Giroir v. Thomas

Decision Date29 March 2018
Docket NumberNO. 2017 CA 1021,2017 CA 1021
PartiesJOHNNY WAYNE GIROIR v. JAMES DALE THOMAS, JR.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Louisiana (US)

JOHNNY WAYNE GIROIR
v.
JAMES DALE THOMAS, JR.

NO. 2017 CA 1021

STATE OF LOUISIANA COURT OF APPEAL FIRST CIRCUIT

March 29, 2018


NOT DESIGNATED FOR PUBLICATION

Appealed from the 16th Judicial District Court in and for the Parish of St. Mary, Louisiana
Trial Court No. 130364
Honorable Lori A. Landry, Judge

NICHOLAS F. LAROCCA, JR.
MORGAN CITY, LA

ATTORNEY FOR
PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT
JOHNNY WAYNE GIROIR

JAMES DALE THOMAS, JR.
BERWICK, LA

IN PROPER PERSON
DEFENDANT-APPELLEE

BEFORE: GUIDRY, PETTIGREW, AND CRAIN, JJ.

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PETTIGREW, J.

This appeal arises from a trial court judgment denying plaintiff's petition for possession of property. We reverse, render, and remand for further proceedings.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On February 15, 2016, Johnny Wayne Giroir and James Dale Thomas, Jr. entered into an agreement entitled "Assignment of Lease/Purchase" (the "Agreement") concerning a parcel of land and a mobile home owned by Giroir and mortgaged to Nationstar Mortgage LLC ("Nationstar").1 The Agreement states that Giroir will assign, transfer, and convey any and all right, title, interest, and all warranties to Thomas for the price of $40,000.00, to be paid as follows: (1) a down payment of $19,124.00 to be paid at the time of execution of the Agreement; (2) assumption of the monthly mortgage payments to Nationstar for loan #0621874742 in the amount of $393.00 per month until the balance of $11,383.28 (less four payments to be made by Giroir by February 16, 2016) is paid off; and (3) payment to Giroir in the amount of $300.00 per month until the balance of $10,176.00 is paid in full. The Agreement states that once the balance is paid in full, the property will be transferred to Thomas. The Agreement also provides:

If LESSEE becomes 90 days delinquent during the term of this agreement, this LEASE/PURCHASE agreement will become null and void and LESSOR has the right to reclaim the property and evict LESSEE.

On February 16, 2016, Thomas paid the $19,124.00 down payment to Giroir. Also on February 16, Giroir sent a $1,500.00 payment for loan #0621874742 to Nationstar. Thereafter, Thomas made several payments for different amounts: in March 2016, Thomas made a $300.00 payment to Giroir; on May 18, 2016, Thomas paid $400.00 to Giroir for the May mortgage payment;2 on June 24, 2016, Thomas sent $1,000.00 via Western Union to Nationstar in Giroir's name for payment on loan #0621874742; and on

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July 8, 2016, Thomas sent $500.00 via Western Union to Nationstar in Giroir's name for payment on "Account # ******4742."

At some point a dispute arose between the parties as to amounts due under the Agreement and whether homeowners' insurance was included in the monthly mortgage payment. Thomas admittedly made no more payments after July 8, 2016, and on September 21, 2016, Giroir had Thomas served with a Notice to Vacate. When Thomas did not vacate the premises within five days, Giroir filed an eviction proceeding, which was heard in the justice of the peace court and dismissed.3 On November 14, 2016, Giroir filed a Petition for Possession of Premises in the 16th Judicial District Court, in which he alleged that Thomas had failed to make the required payments under the Agreement and refused to vacate the premises after being served with notice, and therefore he was entitled under the Agreement to evict Thomas and reclaim the leased premises.

A hearing was held on Giroir's petition on December 14, 2016. After taking the matter under advisement, judgment was rendered on January 3, 2017, denying Giroir's request to evict Thomas and reclaim possession of the property. The trial judge found that there was no valid contract between the parties and, therefore, the trial court lacked authority to evict Thomas. Giroir appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in finding that the Agreement was not a valid contract.

DISCUSSION

A contract is an agreement by two or more parties whereby obligations are created, modified, or extinguished. La. C.C. art. 1906. Contracts may be either nominate or innominate. Nominate contracts are those given a special designation, such as sale, lease, loan, or insurance; innominate contracts are those with no special designation. La. C.C. art. 1914. The proper interpretation of a contract is a question of law subject to de novo review on appeal. When considering legal issues, the reviewing court accords no

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special weight to the trial court, but conducts a de novo review of questions of law and renders judgment on the record. Montz v. Theard, 01-0768, p. 5 (La.App. 1 Cir. 2/27/02), 818 So.2d 181, 185.

Contracts have the force of law between the parties, and the courts are to interpret them according to the common intent of the parties. La. C.C. arts. 1983, 2045. If the words of the contract are clear, unambiguous, and lead to no absurd consequences, the court need not look beyond the contract language to determine the parties' true intent. La. C.C. art. 2046. Whether or not a contract is ambiguous is a question of law. Hoffman v. Travelers Indem. Co. of America, 13-1575, p. 6 (La. 5/7/14), 144 So.3d 993, 997-98.

Although the parties entered into an agreement entitled "Assignment of Lease/Purchase," the label put on the transaction is not determinative. Montz, 01-0768 at p. 8, 818 So.2d at 187. It is the nature of the obligations, rather than the parties' characterizations, which governs the classification of a contract. Keyes v. Brown, 14-0821, p. 8 (La.App. 4 Cir. 1/28/15), 158 So.3d 927, 932. The terms of the Agreement between Giroir and Thomas resemble a bond for deed, i.e., a contract to sell real property in which the purchase price is to be paid by the buyer in installments and the seller agrees to deliver title to the buyer after payment of a stipulated sum. See La. R.S. 9:2941. However, the bond for deed statutes set forth a number of particular directives the seller must comply with in a bond for deed transaction, such as appointing a bank to serve as escrow agent to receive payments from the purchaser4 and obtaining a guarantee to the purchaser from any mortgage holder that it will release the mortgage when it is paid in full.5 Montz, 01-0768, p. 8, 818 So.2d at 187. The Agreement in this case met neither of these statutory requirements. However, the Louisiana Supreme Court has made it clear that a contract can be treated as a bond for deed despite its failure to comply with certain particulars of the statutes, especially where the party for whom the

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omitted protections are designed does not protest their absence. Montz, 01-0768 at p. 8, 818...

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