Articles Posted in Business Dispute

more-apartments-1451930-1024x672In contracts for the sale of land and property, parties typically execute a Purchase Agreement before the Contract of Sale. The purchase agreement may be incorporated with the contract of sale, or it may be a preliminary document that is not included in the final contract. It is important that a good attorney draft both of these documents, because issues may arise when the documents conflict or are not clear in intent.

In Woodlands Development v. Regions Bank & Johnson Property Group, Woodlands, a development company, bought land on Sandra Drive in New Orleans for the purpose of building an apartment complex. Woodlands fell on hard times and defaulted on the loan for the mortgage. After some extensions and agreements, Woodlands agreed to assign the property to a third party, Johnson Property Group (“JPG”). A Purchase Agreement, and then a Contract of Sale, between Woodlands and Johnson Property Group followed. When Hurricane Katrina caused extensive damage to the property in question, the insurance company paid the settlement to Regions Bank. Woodlands claimed it was entitled to receive these proceeds, while JPG claimed the proceeds should go toward its balance.  

After an epic battle which consisted of three appeals, and multiple motions, the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the grant of a partial summary judgment motion for Woodlands Development. Summary judgment is appropriate when there is “no genuine issue of material fact,” meaning all the facts presented clearly show one party deserves to win. La. C.C.P. art. 966. Here, the party moving for summary judgment only had sufficient facts to convince a judge that some of the issues required dismissal, so a motion for partial summary judgment was put forth. JPG appealed the Trial Court’s finding in favor of Woodlands’ motion, which is the issue in the present case.

writing-kiddo-1432496-1024x683The worst thing that could happen if you are in a bad situation is for that situation to get worse. A New Orleans, Louisiana, resident found himself in that exact scenario when he was in legal trouble and subsequently found himself in even deeper legal trouble.

MT, the defendant, owned with his partners, a construction contracting company, Garner Services. When MT was the Chief Operating Officer, he and his brother-in-law, DF, created fictitious invoices for work never performed, amounting to $925,000 to a company that MT himself controlled.

After his fraud was discovered, MT was criminally charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud, which he pled guilty to in exchange for no additional charges filed. The Government also informed MT that he would be indicted for concealing financial information to block the forfeiture of certain assets. Before the plea deal was signed, MT hired a private investigator, Tim Wilson, who spoke with two of the Assistant United States Attorney’s (“AUSAs”) for the Eastern District of Louisiana on MT’s behalf. Wilson stated the AUSAs promised not to execute on the forfeiture indictment. This “secret deal” was later contested by the AUSAs, who denied having made such a promise.

men-shaking-hands-1024x683A contract creates a level of trust between two businesses or individuals, but what happens when one individual fails to uphold their end of the bargain? Or worse yet, what happens when an individual purposefully misrepresents their ability to uphold their end of the bargain? These are issues the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal recently addressed in a lawsuit between Meyer & Associates, Inc. (“Meyer & Associates”) and the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana.

The Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana is a federally recognized Indian tribe composed of an elected four-member Tribal Council and a separately elected Tribal Council spokesperson. The Tribe conducts all of its governmental and business matters from the offices in Allen Parish, Louisiana. In July 2001, the Tribe decided to enter into an agreement in order to better manage the Tribe’s casino facility in Kinder, Louisiana. The Coushatta Tribe agreed to enter into a consulting services contract with Meyer & Associates, a Louisiana corporation that provides professional engineering services to its clients.

In early 2002, the members of the Tribal Council and the vice president of Meyer & Associates, Richard Meyer, began discussions concerning the possibility to design and construct a facility for the casino’s general electricity, the individuals of the Coushatta Tribe, and potentially outside customers. Because Meyer’s & Associates did not have specific experience in this area, Mr. Meyer began assembling a team of experts to assist him. For the next several months, the project team began exploring the possibilities of developing the electric program. During the Tribal Council meeting on December 17, 2002, Mr. Meyer presented the most up-to-date study on the feasibility of the electrical project – this presentation gave the Tribal Council enough confidence to accept the project on the January 14, 2003 meeting. With this acceptance, a second agreement was written. This second agreement gave the Chairman of the Tribal Council the ability to negotiate and execute any new agreements with Meyer & Associates, and also stated that that the Tribe’s financial obligation to the project was $10,000,000 in addition to the $3,375,000 that was necessary for all the preliminary work.

writing-1238365-1024x768Plaintiffs cannot litigate multiple lawsuits brought over the same cause of action. For example, if a company wrongfully terminates someone’s employment, the employee can traditionally bring only one lawsuit addressing this issue and not a second or third after a court decides the first. This barring is called res judicata. Former Southern University System President Dr. Ralph Slaughter’s lawsuit against the Board of Supervisors of Southern University A&M in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was dismissed because of this bar.

Dr. Slaughter and the Board settled a case in 2007 where Dr. Slaughter was fired after bringing workplace sexual harassment claims in federal court. Dr. Slaughter then dropped these claims because the Board signed him to a two-year employment contract running from July 1, 2007, to June 30, 2009. The Board reserved the right to terminate his employment on or before April 1, 2009, and on March 27, 2009, The Board exercised this right, voting not to extend Dr. Slaughter’s employment past the contract’s expiration.

Dr. Slaughter brought his first lawsuit addressing this termination on April 2, 2009, in a Baton Rouge District Court. He claimed that his employment termination was void because the Board did not adhere to Open Meetings Law. The Board filed to dismiss for no cause of action, and Dr. Slaughter himself also filed a motion to dismiss, which the trial court granted with prejudice on May 26, 2009.

vacancy-1232656-1024x768Ever feel like you have been wrongfully brought to court? If so, then what legal remedies do you have at your disposal? In Louisiana, the law provides a person who has wrongly been brought to court with a tort cause of action called abuse of process. A recent Fifth Circuit Louisiana Court of Appeal decision highlights some of the procedural and legal requirements for this lesser known tort.

The alleged “frivolous” lawsuit centers around an eviction lawsuit. Allicen and Kenneth Caluda filed an eviction lawsuit against Fifth Business, LLC (“Fifth Business”). In the lawsuit, the Caludas also added No Drama, LLC (“No Drama”) as a defendant. Nearly seven years after the eviction lawsuit, No Drama filed an abuse of process lawsuit. To prove an abuse of process claim, No Drama needed to prove 1) the Caludas sued No Drama for an improper purpose and 2) the Caludas engaged in improper conduct during the prosecution of the action. See Goldstein v. Serio, 496 So. 2d 412, 415 (La. Ct. App. 1986). No Drama alleged the Caludas improperly filed suit in order to hold the company financially liable for the couple’s lease dispute with Fifth Avenue. It also claimed that the cost of defending the lawsuit, after informing the couple of its independent status, forced it to halt operations. The Caludas’ countered, arguing that No Drama was prescribed from bringing the abuse of process claim because it failed to file the claim within the appropriate time period required by Louisiana law which, for an abuse of process claim, is one year. The trial court agreed with the Caludas, dismissing No Drama’s lawsuit. No Drama appealed the trial court’s ruling.

On appeal, No Drama argued that the prescription period never commenced because the underlying eviction case needed to be decided prior to it bringing the abuse of process lawsuit. No Drama also argued the prescription period was suspended because Caludas was committing a “continuous tort.” A continuous tort is an ongoing unlawful course of conduct that results in uninterrupted injury to the plaintiff. Crump v. Sabine River Auth., 737 So.2d 720, 728 (La. 1999). No Drama alleged the Caludas, by maintaining a wrongful lawsuit and causing ongoing financial injury, committed a continuous tort and therefore, the prescription period was suspended or tolled as a result.

books-illustations-1489534-768x1024Labor contracts are often tricky and scary because potential employees generally find it difficult to negotiate with employers for terms favorable to them, while employers use standard contracts with terms potential employees don’t understand or aren’t used to seeing, which guarantee the employers a better deal.

The National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”), whose purpose is to provide protection to employees from unfair labor practices of employers, provides that an employer commits an unfair labor practice when it coerces or prevents employees from engaging in their legal rights, including, but not limited to, the rights of employees to band together in a union or otherwise. A recent case out of the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (“the Court”) addressed this problem in a labor contract case between a retail gas station and its employee.

Murphy Oil Inc. (“Murphy Oil”) operates retail gas stations in many cities in the United States, but the following dispute takes place at the Calera, Alabama location. Sheila Hobson, upon starting employment with Murphy Oil, was required to sign a binding arbitration agreement—an agreement which prevented herself and other employees working at this location from settling any disputes with management by any means other than arbitration—a process which would require both employee and employer to meet with a professional mediator for all legal claims.

shaking-hands-1240911-1024x768Leasing agreements often are complex and lengthy, especially in a commercial context. A common provision contained in most leasing agreements is an indemnity provision. An indemnity provision is a section in a leasing agreement that requires the leasee (the person who leases the property) to take responsibility for certain lawsuits involving the leased property. A recent decision from the Second Circuit Court of Appeal for Louisiana illustrates the power of an indemnity provision.

The case revolves around a leased commercial building located in Bastrop, Louisiana. The building’s owner, Hollis Charles Larche, entered into a leasing agreement with Paul Eikert. Mr. Eikert obtained the lease in order to open up a grocery store. Contained in the lease is a provision that stated that Mr. Larche would be held harmless for any damages or injuries caused by defects on the building’s premises.

A couple of years after entering into the lease agreement, an employee of Mr. Eikert’s grocery store, Deborah Beebe, was injured while on the job. Ms. Beebe sustained her injuries after she slipped on water that came from a leak in the building’s ceiling. Ms. Beebe filed a lawsuit against Mr. Larche claiming that Mr. Larche knew of the leaking ceiling and failed to take appropriate measures to fix the leak. Mr. Larche, citing the indemnity provision contained in the leasing agreement, argued that Mr. Eikert is responsible for any damages resulting from Ms. Beebe’s injury. Mr. Eikert never responded to Mr. Larche’s claim that the indemnity provision allocated responsibility of Ms. Beebe’s injuries to Mr. Eikert. The trial court agreed, granting a default judgment on the issue for Mr. Larche. A default judgment is a judgment that a court can grant if one side in a legal matter fails to take steps to resolve the legal controversy. The default judgment is granted to the side who did take steps to resolve the legal controversy, in this case, Mr. Larche.

fencing-1434215-1024x855People have bargained with one another since the dawn of time. Many agreements occur through mere conversation, but memory may be faulty or even denied. Thus, written contracts exist to keep a record of agreements made by two people or business entities. When a disagreement over the meaning of a contract is brought to court, the court will refrain from unnecessarily changing the meaning of words in a contract, opting instead to take the written words literally and simply. RJAM, Inc. v. Miletello, 44 So. 3d 283 (La. Ct. App. 2010). This means that even a single word can completely change how a contract is enforced. A lawsuit concerning that exact issue arose in Parish of Bossier.

In 2004, Endurall, Inc. was created out of an older company that made supplies for oil and gas lines. This new company provided a specific tool for oil rigs. As part of the process of forming the corporation, the four founders signed a non-compete proprietary agreement. This agreement would prevent any of them from going into the same line of business in the same geographical area for two years after leaving the company. In 2012, two of the founding shareholders formed a similar company. They were immediately fired for possibly having used Endurall information to form their new venture, but they did keep their stock. Soon afterward, the two petitioned the court to dissolve Endurall due to the disagreement amongst the stockholders. As a result of the filing, Billy Joe Edwards was no longer a shareholder. His stock and that of the other fired shareholder was sold at private auction to the other two shareholders that had not been involved in the scheme. The two remaining shareholders filed to dismiss the dissolution which was granted.

Soon after, Mr. Edwards and his son created another company that would sell the exact same product line as Endurall only twenty miles away. He also worked for another company selling paraffin products to customers he had worked with while at Endurall. In 2014, the two remaining shareholders sued to have the court enforce the non-compete provision against Mr. Edwards. Any court order which requires a party to do or cease from doing something is an injunction. The trial court granted an injunction ordering Mr. Edwards to stop the competitive business until the agreement expired. Mr. Edwards appealed.

wood-floor-texture-1181928-1024x731It’s a common belief that a landlord is always responsible for the upkeep of a property, and if an injury occurs because of the landlord’s failure to keep premises safe the landlord is financially responsible for any injury suffered. As Kwan Anderson learned the difficult way, however, this is not always the case. A lawsuit out of Parish of Evangeline shows that when a tenant contracts to take on responsibilities of upkeep, they could lose their ability to collect damages for an injury caused by that failure of upkeep.

On September 7, 2012, Anderson fell through a weak part of the floor of a house rented by Meagan Thomas, his girlfriend, and mother of his child. Thomas had rented the house from Wanda Ardoin-Bailey, the owner, on June 9, 2012, and Anderson lived there with Thomas up to the time of his fall. The weak part of the floor had been noted in the lease and the lease also said that Thomas agreed to be responsible for the house’s condition, which included fixing the weak part in the floor. Thomas said her “paw paw” would fix it in exchange for a reduction in rent.  The floor was never repaired.

Anderson filed a petition for damages against Ardoin-Bailey, who answered the petition but also filed a third-party demand against Thomas to have the lease provisions enforced. Ardoin-Bailey also filed a motion for summary judgment. A Motion for Summary Judgment is rendered if “there is no genuine issue as to material fact, and that mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” La. C.C.P. art. 966 (B)(2).  “A material fact is one that would matter on the trial on the merits.” Southpark Cmty. Hosp., LLC v. Southpark Acquisition Co., LLC, 126 So.3d 805, 815 (La. Ct. App. 2013).  If there is no issue on the facts that would matter at a trial, then there is no need for the parties to go further on the lawsuit and it should be dismissed. Summary judgment was granted and Anderson’s lawsuit was dismissed. Anderson appealed.

motel-sign-1258206-1024x768When a patron is injured by a third party at a hotel, the patron might wish to seek damages from a national franchisor. There are however several criteria to establish a franchisor’s liability making it very difficult for a patron to recover in the absence of direct links between the injury and negligence.  In a recent case out of New Orleans, a shooting victim was left with little recourse against the big company behind the local Motel 6.  

In this case, Jorge A. Espinosa was staying at the Motel 6 on Gentilly Boulevard in New Orleans, Louisiana when he was shot in the Motel’s parking lot. The armed robber entered the Motel’s parking lot through a missing section in the Motel’s fence.  Mr. Espinosa’s injuries left  Mr. Espinosa a paraplegic.  Mr. Espinosa filed a lawsuit against the national franchise, Accor Franchising North America (“Accor”) as well as the local franchisee, Century Bayou Hospitality, LLC (“Bayou”) and their respective insurance companies.  Mr. Espinosa claimed the missing section of the Motel’s fence led to the robber entering the property and shooting Mr. Espinosa.  The District Court for the Parish of Orleans granted Accor’s motion for summary judgment reasoning that Accor could not be held liable because there was no evidence that Accor controlled, owned, or operated the Motel.  Mr. Espinosa appealed to the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal asserting that Accor was directly negligent and that the company had authority over Bayou making them vicariously liable.     

To establish liability, a plaintiff must first show that the defendant had a duty to protect against the plaintiff’s injury.  To prove that defendant had a duty to protect against a property defect, the plaintiff must show that the defendant had custody over the thing which caused the damage and this thing contained a defect posing an unreasonable risk of harm which caused the plaintiff’s injuries.  See Wiley v. Sanders, 796 So. 2d 51, 55 (La. Ct. App. 2001).  The defective condition must be of a dangerous nature which would be reasonably expected to cause an injury to a prudent person using ordinary care.   A business has a duty to take reasonable care to ensure the safety of its patrons.  However, this duty does not extend to unforeseeable injuries that were caused by the criminal acts of third parties.  See Mundy v. Dep’t of Health & Human Res., 609 So. 2d 909, 912 (La. Ct. App. 1992).  Moreover, vicarious liability will not apply to the principal when an independent contractor relationship exists and the principal actor does not control the contractor’s day to day operations. See Morales v. Davis Bros. Const. Co.,  647 So. 2d 1302, 1305 (La. Ct. App. 1994).