Butler v. Reeder

Decision Date29 December 1998
Docket NumberNo. 98-CA-484.,98-CA-484.
Citation728 So.2d 888
PartiesPerrin C. BUTLER v. O. William REEDER, Jr., D.M.D., et al.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Louisiana — District of US

Robert C. Stern, New Orleans, Louisiana, In Proper Person as Defendant/Appellant, Robert C. Stern.

Perrin C. Butler, Metairie, Louisiana, In Proper Person as Plaintiff/Appellant, Perrin C. Butler.

James F. Ryan, Donovan & Lawler, Metairie, Louisiana, for Defendant/Appellee, United Fire and Casualty Company.

Wiley J. Beevers, Ronald S. Hagan, Raylyn R. Beevers, Gretna, Louisiana, for Defendants/Appellees, O. William Reeder, Jr., D.M.D., et al. Panel composed of Judges H. CHARLES GAUDIN, CHARLES GRISBAUM, Jr. and THOMAS F. DALEY.

DALEY, Judge.

This is an appeal by Perrin C. Butler and Robert C. Stern from a judgment of the trial court that levied sanctions against them. For reasons which follow, we affirm the decision of the trial court in determining that sanctions were appropriate in this case and amend the judgment to decrease the amount of the sanction award.

FACTS AND HISTORY:

The events leading up to the present appeal stem from the divorce of Perrin Butler and Mary Andrews Butler.1 Mr. Butler discovered that his wife was having an affair with Dr. O. William Reeder, and filed suit for divorce, alleging among other things, adultery and drug abuse by Mrs. Butler. Mrs. Butler then filed an answer alleging various illicit and illegal acts by Mr. Butler that caused her to move out of the matrimonial domicile. Mrs. Butler eventually gave a deposition in which she acknowledged her adultery and testified Mr. Butler was free from fault in the breakup of the marriage. Various other lawsuits were filed between the parties and several issues in this long standing litigation have been appealed to this court2.

The sanctions involved in this appeal originate from an action for defamation filed on November 16, 1989, by Perrin Butler against Wiley J. Beevers, Curtis Gordon, Dr. O. William Reeder, Mary Andrews Butler, and her homeowner's insurer, United States Fidelity and Guaranty (USF & G). In his petition, Perrin Butler alleges that he was defamed in Mary Butler's answer to the divorce petition. He contends that his former spouse wrote the answer, which contained information that she knew to be false and damaging to plaintiff. He goes on to allege that the answer was reviewed by Mr. Beevers, who is an attorney, at the request of Dr. Reeder, who allegedly paid Mr. Beevers for his representation of Mary Butler. The petition alleges that Gordon filed the defamatory answer into the record at the courthouse at Mr. Beevers' request. Plaintiff also alleges that all defendants are jointly liable for conspiring to defame him.

Mr. Beevers, Mr. Gordon, Dr. Reeder, and USF & G were dismissed from the suit by the granting of their Motion for Summary Judgment.3 Following the denial of his Motion for New Trial, Mr. Butler appealed the judgment granting the summary judgment, claiming that the trial court erred in rendering these judgments in his absence. Mr. Butler argued that he did not appear at the hearing on the motion because he was informed by the attorney for USF & G that the motion was to be heard at a later date. The granting of these Motions for Summary Judgment was affirmed by this court in Butler v. Reeder, 615 So.2d 1120 (La.App. 5th Cir. 1993). Prior to appealing the judgment granting the Motions for Summary Judgment, Mr. Butler filed a Petition to Annul the Judgment granting the Motions for Summary Judgment. The Petition for Nullity was dismissed by the granting of Exceptions of No Cause of Action, and was affirmed by this court in Butler v. Reeder, 94-493 (La. App. 5th Cir. 2/9/94), 632 So.2d 401 and Butler v. Reeder, 93-764 (La.App. 5th Cir. 1994), 635 So.2d 1206.

On April 24, 1992, prior to the ruling on the appeals, Mr. Beevers, Mr. Gordon, and Dr. Reeder filed Motions for Sanctions and Attorneys Fees and Costs, alleging the action for defamation filed by Mr. Butler "was prepared and signed in contravention of the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure Article 863 in that it was confected solely for the purpose of harassment and to cause needless expense" to the defendants. Reeder then filed an additional Motion for Sanctions, Attorney Fees and Costs alleging that Butler and Stern "have prosecuted groundless appeals, all for the purpose of harassment and needless increase in the cost of litigation." Dr. Reeder's insurer, United Fire and Casualty Company, filed an Intervention seeking to recover for attorneys fees and costs "incurred to the extent that such amounts are found to be owed in this Motion for Sanctions, Attorneys Fees and Costs."

The trial court conducted a hearing on these motions that spanned two days.4 During this hearing, Mr. Butler testified that he signed Mr. Stern's name to the original Petition for Damages in the defamation suit. Mr. Butler explained that he and Mr. Stern had been in practice together for many years. He acknowledged that the answer to the divorce petition was signed in proper person by Mary Andrews Butler. Mr. Butler further testified that he knew that Mr. Beevers and Dr. Reeder were long time friends and business associates. Mr. Butler claimed he had been told by his former wife that Mr. Beevers had reviewed her answer in the divorce petition and that Dr. Reeder was paying Mr. Beevers for these services; however, Mr. Butler was unable to give any information regarding when or where he was given this information by his ex-wife. He had no documents or recordings to support this contention. Mr. Butler further testified that he contacted an attorney by the name of Nelson Cantrelle, whom he knew had previously represented the 24 th Judicial District Clerk of Court's Office and asked Mr. Cantrelle to find out the identity of the individual who filed the answer in the divorce proceeding. Mr. Cantrelle called the Clerk of Court's office and spoke to an unidentified female employee who told him the answer was filed by Curtis Gordon, who was an attorney employed by Wiley Beevers' office. Mr. Butler was unable to state when and where Mr. Gordon was directed by Mr. Beevers to file the answer, as alleged in the defamation suit. Mr. Butler acknowledged that no one specifically told him that Mr. Beevers refused to sign the answer in the divorce proceeding, as alleged in the defamation suit.

Mr. Stern testified that he did not prepare or review the petition in the defamation suit, nor was he aware that such a suit was being filed. He did admit to participating in discovery in the defamation suit and representing Mr. Butler during the pendency of the defamation suit. Mr. Stern explained that he filed the Petition for Nullity because he was under the impression that the Motion for Summary Judgment had been continued. Mr. Stern acknowledged being aware of an Affidavit from a client of Mr. Gordon's which stated that she was in conference with Mr. Gordon at the time the answer in the divorce proceeding was filed. Mr. Stern was also aware of the Affidavit filed by Mary Andrews Butler stating that Mr. Beevers did not review the answer and that Mr. Gordon did not file the answer. These Affidavits were attached to the Motions for Summary Judgment. Mr. Stern acknowledged that he had no more information concerning the filing of the answer than the representations made by Mr. Cantrelle to Mr. Butler, and further explained that he felt the factual disputes as to who filed the answer was for the trier of fact to resolve.

Mr. Cantrelle testified that at Mr. Butler's request, he called the Clerk of Court's office and spoke to an unidentified female clerk who informed him that an attorney in Mr. Beevers' office, Mr. Gordon, filed the answer. Mr. Cantrelle never went to the courthouse to determine the identity of the person he spoke to on the phone.

Ms. Gladys McGaughey, the Deputy Clerk whose name appears on the answer, testified that she had no independent recollection of who filed this answer. She did recall a phone call from an unidentified male inquiring as to the identity of the person who filed the answer. She responded that she did not know who filed the answer and specifically denied stating that Mr. Gordon filed the answer. Ms. McGaughey stated that she would have recognized Mr. Cantrelle's voice on the phone and that the person who called regarding this answer was not Mr. Cantrelle.

Mary Andrews Butler Reeder5 testified that she worked in Mr. Butler's law office for approximately twelve of the thirteen years while they were married. She explained that when she was served with the Petition for Divorce, which she felt contained numerous untruths about her, she drafted an answer to this petition addressing each of these allegations. Although Mr. Beevers had filed a Petition for Separation on her behalf two days after the Petition for Divorce was filed, she denied asking Mr. Beevers to review the answer. She further denied discussing the answer with either Mr. Beevers or Dr. Reeder. Mrs. Reeder further explained that when she went to file the answer, she noted that she had failed to include a Certificate and for this reason she hand wrote the Certificate at the clerk's counter. After filing the answer, she delivered a copy of the answer to Mr. Beevers' office. She denied telling her former husband that Mr. Beevers reviewed the answer at the request of Dr. Reeder or that Mr. Beevers refused to sign the answer. She did acknowledge that she retained Mr. Beevers to represent her in the divorce proceeding and that Dr. Reeder loaned her the money to pay the attorney's fees incurred.

Dr. Reeder testified that he was not aware of the answer until after it was filed, nor did he ask Mr. Beevers to review the answer. He denied conspiring with Mr. Beevers to obtain money from Mr. Butler. Dr. Reeder testified that his excess insurer, United Fire and Casualty, retained an attorney to represent him in the...

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9 cases
  • Marks v. Marks
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Louisiana (US)
    • September 28, 2022
    ...be awarded is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Levert, 939 So.2d at 623 (citing Butler v. Reeder, 98-484 (La.App. 5 Cir. 12/29/98), 728 So.2d 888, 894, writs denied, 99-1026, 99-1035 (La. 5/28/99), 743 So.2d 673, 674). We first address whether the trial court manifestly erred in awardin......
  • Marks v. Marks
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Louisiana (US)
    • September 28, 2022
    ...be awarded is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Levert, 939 So.2d at 623 (citing Butler v. Reeder, 98-484 (La.App. 5 Cir. 12/29/98), 728 So.2d 888, 894, writs denied, 99-1026, 99-1035 (La. 5/28/99), 743 So.2d 673, 674). We first address whether the trial court manifestly erred in awardin......
  • Marks v. Marks
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Louisiana (US)
    • September 28, 2022
    ......Levert , 939 So.2d at 623 (citing Butler v. Reeder , 98-484 (La. App. 5 Cir. 12/29/98), 728 So.2d 888, 894, writs denied , 99-1026, 99-1035 ......
  • Keaty v. Raspanti, No. 2003-CA-1080
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Louisiana (US)
    • February 4, 2004
    ...... severe sanction adequate to achieve the purpose of the rule under which it was imposed? Butler v. Reeder, 98-484, p. 14 (La.App. 5 Cir. 12/29/98), 728 So.2d 888, 895, writs denied, 99-1026, ......
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