Schultz v. Doyle

Decision Date17 January 2001
Docket NumberNo. 2000-C-0926.,2000-C-0926.
Citation776 So.2d 1158
PartiesGayle Louise SCHULTZ f/k/a Gayle Louise Doyle v. Wavy H. DOYLE and Era L. Doyle.
CourtLouisiana Supreme Court

Mark C. Landry, Newman, Mathis, Brady, Wakefield & Spedale, Metairie, for Applicant.

Robert G. Nida, Gold, Weems, Bruser, Sues & Rundell, Alexandria, for Respondent.

CALOGERO, Chief Justice.

Having secured a money judgment in Texas against Mr. and Mrs. Wavy Doyle, a Louisiana couple residing in Alexandria, Louisiana, plaintiff, Gayle Louise Schultz, filed a petition in Rapides Parish to make her Texas judgment executory under the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act, La.Rev.Stat. § 13:4241 et seq. After a series of procedural encounters,1 the district court held a hearing on whether the Texas judgment was entitled to Full Faith and Credit in Louisiana. The trial judge ruled for the defendants and held that the plaintiffs Texas judgment would not be made executory in Louisiana. The court of appeal affirmed that judgment.2 Then plaintiff prevailed upon this Court to grant a writ of certiorari to review the judgments of the two lower courts.3

The principal legal issue is whether the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution requires that this Court recognize and allow enforcement of the Texas judgment in Louisiana.4 Respondents opposed that recognition and enforcement and now present for our consideration, besides the contention that the Full Faith and Credit Clause does not require recognition of the judgment, arguments involving due process, the absence of jurisdiction in the Texas court over defendants in the underlying Texas lawsuit, and the unconstitutionality of the punitive damage award.

For the reasons which follow, we hold that in the outset lawsuit, the Texas courts did establish jurisdiction over defendants, Wavy H. Doyle5 and Era L. Doyle, did afford them due process of law, and did render a judgment in Texas that became final and enforceable in Texas. That judgment is entitled to respect and enforcement in Louisiana by virtue of the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution and Louisiana's Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act, La.Rev.Stat. § 13:4241 et seq.

The case has a torturous history, beginning in 1996 with a divorce proceeding in Texas between Jerry Doyle and his former wife, Gayle Louise Schultz. In July 1996, just before their son Jerry Doyle filed for divorce in Texas, the respondents, Wavy and Era Doyle, visited him in Dallas, where he and Ms. Schultz were residing. Subsequent to that visit, and following Jerry's filing of the divorce petition, Ms. Schultz sued Jerry and Mr. and Mrs. Doyle. Ms. Schultz claimed that Mr. and Mrs. Doyle conspired with their son to conceal community assets from her, and thereby defrauded her of her interest in the community. The Doyles allowed their son to hire his lawyer, one Sharon Kiel, to defend them along with him in that lawsuit. Ultimately, judgment was rendered against Mr. and Mrs. Doyle for $100,000.00 punitive damages alone. The judgment was rendered on a scheduled trial date of which Mr. and Mrs. Doyle were aware and after they consented to Ms. Kiel withdrawing as their attorney.

What took place in Texas before that trial date is, of course, important to the proper resolution of the case and will be discussed hereinafter. What happened after rendition of that judgment was this: Mr. and Mrs. Doyle hired another lawyer who timely filed for new trial and presented their case for a new trial at a hearing which Mr. and Mrs. Doyle and their new lawyer attended in Texas. After a lengthy hearing, the district court denied their motion for a new trial. Mr. and Mrs. Doyle did not appeal the money judgment or the denial of the motion for new trial, and the Texas judgment became final and enforceable in Texas.

On August 8, 1998, the district court in Rapides Parish conducted a hearing to determine whether the Texas judgment was entitled to full faith and credit. Respondents, the Doyles, argued that the Texas court did not have personal jurisdiction over them because they had not had sufficient minimum contacts in Texas. Additionally, the Doyles alleged that they did not purposely avail themselves of Texas jurisdiction. Ms. Schultz argued that the issue of personal jurisdiction was foreclosed because that issue had already been decided by the Texas court, and according to Schultz, the Texas judgment was entitled to full faith and credit and was enforceable in Louisiana.

On April 3, 1999, the Rapides Parish district court ultimately concluded that the Doyles had not submitted themselves to the jurisdiction of the Texas court in the earlier lawsuit. Thus, the district court held the Texas judgment would not be executed in Louisiana. The district court reasoned that "the Doyles never physically appeared in a Texas court." Further, although the Doyles consented to the withdrawal of the attorney representing them, "they did not appear however to understand the ramifications of that legal maneuvering supposedly done on their behalf." Finally, the district court reasoned that the Doyles did not authorize their attorney to withdraw an earlier filed pleading (a special appearance objecting to jurisdiction over them) the withdrawal of which, coupled with an earlier filed alternative answer, subjected them to personal jurisdiction in Texas.

Upon plaintiff's appeal, the court of appeal affirmed the judgment of the district court. Schultz v. Doyle, et al., No. 99-1473 p. 1 (La.App. 3 Cir. 3/1/00)(unpublished opinion). The Louisiana appellate court disagreed with the Texas court's finding personal jurisdiction over the Doyles. The court reasoned that the Doyles never gave their attorney permission to subject them to the jurisdiction of the Texas court. Id. The court of appeal relied upon Hatfield v. King 184 U.S. 162, 22 S.Ct. 477, 46 L.Ed. 481 (1902), which held that the unauthorized acts of an attorney cannot subject a party to the personal jurisdiction of a court. Id. at 6. Additionally, the court reasoned that it was important that the Doyles never thought that they needed representation in Texas. Finally, the court held that, if the Doyles' attorney was authorized to act on their behalf, she was only authorized to file the special appearance objecting to the jurisdiction, all other documents filed by her (alternative answer, discovery, motion for rule 13 sanctions and withdrawal of special appearance) being unauthorized.

In this court, the Doyles claim that: (1) the full faith and credit clause does not prevent a Louisiana court from reexamining the personal jurisdiction question; (2) personal jurisdiction cannot arise from an attorney's unauthorized waiver of his clients' constitutional due process rights; and (3) the punitive damage award has constitutional infirmities.

The undisputed facts are these. The Doyles were served pursuant to the Texas long-arm statute.6 The Doyles, through their son Jerry, retained attorney Sharon Kiel to represent them in the Texas litigation. On March 7, 1996, the Doyles through Kiel, filed a special appearance and general denial, contesting personal jurisdiction in the Texas proceedings. However, Kiel later filed a motion to withdraw the previously-filed special appearance, and that motion was granted. Additionally, Kiel filed a motion for rule 13 sanctions against Ms. Schultz under rule 25 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure alleging that the Doyles were an elderly couple with serious medical conditions and that the suit against them was groundless and brought in bad faith and for the purpose of harassment. Without question, the Doyles were represented by counsel of their choosing who through pleading and appearance was representing them in the Texas court. The Doyles never gave their attorney any specific instructions, nor placed any restrictions on her representation of them.

On September 13, 1996, Kiel filed a motion to withdraw as the Doyles' counsel of record and the Doyles were served with a copy of that motion. In the motion to the Texas court, the Doyles were informed of the then impending October 21, 1996 trial date and given an opportunity to contest the motion. In response, by letter addressed to Kiel, copied to the court, dated September 20, 1996, the Doyles consented to the motion to withdraw. That letter was attached to the motion and order granting the withdrawal. On October 21, 1996, the Texas trial was held. Although the Doyles were informed of that trial date, they failed to secure another attorney and failed to appear. Jerry Doyle, without Ms. Kiel or any other counsel, appeared and participated in the trial. On December 19, 1996, the Texas trial judge signed the Judgment awarding Ms. Schultz $50,000.00 in compensatory damages against Jerry Doyle and $100,000.00 in punitive damages jointly and severally against Jerry Doyle and his parents, Wavy and Era Doyles, $12,000.00 in attorney's fees and interest at the rate of twelve per cent per year on the total judgment until paid.

On January 17, 1997, the Doyles filed a timely motion for new trial requesting that the Texas court set aside the judgment. They alleged that their failure to appear at the trial was the result of accident or mistake, rather than an intentional or conscious indifference to the court. The Doyles alleged that the Texas court did not have jurisdiction over them. Additionally, the Doyles alleged that if their initial special appearance was waived by Attorney Kiel, it was waived in error. Finally, the Doyles alleged that the punitive damage award was constitutionally defective because the judgment against them is for punitive damages without any compensatory damages. The Doyles personally appeared along with their newly retained counsel at the Texas hearing on the motion for new trial on February 6, 1997. The trial judge denied the motion for new trial. The Doyles did not appeal...

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    ...rendering such judgment must have had personal jurisdiction over the judgment debtor. See Konkle, 865 So.2d 808; Schultz v. Doyle, 00-0926 (La.1/17/01), 776 So.2d 1158; Holiday Hospitality Franchising, Inc. v. Grant, 38,103 (La.App. 2 Cir. 1/28/04), 865 So.2d 257,writ denied,04-0501 (La.4/8......
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