Dalme v. Blockers Manufactured Homes, Inc., 00 00244-CA.

CourtCourt of Appeal of Louisiana (US)
Citation779 So.2d 1014
Docket NumberNo. 00 00244-CA.,00 00244-CA.
PartiesMarcia H. DALME v. BLOCKERS MANUFACTURED HOMES, INC. et al.
Decision Date25 January 2001

E. Joseph Bleich, Ruston, LA, Counsel for Blockers Manufactured Homes, Inc.

Walter Kay Jamison III, Walter K. Jamison, Ltd., Lafayette, LA, Counsel for Cappaert Manufactured Housing, Inc.

Chatham Hurst Reed, Simon, Fitzgerald, Cooke, et al., Shreveport, LA, Counsel for Blockers Manufactured Homes, Inc.

Charles Raymond Whitehead Jr., Whitehead Law Offices, Natchitoches, LA, Counsel for Marcia H. Dalme.

Marjorie Briley Breaux, Walter K. Jamison, Ltd, Lafayette, LA, Counsel for Cappaert Manufactured Housing, Inc.

Court composed of DOUCET, YELVERTON, THIBODEAUX, COOKS, SAUNDERS, WOODARD, DECUIR, PETERS, AMY, SULLIVAN, GREMILLION, and PICKETT, Judges.

EN BANC.

SAUNDERS, Judge.

Ms. Marcia Dalme purchased a mobile home with multiple defects. She filed suit in redhibition against the manufacturer and the seller of the mobile home seeking recission of the sale. The trial court found in favor of Ms. Dalme and against the builder. The trial court did not assess the seller with any liability. We affirm as amended.

FACTS

Cappaert Manufactured Housing (Cappaert) manufactured the mobile home in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The home was then transported across the state line and placed on a Blockers Mobile Homes' (Blockers) sales lot in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Blockers displayed the mobile home in Natchitoches for approximately fourteen months. Ms. Dalme purchased the home from Blockers on February 4, 1998. Blockers then transported and mounted Ms. Dalme's home at her chosen location. Immediately thereafter, Ms. Dalme began experiencing problems. Both Blockers and Cappaert attempted to repair some of the problems; however, several problems persisted, including "roof rumble," soft spots on the linoleum flooring, plumbing complaints, and a crooked chimney.

Ms. Dalme filed suit in redhibition against Blockers and Cappaert seeking recission of the sale and attorney fees. The trial court granted judgment in favor of Ms. Dalme against Cappaert finding that the defects originated with the manufacturer. The trial court did not assess any liability against Blockers. Cappaert then appealed to this court seeking a reversal of the trial court.

LAW AND ANALYSIS

On appeal, Cappaert asserts the following assignments of error:

1. The trial court erred in finding that Ms. Dalme was entitled to relief in light of the New Home Warranty Act.

2. The trial court erred in finding that Ms. Dalme was entitled to relief in redhibition because she did not present expert testimony regarding violations of the Code.

3. The trial court erred in its assessment of damages against Cappaert.

Although Ms. Dalme also appealed, contesting the finding of no liability on the part of Blockers, Ms. Dalme's appeal is subject to a stay order issued in connection with a federal bankruptcy proceeding involving Blockers'.1 In light of this automatic stay, our consideration is limited to Cappaert's appeal.

APPLICABILITY OF THE NEW HOME WARRANTY ACT

In its first assignment of error, Cappaert alleges that the trial court erred in entering judgment against it in light of the New Home Warranty Act, La.R.S. 9:3141, et seq. Cappaert contends that this provision is a mobile home owner's exclusive remedy against a manufacturer and that the provision requires proof of building standards applicable to the home's construction. Because Ms. Dalme presented no evidence of applicable building standards, Cappaert contends that Ms. Dalme failed to establish a prima facie case under the New Home Warranty Act.

STATUTORY INTERPRETATION

This court has had several opportunities to consider the applicability and scope of the New Home Warranty Act (NHWA), found at La.R.S. 9:3141 et seq., with respect to mobile homes.

Our court has concluded that the NHWA applies to mobile homes. See Sonnier v. Bayou State Mobile Homes, Inc. 96-1458 (La.App. 3 Cir. 4/2/97), 692 So.2d 698, writ denied, 97-1575 (La.10/3/97), 701 So.2d 201. We are now convinced, nevertheless, that the Legislature did not intend such a result. Where a statute is ambiguous or susceptible of two reasonable interpretations, statutory interpretation is necessary. In re Louisiana Health Serv. and Indem. Co. 98-3034 (La.10/19/99), 749 So.2d 610. The meaning of ambiguous words must be sought by examining the context in which they occur and the text of the law as a whole. See West Monroe Police Local 135 v. Norris, 31,183 (La.App. 2 Cir. 10/28/98); 720 So.2d 434, writ denied, 99-0035 (La.2/12/99), 738 So.2d 582. Judicial statutory interpretation must give consideration and meaning to an entire statutory framework and context. Bourgeois v. Akzo Nobel Salt, Inc., 97-54, (La.App. 3 Cir. 10/01/97), 702 So.2d 762, writ denied, 97-2753 (La.2/6/98), 709 So.2d 732. The language of the NHWA is ambiguous. The language does not expressly include mobile homes. The statute could be read as including mobile homes or excluding mobile homes. The more reasonable reading of the statute is one in which the act would apply only to new homes built on-site, rather than mobile homes constructed by manufacturers, which through the channels of interstate commerce incidentally become located in our state.

First, the language used by our legislature in setting forth the purpose of the act suggests that the legislature intended to limit its scope to new homes built on-site. "When the language of the law is susceptible of different meanings, it must be interpreted as having the meaning that best conforms to purpose of the law." La.Civ. Code art. 10; See Louisiana Smoked Prods., Inc. v. Savoie's Sausage and Food Prods., Inc., 96-1716 (La.7/1/91), 696 So.2d 1373. The Louisiana Legislature has expressed its purpose in enacting the NHWA at La.R.S. 9:3141. La.R.S. 9:3141 states:

The legislature finds a need to promote commerce in Louisiana by providing clear, concise, and mandatory warranties for the purchasers and occupants of new homes in Louisiana and by providing for the use of homeowners' insurance as additional protection for the public against defects in the construction of new homes. This need can be met by providing a warranty for a new home purchaser defining the responsibility of the builder to that purchaser and subsequent purchasers during the warranty periods provided herein. The warranty, which is mandatory in most cases, shall apply whether or not building code regulations are in effect in the location of the structure, thereby promoting uniformity of defined building standards. Additionally, all provisions of this Chapter shall apply to any defect although there is no building standard directly regulating the defective workmanship or materials.

In this statement of purpose, the legislature anticipates that the statutory warranty outlined in the act will be applied to builders and to occupants of new homes. In addition, the statement of purpose provides that the warranty will be applied whether or not building codes are in effect at the location of the structure and will be applied regardless of whether any building standards relate directly to the defective workmanship or materials that the warranty covers. The legislature's repeated reference to "building codes" and "building standards" in this act's statement of purpose indicates that the legislature intended this legislation to apply to homes built on-site. Only homes built on-site are typically covered by such "building standards" or "building codes." Mobile homes are covered, in contrast, by legislation specifically providing for the standards by which they are to be built, not by "building standards" and "building codes." See La.R.S. 51:911.23. The language used by the legislature in the statement of purpose indicates that the statute should be applied only to homes capable of being regulated by "building standards" or "building codes," even if these homes are not currently regulated by them. The only new homes susceptible of such regulation are homes that are built on-site, not mobile homes.

In addition, the legislature defined several terms narrowly, so as to exclude the possibility that the NHWA covers mobile homes. First, the definition of "builder" does not appear broad enough to encompass the manufacturer of a mobile home. "Builder" is defined as, "any person, corporation, partnership, limited liability company, joint venture, or other entity which constructs a home, or addition thereto, including a home initially occupied by a builder as his residence ..." La.R.S. 9:3143(1). Manufacturer, the term used to describe one who constructs mobile homes, is conspicuously absent from the NHWA. See generally La.R.S. 51:911.22(5) (provides definition of manufacturer). The dissimilarity between the builder of a home and the manufacturer of a mobile home is apparent when one considers the difference between the processes used by a builder to construct a home and a manufacturer to produce a mobile home. Second, the term "home," as defined by the statute, and in the context of the statute as a whole, seems to refer only to those homes built on-site. "Home" is defined as, "any new structure designated and used only for residential use, together with all attached and unattached structures, constructed by the builder whether or not the land was purchased by the builder. Such term includes structures containing multiple family dwellings or residences." La. R.S. 9:3143(3). (Emphasis added.) In the NHWA, the clear meaning of "include" is an expansion of the word "home" to encompass multiple family dwellings or residences, e.g., apartment complexes. The legislature knew that a "multiple family dwelling" may not have been understood to be a "home" under the NHWA so the legislature included it in its definition of "home" to insure coverage. The legislature did not state that the...

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