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Case Number: 2017-CA-0859
Judge: Regina Bartholomew-Woods
Court: Louisiana Circuit Courts of Appeal
Plaintiff's Attorney: Mark M. Dennis
Paul A. Tabary, III
Defendant's Attorney: Michael C. Ginart, Jr.
Joyce D. Young
Nicholas N.S. Cusimano
Description: On December 15, 2004, the trial court signed a judgment of possession in
the Succession of Florence Schmit Gettys Sanchez, which awarded Plaintiffs
Appellees, Charles W. Gettys, Jr. (“Charles”) and Tammy Abide (“Tammy”)
(collectively “Plaintiffs-Appellees”) and Defendants-Appellants, William G.
Gettys (“William”), Floellen Sanchez-Rickard (“Floellen”), Victoria Foght Virga,
and Michael Virga (collectively “Defendants-Appellants”), each an undivided one
fifth (1/5) interest in 216 Coney Drive (“property”), a residence in St. Bernard
Parish (“parish”); all parties are owners in indivision or co-owners of the property.
On June 18, 2014, Plaintiffs-Appellees filed a petition for partition of jointly
owned property by licitation and rule to show cause against Defendants
Appellants. On November 10, 2014, William filed an answer in reconventional
demand and alleged that after Hurricane Katrina, Charles, Tammy, and Floellen
expressed that they no longer “wanted an interest in the property,” did not want to
“put any money into the property,” and did not want to be responsible for the costs
of repair and any liens or fines from the parish. William asserted that after
Hurricane Katrina, he completely renovated the property and began residing there.
William further asserted that prior to Hurricane Katrina, he and Charles agreed to
renovate, then sell the property, and ultimately share the proceeds. William stated
that the cost of renovations totaled $46,000.00. According to William, he and
Charles agreed to share equally in the costs of the renovation; however, Charles
had not made any payments toward the cost of the pre-Hurricane Katrina
renovation. Therefore, through the partition of the property proceedings, William
sought reimbursement from Charles in the amount of $23,000.00, one-half of the
cost of the pre-Hurricane Katrina renovation. Ultimately, William sought
reimbursement for the renovations that he made to the property both before and
after Hurricane Katrina.
The trial in this matter began on October 17, 2016, and the trial court
rendered a final judgment on February 9, 2017. The trial court ordered that the
property be partitioned by licitation and ruled that the property be seized and sold
at auction with a minimum bid of $50,000.00 and the $48,476.18 of the net
proceeds to be paid to William as reimbursement for the renovations to the
property after Hurricane Katrina. The trial court’s final judgment permitted co
owners to avoid the sale of the property at auction by agreeing to sell the property
privately before April 1, 2017. It is from this judgment that William appeals.
On appeal, William raises the following assignments of error:
1. Whether the trial court erred in failing to reimburse William for renovations
made to the property before Hurricane Katrina.
2. Whether the trial court erred in failing to reimburse William for
workmanship of renovations made to the property after Hurricane Katrina.
3. Whether the trial court’s award of one-fifth (1/5) of the proceeds of the sale
to each owner in indivision subject to a credit of $48,476.18 to William is
contrary to law.
Standard of Review
This Court, in Slimp v. Sartisky, outlined the appropriate standard of review as
A trial judge is afforded a great deal of latitude in arriving at an equitable distribution of the assets between co-owners. However, the allocation or assigning of assets and liabilities in the partition of property is reviewed under the abuse of discretion standard. Legaux-Barrow v. Barrow, 08-530, p. 5 (La. App. 5 Cir. 1/27/09), 8 So.3d 87, 90, writ not considered, 09-0447 (La.4/13/09), 5 So.3d 152. It is further settled that a court of appeal may not set aside a trial court’s or a jury’s finding of fact in the absence of “manifest error” or unless it is “clearly wrong,” and “where there is conflict in the testimony, reasonable evaluations of credibility and reasonable inferences of fact should not be disturbed upon review, even though the appellate court may feel that its own evaluations and inferences are as reasonable.” Rosell v. ESCO, 549 So.2d 840, 844 (La.1989).
Slimp v. Sartisky, 2011-1677, p. 21-22 (La. App. 4 Cir. 9/17/12), 100 So.3d 901,
According to La. C.C. art. 797, ownership of the same thing by two (2) or more
persons is “ownership in indivision,” and all shares are presumed equal. Louisiana
Civil Code article 807 provides, in pertinent part, that “[a]ny co-owner has a right
to demand partition of a thing held in indivision.” Here, the parties, as owners in
indivision or co-owners of the property had the right to seek partition. Pursuant to
La. C.C. art. 8111, because the property, a residential house, does not lend itself to
partition in kind, it was subject to partition by licitation with proceeds distributed
in proportion to shares.
Pre-Hurricane Katrina Renovation
Before Hurricane Katrina, the co-owners agreed to sell the property. But first,
the co-owners agreed to renovate the property in an attempt to yield a higher profit.
The co-owners also agreed that, prior to the renovation, the property was worth
$67,000.00; Charles and William would be financially responsible for the
renovations; and, upon the sale of the property, each co-owner would receive one
fifth (1/5) share of $67,000.00 and Charles and William would share, equally, any
proceeds that exceeded $67,000.00. About this time, Charles was terminated from
his job and was unable to financially contribute his one-half of the cost of
renovations. William asserts that he and Charles agreed that William would pay all
1 As provided in La. C.C. art. 810, partition in kind is the “division into as many lots of nearly equal value as there are shares and the aggregate value of all lots is not significantly lower than the value of the property in the state of indivision.”
the costs of the renovations and that Charles would reimburse him from Charles’
share of the proceeds after the sale of the property. William asserted that he paid
$46,000.00 for these renovations. After the renovations were completed, but before
the property was sold, Hurricane Katrina caused significant damage to the
property, which was not insured. At trial and on appeal, William seeks
reimbursement in the amount of $23,000.00 representing one-half of the costs of
the pre-Hurricane Katrina renovation.
Post-Hurricane Katrina Renovation
William asserts that after Hurricane Katrina, he was the only co-owner
interested in renovating the property. In his appellate brief, William asserts that if
the property had been sold without renovating, the property would have sold for
$5,000.00; each co-owner would have received a one-fifth share of that amount.2
According to William, Charles, as the executor, received notice from the parish
that the property would be demolished if it was not repaired. In response, William
began renovating the property with the knowledge and consent of the other co
owners; the other co-owners did not contribute financially to the post-Hurricane
Katrina renovation. In July 2007, after the completion of the renovation, William
and his wife began residing in the property.
Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure article 804 provides that “[s]ubstantial
alterations or substantial improvements to the thing held in indivision may be
2 At trial, the parties stipulated that immediately after Hurricane Katrina, the property was valued at $22,500.00, and the property is presently valued at $110,000.00.
undertaken only with the consent of all the co-owners.” Upon review of the
appellate record, it appears that all owners in indivision consented to William and
Charles renovating the property, both before and after Hurricane Katrina. As such,
La. C.C. art. 496 provides that “[w]hen constructions, plantings, or works are made
by a possessor in good faith, the owner of the immovable may not demand their
demolition and removal. He is bound to keep them and at his option to pay to the
possessor either the cost of the materials and of the workmanship, or their current
value, or the enhanced value of the immovable.” In Franklin v. Franklin, the court
makes it clear that “[t]he choice of the method of compensation is at the option of
the other co-owner.” Franklin, 415 So.2d 426, 428 (La. App. 1st Cir. 1982). Here,
in its reasons for judgment, the trial court reasoned that “[a]lthough the other
parties have not explicitly selected a particular valuation, it greatly behooves them
to select the lowest one, so the [c]ourt will proceed as if they had made that
choice.” It was reasonable for the trial court to determine that the parties would
select the lowest reimbursement option.
At trial, William was unable to prove the cost of his pre-Hurricane Katrina
renovation because his receipts were lost in the flood. However, both William and
his expert witness, Roy Gross, III (“Gross”), estimated the cost of the pre
Hurricane Katrina renovation at $46,000.00. William admitted at trial and in his
appellate brief that he only presented receipts for some of the costs of the post
Hurricane Katrina renovations. However, Gross testified that the value of the
material and workmanship totaled $91,150.00.
After weighing the evidence and the witness testimony presented at trial, the
trial court found the evidence insufficient to prove that William was entitled to
reimbursement from Charles for one-half of the costs of the pre-Hurricane Katrina
renovations and that “the loss should remain where it fell.” The trial court held that
William was entitled to reimbursement in the amount of $48,476.18 for the “cost
of the materials and labor he paid to renovate the property.” After weighing the
evidence and the witness testimony presented at trial, the trial court found the
evidence insufficient to prove that William was entitled to additional
reimbursement for the post-Hurricane Katrina renovation to the property. The
Louisiana Supreme Court has stated:
[w]hen there is evidence before the trier of fact which, upon its reasonable evaluation of credibility, furnishes a reasonable factual basis for the trial court’s finding, on review the appellate court should not disturb this factual finding in the absence of manifest error. Stated another way, the reviewing court must give great weight to factual conclusions of the trier of fact; where there is conflict in the testimony, reasonable evaluations of credibility and reasonable inferences of fact should not be disturbed upon review, even though the appellate court may feel that its own evaluations and inferences are as reasonable. The reason for this well-settled principle of review is based not only upon the trial court’s better capacity to evaluate live witnesses (as compared with the appellate court’s access only to a cold record), but also upon the proper allocation of trial and appellate functions between the respective courts.
Canter v. Koehring Co., 283 So.2d 716, 724 (La.1973)
Accordingly, this Court will not disturb the trial court’s factual findings
because we do not find that the trial court abused its discretion.
Outcome: For the foregoing reasons, we find that the trial court did not abuse its
discretion; therefore, we affirm the trial court’s February 9, 2017 judgment.