812 F.2d 999 (5th Cir. 1987), 86-4774, Browning Seed, Inc. v. Bayles

Docket Nº:86-4774
Citation:812 F.2d 999
Party Name:BROWNING SEED, INC., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Johnnie BAYLES, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:March 24, 1987
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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Page 999

812 F.2d 999 (5th Cir. 1987)

BROWNING SEED, INC., Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Johnnie BAYLES, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 86-4774

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

March 24, 1987

Page 1000

        James A. Rountree, Hudson, Potts & Bernstein, Monroe, La., for plaintiff-appellant.

        Johnny E. Dollar, McLeod, Swearingen, Verlander, Dollar & Price, Monroe, La., for defendant-appellee.

        Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.

        Before CLARK, Chief Judge, and GARWOOD and HILL, Circuit Judges.

        GARWOOD, Circuit Judge:

        Plaintiff-appellant Browning Seed, Inc. (Browning Seed) brought this Louisiana law diversity action against defendant-appellee Johnnie Bayles to recover on a personal guaranty undertaken by Johnnie Bayles on behalf of Bayles Supply Company, Inc. (Bayles Supply). In a trial on facts stipulated to by the parties, the district court held that the applicable Louisiana statute of limitations barred Browning Seed's action. Accordingly, the district court entered judgment in favor of Johnnie Bayles. We affirm.

Facts and Proceedings Below

        Bayles Supply is a distributor of garden products for use in residential and commercial gardening. In December 1979, Bayles Supply entered into a credit arrangement with Browning Seed, allowing it to purchase trade supplies from Browning Seed on open account. In connection with its extension of credit, Browning Seed required the personal guaranty of Johnnie Bayles, the president and sole shareholder of Bayles Supply. The terms of the guaranty extended by Mr. Bayles were set forth in a single paragraph on Bayles Supply's application for credit. That paragraph, entitled "Guarantee," provided:

"In consideration of credit being extended to the above named person or firm, I personally guarantee all indebtedness hereunder. I further agree that this guarantee is an absolute, completed and continuing one and no notice of the indebtedness or any extension of credit already or hereafter contracted by or extended need be given. The terms may be rearranged. Upon notice that the account is past due, I will pay the amount due."

        Pursuant to this credit arrangement, Bayles Supply purchased merchandise on open account from Browning Seed. In February 1980, Bayles Supply received an invoice from Browning Seed for $27,650. Payment was due within thirty days. More than forty-five days later, Bayles Supply paid the full amount by check dated April 20, 1980. Soon thereafter, on July 9, 1980,

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Bayles Supply filed a voluntary petition for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. See 11 U.S.C. Sec. 301. In an adversary action ancillary to the bankruptcy proceedings, Bayles Supply, as debtor-in-possession, sued Browning Seed for return of the amount paid. The bankruptcy court on February 23, 1982, held that the invoice payment was a preferential transfer voidable under 11 U.S.C. Sec. 547(b) 1 and, pursuant to that section, ordered Browning Seed to repay the sum to Bayles Supply. Johnnie Bayles Supply Co. v. Browning Seed, Inc., No. 581-0102 (Bankr.W.D.La. Feb. 23, 1982). Nearly three years later, on December 26, 1984, Browning Seed finally satisfied the judgment by check to Bayles Supply. 2

        Subsequently, on November 1, 1985, Browning Seed brought the present action against Johnnie Bayles. Browning Seed alleged that under the terms of the "Guarantee," Johnnie Bayles was indebted to Browning Seed for the amount it had remitted to Bayles Supply, plus legal interest. Johnnie Bayles asserted in defense that Browning Seed's suit was barred by the three-year limitations period provided for by article 3494 of the Louisiana Civil Code. 3 The parties agreed that no facts were known to be disputed and that the district court could decide the case on the basis of the record, including facts to which they had stipulated and briefs filed in support of their respective positions. Based on the facts as stipulated, the district court held that Louisiana's three-year statute of limitations for debts on open accounts applied to Browning Seed's suit on the guaranty; that the limitations period had commenced on February 23, 1982, the date the bankruptcy court ordered Browning Seed to return the sum paid by Bayles Supply; and, therefore, that Browning Seed's suit was time barred. Browning Seed appeals that decision.

Discussion

        Louisiana substantive law concededly governs this diversity action. The sole issue we address on this appeal is whether the district court correctly entered judgment in favor of Johnnie Bayles on the ground that the applicable Louisiana limitations period barred Browning Seed's suit against him on the "Guarantee."

        What other states call a contract of guaranty is roughly equivalent to a suretyship

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agreement in Louisiana civil-law parlance. See, e.g., Bonura v. Christiana Bros. Poultry Co., 336 So.2d 881, 884 (La.App. 4th Cir.1976); R. Slovenko, Treatise on Creditors' Rights under Louisiana Civil Law, at 6-7 (1968). Article 3035 of the Louisiana Civil Code defines suretyship as "an accessory promise by which a person binds himself for another already bound and agrees with the creditor to satisfy the obligation, if the debtor does not." La.Civ.Code art. 3035. As such, rights and obligations of suretyship are secondary, or accessorial, to those arising from the principal debt. Bonura, 336 So.2d at 885.

        One of the consequences of the accessorial nature of a surety's obligation under Louisiana law is that the limitations period that applies in a suit against a surety is normally the same as that which applies to suits against the principal debtor for payment of the underlying debt. Id. 4 Here the principal debt owed by Bayles Supply was a debt on an open account. Louisiana Civil Code article 3494 provides that suits on open accounts are subject to a three-year statute of limitations period (a three-year "liberative prescription" in civil-law terminology). As both parties acknowledge, Browning Seed's suit against Johnnie Bayles, as guarantor of the debt owed it by Bayles Supply, was therefore governed by a three-year limitations period.

        The issue disputed on appeal is when this three-year period commenced. Browning Seed contends that the district court erred in holding that prescription began to run on the date of the bankruptcy court's judgment. According to Browning Seed, until it satisfied the bankruptcy court's order by paying the requisite sum back to Bayles Supply on December 26, 1984, it had no claim against either Bayles Supply or Johnnie Bayles for the amount of the debt. Browning Seed argues that its conclusion is mandated by the provision of the Bankruptcy Code that requires disallowance of a claim against the bankrupt debtor until the creditor has returned to the estate the amount voided as a preferential transfer. See 11 U.S.C. Sec. 502(d). 5 Browning Seed's position is that this...

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