilkins. Mrs. Wilkins died on January 9, 2014, leaving a last will and testament that was filed for probate in the trial court. In her will, Mrs. Wilkins left her property to her husband and to Randall Glenn Wilkins. She omitted Charles E. Wilkins, Jr. as a legatee.

         On September 10, 2014, Charles E. Wilkins, Jr. filed a Petition for Reduction of Excessive Gifts in the succession proceeding, asserting that he was a forced heir of the decedent and requesting judgment against his father and brother to pay his legitime out of the assets of the estate.[1] On January 23, 2015, Charles E. Wilkins, Jr. then filed a motion for summary judgment, seeking to be declared a forced heir, which was denied. Shortly thereafter, Charles E. Wilkins, Jr. filed a second similar motion for summary judgment. The second motion for summary judgment was granted, and judgment was signed on February 14, 2018.

         The February 14, 2018 judgment that is at issue in this appeal provides that the "Second Motion for Summary Judgment for Status of Forced Heir filed by Charles E. Wilkins, Jr. is GRANTED." On July 25, 2018, this court issued a Rule to Show Cause Order, noting the apparent defect in the appeal and ordering the parties to show cause by briefs why the appeal should or should not be dismissed. We stated:

An appealable judgment is required to contain the proper decretal language. The February 14, 2018 judgment at issue appears to lack the appropriate decretal language in that it fails to identify what specific relief was awarded and/or lacks the appropriate decretal language disposing of and/or dismissing the claim(s) of the petitioner. (See LSA-C.C.P. Arts. 1911 and 1918; see Carter v. Williamson Eye Center, 2001-2016 (La.App. 1st Cir. 11/27/02), 837 So.2d 43, 44; see Johnson v. Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church, 2005-0337 (La.App. 1st Cir. 3/24/06), 934 So.2d 66: see appellate record page 925).

         In response to this court's order, only the appellants filed a brief, simply stating that it was their position that the judgment was valid and appealable. However, they provided no authority or argument in support of their position. Alternatively, the appellants requested that the case be remanded to the trial court for a new judgment with the appropriate decretal language.

         Appellate courts have a duty to examine subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte, even when the parties do not raise the issue. Advanced Leveling & Concrete Solutions v. Lathan Company, Inc., 17-1250, p. 3 (La.App. 1 Cir. 12/20/18), ___ So.3d ___ (en banc). Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure article 2O83A provides that a final judgment is appealable. A valid judgment must be precise, definite, and certain. Moreover, a final appealable judgment must contain decretal language, and it must name the party in favor of whom the ruling is ordered, the party against whom the ruling is ordered, and the relief that is granted or denied. These determinations should be evident from the language of the judgment without reference to other documents in the record. Advanced Leveling & Concrete Solutions, ___ So.3d at ___.

         In this matter, while the judgment identifies Charles E. Wilkins, Jr. as the party who filed the motion, it fails to name the party in favor of whom the relief is granted. Particularly, the judgment fails to identify the individual to whom the status of forced heir is granted. This determination cannot be made without reference to other documents in the record. Therefore, because the judgment does not contain proper decretal language, there is no final, appealable judgment before us.

         In the absence of a valid final judgment, this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, and the appeal should be dismissed. Moreover, in accordance with Advanced Leveling & Concrete Solutions, we dismiss the entire judgment as ...


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