ISIAH GILLUM ADMINISTRATOR OF THE SUCCESSIONS OF JOSEPH JONES AND MARY JENKINS JONES v. ELLEN CHRISTINE SPURLOCK LEWIS

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Court of Appeal of Louisiana, First Circuit.

ISIAH GILLUM, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE SUCCESSIONS OF JOSEPH JONES AND MARY JENKINS JONES v. ELLEN CHRISTINE SPURLOCK LEWIS

NUMBER 2016 CA 0581

Decided: February 17, 2017

BEFORE: WHIPPLE, C.J., GUIDRY, AND McCLENDON, JJ. P. David Carollo, Slidell, LA Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellant, Isiah Gillum, Administrator of the Successions of Joseph Jones and Mary Jenkins Jones Stephen D. Marx, Metairie, LA Counsel for Defendant/Appellee, Ellen Christine Spurlock Lewis

This matter is before us on appeal by plaintiff, Isiah Gillum, administrator of the successions of Joseph Jones and Mary Jenkins Jones, from a judgment of the trial court granting summary judgment in favor of defendant, Ellen Christine Spurlock Lewis. For the reasons that follow, the appeal is dismissed and the rule to show cause is recalled.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On November 19, 2014, Isiah Gillum, as administrator of the successions of his grandparents, Joseph Jones and Mary Jenkins Jones, filed a “Petition for Petitory Action” contending that he was the lawful owner of two acres of land pursuant to an acquisition recorded at COB 64, folio 280 and 281, and Original Document Number of A-7317, in the conveyance records of St. Tammany Parish in 1914. Gillum named Ellen Christine Spurlock Lewis as a defendant and averred that Lewis was also claiming ownership of the property and was building a road on said property.

Lewis filed a supplemental and amended answer to Gillum's petition wherein she asserted “defenses and/or affirmative defenses” claiming her ownership of the disputed property. She further prayed for judgment in her favor dismissing Gillum's petition and adjudging her to be the owner of the property.1

Lewis subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment contending that Gillum cannot satisfy his evidentiary burden of proof at trial and that his claim to the disputed property fails where: (1) Lewis has better title to the property; and (2) even if she did not have better title to the property, she has acquired the property through ten years of acquisitive prescription.

Following a hearing on November 10, 2015, the trial court took the matter under advisement. Thereafter, on January 11, 2016, the trial court issued written reasons, finding that Lewis is the owner of the two acres at issue herein and thereby granting Lewis's motion for summary judgment. A written judgment conforming to the trial court's reasons was signed by the trial court on January 29, 2016.

Gillum now appeals, contending that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Lewis.

DISCUSSION

Appellate courts have the duty to determine sua sponte whether their subject matter jurisdiction exists, even when the parties do not raise the issue. Motorola, Inc. v. Associated Indemnity Corporation, 2002-1351 (La. App. 1st Cir. 10/22/03), 867 So. 2d 723, 725. Under Louisiana law, a final judgment is one that determines the merits of a controversy in whole or in part. LSA-C.C.P. art. 1841. A final judgment must be identified as such by appropriate language. LSA-C.C.P. art. 1918. A valid judgment must be precise, definite, and certain. Laird v. St. Tammany Parish Safe Harbor, 2002-0045 (La. App. 1 st Cir. 12/20/02), 836 So. 2d 364, 365. A final appealable judgment must contain decretal language, and it must name the party in favor of whom the ruling is ordered, the party against whom the ruling is ordered, and the relief that is granted or denied. See Carter v. Williamson Eye Center, 2001-2016 (La. App. 1st Cir. 11/27/02), 837 So. 2d 43, 44. These determinations should be evident from the language of a judgment without reference to other documents in the record. Laird, 836 So. 2d at 366. Where a judgment merely grants a motion for summary judgment, but fails to contain proper decretal language, the judgment is defective and cannot be considered as a “final judgment.” Gaten v. Tangipahoa Parish School System, 2011-1133 (La. App. 1st Cir. 3/23/12), 91 So. 3d 1073, 1074.

In the instant case, the judgment states that the trial court finds that Lewis is the owner of the two acres in dispute, and thereby provides:

IT IS ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Ellen Christine Spurlock Lewis be and is hereby granted.

On review, we note that while the judgment grants Lewis's motion for summary judgment, the judgment fails to dismiss Gillum's petition or his claims against Lewis. Where a judgment grants a motion for summary judgment in favor of defendant, but fails to dismiss plaintiff's claims against that the defendant, the judgment lacks decretal language and cannot be considered as a final judgment for the purpose of an immediate appeal. See McCarroll v. Prime Cut Lawn Care & Tractor Work, L.L.C., 2012-0456 (La. App, 1st Cir. 3/22/13) (unpublished opinion); Accardo v. Chenier Property Partners, LLC, 2010-0825 (La. App. 1st Cir. 10/29/10)(unpublished opinion).

In the absence of such decretal language, the judgment before us is defective and cannot be considered as a “final judgment.” See Carter, 837 So. 2d at 44. In the absence of a final judgment, this court lacks jurisdiction to review this matter. Gaten, 91 So. 3d at 1074.

RULE TO SHOW CAUSE

After the lodging of this appeal, this court issued a rule ordering the parties to show cause why this appeal should not be dismissed where the judgment appealed herein fails to properly describe the immovable property at issue in accordance with LSA-C.C.P. art. 1919.2 The parties submitted a joint response, acknowledging that the judgment failed to comply with Article 1919 and requesting that this court either amend the trial court's judgment to include a proper description or remand to the trial court to correct the judgment accordingly.

Considering our finding herein that this court lacks jurisdiction to review this matter on appeal, we recall the show cause order.

CONCLUSION

Based on the above and foregoing reasons, Gillum's appeal of the January 29, 2016 judgment of the trial court is dismissed. The show cause order issued by this court on May 9, 2016, is hereby recalled.

Costs of this appeal are assessed equally to the plaintiff and defendant herein.

APPEAL DISMISSED; RULE TO SHOW CAUSE RECALLED.

FOOTNOTES

1.   We note that although Lewis asserted ownership claims as defenses in her answer, she had not filed a reconventional demand in the proceedings below or otherwise brought an action in her own right to establish ownership.

2.   Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure article 1919 provides:All final judgments which affect title to immovable property shall describe the immovable property affected with particularity.This article does not apply to judgments in succession proceedings recognizing heirs or legatees and sending them into possession.

WHIPPLE, C.J.

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