We review a judgment of the Court of Appeal maintaining an exception of res judicata as to plaintiffs' suit against the defendant, Harold J. Delhommer, and exceptions of no cause and no right of action as to their suit against the co-defendant, Louisiana Power & Light Company. The case raises important questions concerning the doctrine of res judicata in Louisiana.
Drawn largely from the opinions of the Court of Appeal, the history of this protracted litigation is related as follows: On November 29, 1940, Joseph Edmond Quinette, Sr. conveyed to Harold J. Delhommer, his son-in-law, 120 acres of land, with improvements, located in Jefferson Parish. The act of sale recited a cash consideration of $11,800.00, receipt of which Quinette acknowledged. It also recited Quinette had acquired the property by inheritance. On the day the instrument was signed, it was filed in the Office of the Clerk and Recorder of Jefferson Parish and duly registered in the Conveyance Records.
On October 27, 1951, Delhommer sold the property to Louisiana Power & Light Company for $65,845.00. In the recorded act of sale, Delhommer reserved all mineral rights. The act also contained the following agreement:
On May 27, 1952, Joseph Edmond Quinette, Sr., instituted suit against Delhommer to annul the act of sale on multiple grounds: fraud, simulation, donation omnium bonorum, and lesion beyond moiety. Incident to suit, plaintiff propounded interrogatories on facts and articles to the defendant.
Joseph Edmond Quinette died on June 5, 1953. His succession was opened, and letters testamentary were issued to his widow, Lillian Barbara Collins Quinette. On September 1, 1953, the testamentary executrix filed a motion to be made a party to the proceedings in that capacity and to be authorized to prosecute the suit "in the same manner as the deceased himself could or might have done." The trial judge signed an ex parte order granting the motion on September 1, 1953.
On September 27, 1953, Delhommer excepted to the appearance of the testamentary executrix as substituted party plaintiff, upon the following grounds:
After trial, the district court rendered judgment in favor of defendant Delhommer. As to lesion beyond moiety, it sustained a plea of prescription of four years under Article 1876, LSA-C.C. As to all other demands, it sustained the prescription of ten years under Article 2221, LSA-C.C.
The plaintiff filed a motion for rehearing. On June 29, 1961, six years later, the Court overruled the motion.
Plaintiff appealed. The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of the district court. 146 So.2d 491. Like the district court, the Court of Appeal held that the four-year prescription of Article 1876, LSA-C.C. barred the plaintiff's demand in lesion beyond moiety. Pretermitting the plea of ten-year prescription under Article 2221, interposed to the demands based on fraud, simulation, and donation omnium bonorum, the Court of Appeal held these demands had not been proved. Specifically, the Court found that defendant Delhommer had advanced Quinette at least $500 and transferred to him a used automobile. Based on this finding, it characterized the transaction as a dation en paiement, rather than as a simulation or a donation omnium bonorum.
After the Court of Appeal denied a rehearing, the plaintiff applied to this Court for a writ of certiorari, or review. We denied the application on March 12, 1963, stating "The result of the Court of Appeal is correct." 244 La. 113, 150 So.2d 583; 244 La. 147, 150 So.2d 768.
On May 19, 1958, while the first suit was pending in the district court on the motion for rehearing, Joseph Edmond Quinette, Jr., Mrs. Lillian H. Quinette Smith, and Mrs. Lillian Barbara Collins Quinette, two children and the widow of Joseph Edmond Quinette, Sr., filed the present suit. In this suit, plaintiffs named as defendants both Delhommer and his vendee, Louisiana Power & Light Company.
This petition sought to annul the act of sale on the grounds of fraud, simulation, donation omnium bonorum, and lesion beyond moiety. On June 17, 1958, defendant Delhommer filed exceptions of vagueness, lis pendens, res judicata, misjoinder of parties plaintiff, lack of capacity of Mrs. Lillian Barbara Collins Quinette, no cause of action, and no right of action.
No further action was taken in this case until May 15, 1963, after judgment in the first suit had become final. On that date, Delhommer filed supplemental exceptions of res judicata, estoppel, and laches based upon the final judgment in the first suit; and Louisiana Power & Light Company filed exceptions of vagueness, misjoinder of parties plaintiff, non-joinder of parties plaintiff, no cause of action, no right of action, res judicata, estoppel, and laches.
On June 11, 1963, Louisiana Power & Light Company filed pleas of prescription of four and ten years.
The district court sustained the plea of res judicata filed by Delhommer. It maintained the exceptions of no cause and no right of action filed by Louisiana Power & Light Company.
In upholding the exception of res judicata, the Court of Appeal stated:
We do not agree with this holding.
Article 2286 of the Louisiana Civil Code provides:
The code article requires three identities to support res judicata: parties and their qualities, demands, and causes of action.
In State v. American Sugar Refining Co., 108 La. 603, 32 So. 965, this Court stated:
Under the civil law doctrine, the ayants cause, or successors, of the parties of record are considered parties to the demand when they acquire title after the institution of the original suit in which judgment is rendered.
As early as 1848, in Delabigarre v. Second Municipality of New Orleans, 3 La. Ann. 230, this Court said:
In Hargrave v. Mouton, 109 La. 533, 33 So. 590, the Court again stated:
As explained by Pothier, the successors are considered "as the parties themselves." 1 Pothier On Obligations (3rd ed. 1853, Translation by William David Evans), Article V , p. 588.
The doctrine of res judicata is stricti juris, and any doubt as to the concurrence of the identities must be resolved in favor of maintaining the action.
Plaintiffs, Joseph Edmond Quinette, Jr. and Mrs. Lillian H. Quinette Smith, are children and forced heirs of Joseph Edmond Quinette, Sr. Their father instituted the original suit. Upon his death, the testamentary executrix, Mrs. Lillian Barbara Collins Quinette, was substituted as party plaintiff.
The defendants contend, however, that substitution of the testamentary executrix in the original suit actually converted the litigation into a suit by the children. They point out that the two children who are now plaintiffs testified at the trial. This argument, in our opinion, is unsound. The court substituted the testamentary executrix as plaintiff with the following order:
The court specifically overruled the exception filed by the defendant wherein he sought to make the children parties. In ruling upon the exception of res judicata, this Court must now accept the order of substitution and the ruling of the court as to parties in the former suit. Neither under the
The defendants also assert that plaintiffs are ayants cause, or successors, of their deceased father and husband. Hence, they reason that, under the civil law doctrine of res judicata, they were parties to the original suit within the intendment of the law.
As we have noted, the primary cause of action asserted in the present petition is one to declare a simulation under Article 2239 of the Louisiana Civil Code.
This article confers upon forced heirs the right to annul "absolutely and by parol evidence" the simulated contracts of those from whom they inherit. When exercising the right granted under this article, the law views the forced heirs as "third persons" with respect to the jurisdical acts of their ancestor.
Advancing the principle of universal succession, the defendants assert that the legal personality of the ancestor continues in the heirs and, as a consequence, the heirs are bound by his warranties and obligations. They rely upon Boyet v. Perryman, 240 La. 339, 123 So.2d 79 and Louisiana Canal Co. v. Leger, 237 La. 936, 112 So.2d 667. Neither of these cases involved an action in simulation. We accept the general principle advanced by defendants. See Articles 942, 943, and 945, LSA-C.C. Article 2239, however, has created an exception to the rule for forced heirs attacking the simulated contracts of those from whom they inherit. When prosecuting such an action, forced heirs do not stand in the shoes of their ancestor. Spiers v. Davidson, 233 La. 239, 96 So.2d 502.
We conclude, then, that the forced heirs, Joseph Edmond Quinette, Jr. and Mrs. Lillian H. Quinette Smith, are not ayants cause, or successors, of their father as to the action in simulation under Article 2239 of the Civil Code. The exception of res judicata must be overruled as to them.
The remaining plaintiff, Mrs. Lillian Barbara Collins Quinette, is not a forced heir of her husband. She is a legatee of the usufruct of all his property under his probated will. Unlike the forced heirs, she occupies no preferred position in attacking alleged simulations of the deceased.
Remaining for consideration are Louisiana Power & Light Company's exceptions of no cause and no right of action aimed at plaintiffs' petition. The Court of Appeal sustained the exceptions on the ground that since res judicata barred the plaintiffs from attacking the vendor's title, they were also "without right or cause of action" to assail the title of the vendee, Louisiana Power & Light Company. This ground is still valid as to Mrs. Quinette. Because of our rejection of res judicata as to the forced heirs, however, it has no application to their suit.
The Louisiana Power & Light Company advances in this Court, as it did in the Court of Appeal, an additional ground for the exceptions of no cause and no right of action: that it is a third party who acquired title upon the faith of the public records. It relies upon the statutes
The record discloses that Louisiana Power & Light Company based its exceptions of no cause and no right of action solely on the ground that the previous judgment barred plaintiffs from attacking the vendor's title. We are, of course, aware that this Court may notice the absence of a cause or right of action on its own motion. LSA-C.C.P. Art. 927.
We have examined plaintiffs' petition in this suit. Certified copies of neither of the two conveyances in controversy were made part of and annexed to the petition. The petition alleges that Louisiana Power & Light Company was not a purchaser on the faith of the public records. We conclude that the petition, to which the exceptions are directed, does not, on its face, disclose the absence of a cause or right of action. Hence, the exceptions of no cause and no right of action must be rejected as to the petition of Joseph Edmond Quinette, Jr. and Mrs. Lillian H. Quinette Smith.
In the record are several additional exceptions filed by defendants. The district court has not ruled upon them. We do not consider them here. See Durmeyer v. Streiffer, 215 La. 585, 41 So.2d 226 and State ex rel. Jones, Governor, v. Edwards, 203 La. 1039, 14 So.2d 829.
For the reasons assigned, the judgment of the Court of Appeal, affirming the judgment of the district court, is reversed in part and affirmed in part.
As to the plaintiff, Mrs. Lillian Barbara Collins Quinette, the judgment is affirmed.
As to the plaintiffs, Joseph Edmond Quinette, Jr. and Mrs. Lillian H. Quinette Smith, the judgment is reversed; the exceptions of res judicata, no cause of action, and no right of action are overruled; and the case is remanded to the district court for further proceedings according to law.
All costs of the appeal are assessed in equal proportions against Mrs. Lillian Barbara Collins Quinette, Harold J. Delhommer, and Louisiana Power & Light Company. The assessment of all other costs is to await the final disposition of the case.