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Seals v. Lucien

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

October 23, 2019

DE ROME A. SEALS
v.
ROBERT L. LUCIEN AND QUALITY MACHINERY, INC.

          APPEAL FROM CIVIL DISTRICT COURT, ORLEANS PARISH NO. 2016-02410, DIVISION "L" Honorable Kern A. Reese, Judge

          De Rome A. Seals PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT, IN PROPER PERSON

          Morris H. Hyman Elizabeth L. Hyman LAW OFFICE OF MORRIS H. HYMAN COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE

          Court composed of Chief Judge James F. McKay, III, Judge Daniel L. Dysart, Judge Joy Cossich Lobrano

          JOY COSSICH LOBRANO JUDGE.

         This is a tort case. Plaintiff/appellant, De Rome A. Seals ("Seals"), appeals the March 12, 2019 district court judgment granting a motion for involuntary dismissal in favor of defendants/appellees, Wisam Ottallah and New City Mart, LLC d/b/a Brown Derby #3 (collectively "Brown Derby"). For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         On March 9, 2016, Seals filed a petition for damages, [1] alleging that on March 1, 2, and 3, 2016, he parked a Mercury Cougar (the "Cougar"), displaying a "for sale" sign, on a sidewalk adjacent to the Brown Derby, a convenience store. He alleged that on March 3, 2016, the Cougar was towed without his consent. Seals claimed in his petition that Brown Derby violated La. R.S. 32:1736 of the Louisiana Towing and Storage Act and was liable for "illegal nonconsensual towing of a vehicle," gross negligence, and intentional infliction of mental and emotional distress.[2]

         On February 13, 2019, the case proceeded to a bench trial, at which Seals appeared in proper person and counsel represented Brown Derby. Seals introduced as evidence a series of photographs of a different vehicle, which he parked in the location from which the Cougar was towed. He also introduced photographs of the Brown Derby property, reflecting the location of signs posted on the building, reading as follows:

PRIVATE PROPERTY PARKING ONLY
DAY-NIGHT-WEEKEND
VIOLATORS WILL BE TOWED AT OWNERS' EXPENSE fee $107.50 plus other charge
504-638-1166
504-218-9119
THREE BROTHERS QUICK TOWING
2100 POYDRAS STREET

         Seals was the only testifying witness, and he called no other witnesses. Seals testified that, at various times over a three-day period, he parked the Cougar on a sidewalk near the Brown Derby.[3] According to Seals, the Cougar was on "city" property and not on the premises of Brown Derby.

         Seals testified that the Cougar was towed on the third day. Before the tow, he found a note left on the Cougar, stating that, if Seals left the Cougar overnight, it would be towed. After discovering the note, Seals spoke with a woman working behind the cash register at the Brown Derby, who informed Seals that she had written the note. He testified that he did not move the Cougar after he saw the note because he did not leave the Cougar overnight.

         Seals learned that the Cougar was towed via a telephone call from a prospective buyer. The towing company did not contact him. Seals denied that he knew the name and telephone number of the towing company. Seals denied that the sign posted on the building on the day of the tow had a telephone number for the towing company. He also testified that he could "barely read" and did not know if the sign had the name and telephone number of the towing company.

         Seals testified that an unidentified person inside Brown Derby told him the Cougar was towed "under the bridge." He did not ask this person for a telephone number for the towing company. He testified that he learned where the Cougar was towed by contacting the police, who advised him of locations "under the bridge" where the tow yard could be, and he proceeded to drive to various locations to look for the Cougar.

         Seals admitted that he filed this lawsuit before he looked for the Cougar. He did not go to the tow yard until one month later. Seals identified photographs of the Cougar that he had taken at the tow yard, and stated that he went to the tow yard to confirm that the Cougar remained in the same condition as before it was towed. He denied that anyone at the tow yard had informed him that the Cougar could be released if he paid a $141 fee, but he stated that he could not have afforded to pay that amount.

         Following the close of Seals' case-in-chief, Brown Derby orally moved for involuntary dismissal, arguing that Seals had not presented any evidence that he owned the Cougar or that Brown Derby ordered the Cougar towed. The district court granted the motion from the bench. On March 12, 2019, the district court rendered judgment granting the motion for involuntary dismissal and dismissing the case with prejudice. This appeal followed.

         While Seals sets forth seven "issues presented for review, "[4] the primary issue before this Court is whether the district court erred in dismissing Seals' claims after he introduced no ...


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