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Alfred v. RPM Pizza, LLC

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

May 31, 2019

JOSEPH RAY ALFRED
v.
RPM PIZZA, LLC AND ABC INSURANCE COMPANY

          Appealed from the 19th Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge State of Louisiana Docket Number 668198 Honorable R. Michael Caldwell, Judge Presiding

          Lawrence Blake Jones David C. Whitmore New Orleans, LA Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellant Joseph Ray Alfred

          George J. Nalley, Jr. Andrew J. Miner Metairie, LA Counsel for Defendant/Appellee RPM Pizza, LLC

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

          WHIPPLE, C.J.

         Plaintiff, Joseph Ray Alfred, appeals a judgment of the district court maintaining the exception of res judicata filed by RPM Pizza, LLC ("RPM Pizza"), and dismissing all claims against RPM Pizza and its insurers with prejudice. For the following reasons, we reverse the judgment of the district court and remand this matter to the district court for further proceedings.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On April 12, 2018, Mr. Alfred filed a petition for damages, naming as defendants, RPM Pizza and its insurer, ABC Insurance Company. In his petition, Mr. Alfred alleged that on June 7, 2017, he was operating his 1999 Dodge truck in a northerly direction on Verot School Road, in Lafayette, Louisiana when suddenly and without warning, he was struck by a 2017 Hyundai Elantra operated by Breydon Romero. Mr. Alfred further alleged that Mr. Romero, who was pulling out from the Domino's Pizza restaurant on Verot School Road, was in the course and scope of his employment with RPM Pizza at the time of the accident, and that accordingly, RPM Pizza was liable under the principles of respondeat superior.

         In response to the petition, RPM Pizza filed an exception of res judicata, contending that the claims asserted therein had already been compromised in full by Mr. Alfred. Mr. Alfred executed a release, dated January 9, 2017, [1] releasing Mr. Romero and his parents Kenneth and Rachael along with their automobile insurer, State Farm Mutual, in exchange for fifteen thousand dollars. The release further released "all other persons, firms or corporations liable or, who might be claimed to be liable" from "any and all claims, demands, damages, actions, causes of action or suits of any kind or nature" which "have resulted or may in the future develop from" the accident which occurred on or about June 7, 2017 on Verot School Road. The release concluded with the following paragraph:

Undersigned hereby declares that the terms of this settlement have been completely read and are fully understood and voluntarily accepted for the purpose of making a full and final compromise adjustment and settlement of any and all claims, disputed or otherwise, on account of the injuries and damages above mentioned, and for the express purpose of precluding forever any further or additional claims arising out of the aforesaid accident.

         RPM Pizza contended that the broadly drafted compromise and release entered into by Mr. Alfred, without a reservation of rights to proceed against additional parties, was conclusive as to all parties, including RPM Pizza and its insurers for any alleged vicarious liability above the settlement amount. RPM Pizza prayed that the district court grant its exception and dismiss Mr. Alfred's claims against it with prejudice. Attached in support of the exception was the release signed by Mr. Alfred.

         Mr. Alfred opposed RPM Pizza's exception, asserting several alternative arguments. First, Mr. Alfred contended that RPM Pizza was not a party to any release, and therefore was not entitled to plead res judicata, or otherwise benefit from the release. Mr. Alfred further asserted that in the event that RPM Pizza could plead res judicata, there was no evidence that he intended to release RPM Pizza. Mr. Alfred also contended that because the scope of the release was under review, extrinsic evidence could be considered to determine the differences the parties to the compromise intended to settle. Pursuant to this argument, Mr. Alfred executed and attached an affidavit to his opposition, asserting therein that: (1) it was his intention to only release Mr. Romero, his parents, Kenneth and Rachael, and their insurer State Farm, for their personal liability insurance; (2) he never intended to release Mr. Romero in his capacity as an employee of Domino's Pizza and/or RPM Pizza, or to release RPM Pizza, nor any of its insurers; and (3) to his knowledge, RPM Pizza did not contribute anything to the settlement with the Romeros and their personal liability insurer, State Farm. Finally, Mr. Alfred contended that there were questions as to the validity of the release itself due to the discrepancy between the date of the release, January 9, 2017, and the date of the accident, June 7, 2017. In an effort to cure that defect, and clarify the intent of his original release, Mr. Alfred submitted a revised release to the Romeros and State Farm, and also attached it as an exhibit to his opposition. The most notable change in the amended release was the addition of a reservation of rights "against RPM Pizza, LLC and his uninsured motorist carrier."

         Thereafter, RPM Pizza filed a reply memorandum in support of its exception. First, RPM Pizza objected to the introduction of Mr. Alfred's affidavit as hearsay. Next, RPM Pizza urged that Mr. Alfred's allegation that the original release was not genuine because it was mis-dated was meritless. Finally, RPM Pizza contended that Louisiana jurisprudence was clear that without a reservation of rights, the broad language found in the release was sufficient to release a potentially vicariously liable employer.

         A hearing on the exception was held on August 6, 2018, during which the district court sustained RPM Pizza's objection to Mr. Alfred's affidavit in support of his opposition. After hearing the arguments of the parties, the district court also sustained RPM Pizza's exception of res judicata and ordered the parties to prepare a judgment. A judgment was signed in ...


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