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Brown v. Kabco Builders, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

June 5, 2019

CARL C. BROWN, JR., ET AL.
v.
KABCO BUILDERS, INC., ET AL.

          APPEAL FROM THE NINTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF RAPIDES, NO. 253, 243 HONORABLE MONIQUE F. RAULS, DISTRICT JUDGE

          Fred A. Pharis Pharis Law Offices COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT: Helen M. Brown Jacqueline B. Hall Estate of Carl B. Brown, Jr.

          Lamont P. Domingue Voorhies & Labbé COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT-APPELLEE: Kabco Builders, Inc.

          Grant Herrin Sidney W. Degan, III R. Edward Blanchard Brian W. Harrell Degan, Blanchard & Nash, APLC COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT-APPELLEE: Bolton Mfd. Homes, Inc.

          Court composed of John D. Saunders, Elizabeth A. Pickett, and Van H. Kyzar, Judges.

          ELIZABETH A. PICKETT JUDGE

         Mobile home purchasers appeal the trial court's judgment vacating an arbitration award in their favor and granting the mobile home seller's and manufacturer's exceptions of peremption with regard to their one-year and two-year warranty claims. As discussed below, we reverse the trial court's judgment and confirm the award in favor of the purchasers.

         FACTS

         In April 2013, Carl Brown, Helen Brown, and Jackie Hall[1] purchased a mobile home from Bolton Mfd. Homes, Inc. The mobile home was manufactured by Kabco Builders, Inc. and delivered and installed by Leesville Mobile Home Movers LLC. Pursuant to Louisiana law and the Browns' sale documents, their purchase of the mobile home is governed by the New Manufactured and Modular Home Warranty Act (NMMHWA), La.R.S. 51:912.1-912.10. After the mobile home was delivered and installed, the Browns noticed numerous deficiencies with the construction of the home, including plumbing, flooring, roofing, and the joinder of the two sections of the home at the marriage line. The Browns attempted to address these deficiencies by presenting their complaints to the Louisiana Manufactured and Modular Housing Commission, as required by the NMMHWA. La.R.S. 51:912.5.[2] Some, but not all, of the issues were resolved.

         On June 26, 2015, the Browns filed suit against Bolton, Kabco, and Leesville. Bolton filed an answer generally denying the Browns' allegations and pleading affirmative defenses, including the fault of the plaintiffs and/or others and failure to state a cause of action under the NMMHWA. Kabco filed an exception of prematurity, asserting that the Browns had signed an arbitration agreement when they purchased their mobile home that required them to present their claims to an arbitrator, not a court. Leesville never responded to the suit.

         The Browns denied having agreed to arbitrate their claims against Kabco, and Kabco's exception of prematurity was initially denied. Thereafter, the Browns were provided documentation evidencing their agreement to arbitrate their claims, and, in accordance with the agreement, the parties unsuccessfully attempted to mediate the Browns' complaints. The Browns then initiated arbitration by filing a Demand for Arbitration in which they named Bolton, Kabco, and Leesville as defendants. The arbitrator conducted a hearing over the course of two days in February and March 2018. On April 27, 2018, the arbitrator issued an award in favor of the Browns in which he denied Bolton's and Kabco's claims that the Browns' claims governed by one-year and two-year warranties were perempted and awarded the Browns actual and general damages, fees and expenses associated with the arbitration that they had previously paid, attorney fees, and legal interest to run from the date of the award. The arbitrator also assessed administrative fees and expenses and compensation and expenses of the arbitrator against the defendants.

         The Browns filed a rule to show cause to confirm the arbitrator's award in the trial court. Bolton and Kabco each filed a motion to vacate the arbitrator's award, a peremptory exception of peremption, and a motion to consolidate the hearings on the motions to vacate the arbitrator's award. After conducting a hearing on the parties' filings, the trial court denied the Browns' rule to show cause to confirm the arbitrator's award and granted Bolton's and Kabco's motions to vacate the arbitrator's award. The trial court also granted Bolton's and Kabco's exceptions of peremption with regard to the Browns' one-year and two-year warranty claims provided in La.R.S. 51:912.4(A)(1)-(2) and dismissed those claims with prejudice. The trial court denied Bolton's and Kabco's exceptions of peremption in all other respects. On August 13, 2018, the trial court signed a judgment in conformity with these rulings. On August 16, 2018, the Browns filed a motion for devolutive appeal.

         ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR

         The Browns assign the following errors with the trial court's judgment:

1. The trial court erred in denying plaintiffs' motion to confirm the award[.]
2. The trial court erred in vacating the arbitrator's award.
3. The trial court erred in acting as an appeal court, in effect, for the arbitration[] and substituting its own [judgment] on issues already consider[ed] and ruled on by the arbitrator.
4. The trial court erred in not signing a judgment in accordance with the arbitrator's award, modifying or correcting the award, or remanding the case to the arbitrator for a clarification.
5. The trial court erred in failing to award additional attorney[] fees for work done after the arbitration by undersigned counsel.

         DISCUSSION

         Partial Final Judgment

         Bolton and Kabco urge that the Browns' appeal should be dismissed because the trial court's judgment granting in part and denying in part their exceptions of peremption is a partial final judgment that can only be appealed if the judgment has been designated a final judgment as provided in La.Code Civ.P. art. 1915(B). La.Code Civ.P. art. 1911(B). Pursuant to La.Code Civ.P. art. 1915(B)(1), a judgment that "sustains an exception in part, as to one or more but less than all of" a party's claims or demands "shall not constitute a final ...


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