Simmons v. Southern Energy Homes, Inc.

Decision Date04 April 2001
Docket NumberNo. 00-1449.,00-1449.
Citation783 So.2d 636
PartiesAlton C. SIMMONS, et ux v. SOUTHERN ENERGY HOMES, INC.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Louisiana — District of US

Leslie R. Leavoy, Jr., O'Neal and Leavoy, DeRidder, LA, Counsel for Appellants, Alton C. & Loretta P. Simmons.

Jamie B. Bice, McLaughlin and Bice, Lake Charles, LA, Counsel for Appellee, Southern Energy Homes, Inc.

Court composed of DOUCET, Chief Judge, THIBODEAUX, and WOODARD, Judges.

DOUCET, Chief Judge.

Plaintiffs, Alton C. and Loretta P. Simmons, appeal a judgment of the trial court, signed May 30, 2000, dismissing their claims against Defendant, Southern Energy Homes, Inc. We reverse the judgment dismissing Plaintiffs' suit against Southern Energy Homes, Inc., and remand the case for further proceedings.

FACTS

Plaintiffs purchased a mobile home from Kite Brothers, Inc., in DeRidder, Louisiana, on December 9, 1996. The mobile home was manufactured by Southern Energy Homes, Inc. of Texas (Southern). The home was delivered on December 15, 1996, and Plaintiffs occupied the home. Shortly thereafter, they began to notice numerous defects in the mobile home and sought legal assistance.

On October 28, 1997, Plaintiffs' counsel sent a letter to Southern demanding rescission of the sale under the redhibition articles in the Louisiana Civil Code. Thereafter, on December 10, 1997, Plaintiffs instituted suit against Southern for "BREACH OF CONTRACT AND DAMAGES." Southern answered and filed exceptions of prematurity and no right and no cause of action. Southern's exception of prematurity was based upon Plaintiffs' non-compliance with the provisions of the Louisiana New Home Warranty Act (La. R.S. 9:3141-3150).

The proceedings in the trial court were amply described by the trial judge in his reasons for judgment as follows:

This matter first came before the Court on January 21, 1999, on hearing of exceptions of prematurity and no right and no cause of action. These exceptions were filed by defendant, Southern Energy Homes. On January 20, 1999 the Court allowed plaintiffs to file a first amended and supplemental petition for breach of contract and damages, this being filed one day before the hearing on January 21, 1999. The pleadings filed January 20, 1999 added Kite Brothers, Inc. as a defendant and restated the cause of action pertaining to defendant, Southern Energy Homes.
On January 21, 2000 after oral arguments, the Court maintained the exception of prematurity and ordered plaintiffs' suit dismissed for failure to follow the requirements of the New Home Warranty Act La. R.S. 9:3141 pertaining to notice and allowing defendant the opportunity to make repairs.
On February 2, 1999 Kite Brothers, Inc. filed exceptions to service of process and an exception of prescription. For all practical purposes plaintiffs concede that plaintiffs' claim against Kite Brothers, Inc. had prescribed at the time of filing the first amended and supplemental petition on January 20, 2000, and therefore Kite Brothers, Inc.['s] exception of prescription will be granted. The exception of service of process is therefore moot and of no consequence and the Court will not address that matter.
Simultaneous with the exception filed by Kite Brothers, Inc., Southern Energy Homes filed a second set of exceptions. The Court finds that the exceptions filed by Southern Energy Homes on February 2, 2000 were unnecessary since the Court had previously granted the exception of prematurity and ordered the suit dismissed. Therefore there was at the time the exceptions were filed on February 2, 2000 no suit then viable which could be the subject of exceptions. It does seem however that no written order of dismissal was ever submitted by defense counsel, and therefore there was no written order signed or filed in the record. The minutes of Court of January 21, 2000 clearly however reflect the dismissal of plaintiffs' suit. This dismissal was subsequent to the filing of plaintiffs' first amended and supplemental petition, and therefore effectively dismissed that part of the first amended and supplemental petition insofar as it relates to Southern Energy Homes as well as plaintiffs' original petition.
The Court will sign an order of dismissal when submitted in accordance with reasons stated on January 21, 1999, as to the plaintiffs' suit against Southern Energy Homes thereby maintaining the exception of prematurity. The Court will sign a judgment maintaining Kite Brothers, Inc.['s] exception of prescription when submitted in accordance with the reasons stated herein dismissing plaintiffs' suit as it relates to Kite Brothers, Inc.
Done and signed at DeRidder, Beauregard Parish, Louisiana, on this the 18th day of May, 2000.

Subsequently, the trial court, signed two separate judgments, one on May 30, 2000, dismissing Plaintiffs' claims against Southern Energy Homes, Inc. based on prematurity and the second on June 1, 2000, dismissing Plaintiffs' claims against Kite Brothers, Inc. Plaintiffs do not appeal the dismissal of Kite Brothers, hence we will limit our discussion as to the district court's dismissal of their action against Southern.

LAW AND DISCUSSION

Plaintiffs' original petition, filed on December 10, 1997, sounds in redhibition and, in the alternative, in quanti minoris. Southern filed a document entitled "EXCEPTIONS" on June 29, 1998. Their exception of prematurity was based upon Plaintiffs' non-compliance with the provisions of the Louisiana New Home Warranty Act. The hearing on Southern's exceptions did not take place until January 21, 1999. The day before the hearing, by leave of court, Plaintiffs' were allowed to file their "FIRST AMENDED AND SUPLEMENTAL PETITION FOR BREACH OF CONTRACT AND DAMAGES." The amended petition added Kite Brothers as a defendant and added a claim against Southern under the Louisiana New Home Warranty Act. Paragraph fifteen of Plaintiffs' petition states that on November 17, 1998, Plaintiffs gave Southern "written notice, via certified mail, advising Southern ... of all defects and demanding that Southern ... comply with the provisions of the Louisiana New Home Warranty Act." On appeal Plaintiffs argue that their letter of November 17, 1998, and their amended petition make Southern's exception of prematurity moot. Southern argues that, under well settled law, an exception of prematurity is determined by the facts existing at the time the petition is filed and thus, their exception is well founded.

We find Southern's reliance on the Louisiana New Home Warranty Act misplaced. Recently, in Dalme v. Blockers Manufactured Homes, Inc., 00-00244, pp. 2-7 (La.App. 3 Cir. 1/25/01); 779 So.2d 1014, 1017-20, this court, sitting en banc, found the Louisiana New Home Warranty Act not applicable to mobile homes stating the following:

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., 696 So.2d 1373 (La.1997)

. 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
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