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Succession of Campbell

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

October 2, 2019

SUCCESSION OF BILLY DEAN CAMPBELL

          APPEAL FROM THE THIRTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF EVANGELINE, NO. 12273-A HONORABLE GARY J. ORTEGO, DISTRICT JUDGE.

          C. Brent Coreil Attorney at Law COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Jeremy Campbell Tara Lafleur Damian Campbell

          Marcus L. Fontenot Christopher Ludeau Fontenot & Ludeau, LLC COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: LB Johnson Properties, LLC LBJ Properties, LLC

          Chad B. Guidry Attorney at Law COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Amanda J. Campbell

          Court composed of Elizabeth A. Pickett, D. Kent Savoie, and Candyce G. Perret, Judges.

          ELIZABETH A. PICKETT, JUDGE.

         The decedent's three children from his first marriage appeal two judgments rendered by the trial court regarding their motions to appoint an executor and to traverse the detailed descriptive list filed by their father's surviving spouse. For the reasons discussed herein, we reverse in part, affirm in part, and remand this matter to the trial court with instructions.

         FACTS

         Billy Dean Campbell died on June 2, 2016, after a battle with cancer. He had three children during his first marriage: Jeremy Campbell, Tara LaFleur, and Damian Campbell. After his first marriage ended, Billy had one child, John, with Amanda Johnson Campbell whom he subsequently married on December 30, 2009. On April 27, 2017, Amanda filed a number of pleadings, including a petition for probate of Billy's last will and testament, his will, and a detailed descriptive list. The petition requested that Amanda be placed in possession of the legacies Billy made to her in his will and that Billy's children as his "heirs/legatees" "show cause why a judgment of possession should not be rendered sending them and the surviving spouse into possession of [their legacies] in accordance with his will." The trial court probated the will but did not sign the order for Billy's children to show cause why a judgment of possession should not be rendered. Thereafter, on May 12, 2017, Amanda filed a petition for possession of unadminstered testate succession by surviving spouse and a corresponding judgment of possession. The petition did not include a request for Billy's legatees to be ordered to show cause why the judgment should not be granted. On May 15, 2017, the trial court signed the judgment of possession.

         Jeremy filed a motion to have the judgment vacated because: (1) Billy's will designated him and Amanda as co-executors of the Estate; (2) no inventory was conducted as indicated in Amanda's petition; (3) the legatees did not accept the estate as required by La.Code Civ.P. art. 3031; and (4) Amanda did not give him notice of the filing as her attorney had previously agreed with his attorney. After a hearing, the trial court annulled and vacated the "Judgment of Possession of Un-Administered Testate Succession by Surviving Spouse."

         Thereafter, Jeremy filed a motion to be appointed independent executor, asserting that Amanda had "administered the assets of the estate and continues to operate business of the estate known as Campbell's Trailer Park, L.L.C., without the authority of being named as an Independent Executrix and without [c]ourt authority." Jeremy also filed a motion to traverse in which he asserted that Amanda's detailed descriptive list contained numerous errors with regard to assets and three debts identified as being owned and/or owed by the Estate.

         Amanda filed an answer and reconventional demand opposing Jeremy's motion to be appointed independent executor and requesting that she "be placed into possession of (only) her bequest without the need for administration." If the trial court held that an administration was necessary, she sought to be named the sole independent executor, or alternatively, to be named co-independent executor with Jeremy.

         Amanda's detailed descriptive list included four debts. On July 20, 2017, after the trial court vacated and annulled the judgment of possession, two of the creditors listed in the detailed descriptive list, LB Johnson Properties, LLC and LBJ Properties, LLC, filed proofs of claim. Larry B. Johnson, Amanda's father, filed the two proofs of claim on behalf of these two companies.

         Over the course of three days in April, May, and July 2018, the trial court held hearings on the issues raised in Jeremy and Amanda's motions regarding administration of the Estate, the appointment of an executor, and traversal of the detailed descriptive list. On September 11, 2018, the trial court signed a judgment that recognized the three debts challenged in Jeremy's motion to traverse as valid and enforceable against the Estate and ordered that they "be paid from the funds of the [E]state." The judgment also ordered that the proceeds derived from a sale of cattle made by Amanda be disbursed one-third to his four children, jointly, and one-third each to Amanda and Mr. Johnson, individually. The judgment denied Jeremy's requests for an administration of the succession and the appointment of an independent executor. The judgment then recognized Amanda as Billy's surviving spouse and legatee and 100% owner of the family home, owner of one-half of all remaining community property of the Estate and the usufructuary of the other remaining one-half of said community property, until she dies or remarries; it also placed her in possession of said property. The judgment also recognized Billy's children "as his sole heirs and residual legatees" and as:

a. the naked owners in equal undivided shares of one-half of all the community property left by the decedent, subject to the aforementioned usufruct in favor of Amanda Campbell. . . . [T]he community property left by the decedent is more particularly described on the attached Exhibit A.
b. the owners in equal undivided shares of all the separate property left by the decedent. The separate property left by the decedent is more particularly described on the attached Exhibit B.

         Jeremy filed a motion for suspensive appeal. Mr. Johnson sought to have the appeal dismissed for Jeremy's failure to timely file the motion for appeal and pay court costs. Jeremy's siblings, Tara and Damian, then joined him in his appeal. (Jeremy, Tara, and Damian are hereafter referred to as "the Heirs.") The Heirs opposed the motion and filed a peremptory exception of prescription in which they argued that Mr. Johnson's businesses' claims were prescribed. After a hearing, the trial court held that the Heirs' suspensive appeal would be maintained if they paid the appeal costs it set; otherwise, it would be converted to a devolutive appeal. The trial court denied the Heirs' exception of prescription. The Heirs posted the appeal costs and proceeded with their suspensive appeal.

         ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR

         The Heirs now assign the following five errors with the trial court's judgment:

1. Does the Judgment of Possession granted by the [trial court] make rulings beyond the issues which had been scheduled for hearing?
2. Was the debt which was allegedly represented by the collateral mortgage and the "copy" of the collateral mortgage note a valid debt of the [E]state?
3. Were the loans made by the Amanda [L.] Johnson's Children's 2009 Trust to Campbell's Trailer Park, L.L.C. a debt of the [E]state?
4. Did the proof of claim and checks filed in the record by LBJ Properties, LLC represent collectible loans made by the decedent and listed as debts of the [E]state?
5. Was the award of one-third (1/3) of the sale proceeds from the sale of cattle by appellee, without court authorization, properly awarded to Larry Johnson, a non-party to the litigation at the hearing?

         DISCUSSION

         Our determination of the merits of the last four assignments of error may impact our findings with regard to the first assignment of error. Accordingly, we review these assignments first.

         Claims Against the Estate

         The three debts listed in Amanda's detailed descriptive list that the Heirs have challenged are two debts awarded against the Estate in favor of Mr. Johnson's two businesses, LB Johnson Properties, LLC and LBJ Properties, LLC, in the amount of $132, 500.00 and $79, 051.62, and a debt awarded in ...


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