In this petitory action, we directed Certiorari to the Court of Appeal, First Circuit, for review of its judgment which affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the trial court, both judgments to be discussed infra. Art. VII, Sec. 11, La.Const. of 1921; 246 So.2d 340; 258 La. 906, 248 So.2d 333.
J. H. Jenkins Contractors, Inc., a domestic corporation domiciled in the Parish of East Baton Rouge, instituted the present proceeding October 3, 1969, in which it prayed to be recognized as the owner of certain described property. Plaintiff's petition recites:
"Plaintiff is the true and lawful owner of the following described immovable property:
"Plaintiff purchased the interests of the heirs of Simpson H. Sharp, the common ancestor in title of itself and defendants, in the following manner:
"The property at issue was part of a larger tract acquired by Simpson H. Sharp from Jay B. Davison on April 16, 1924, * * * was sold by Simpson H. Sharp to C. W. Sharp on February 18, 1938, * * * and was repurchased by Simpson H. Sharp from Claiborne Walter Sharp on April 15, 1939, * * * The heirs of Simpson H. Sharp, plaintiff's vendors, acquired their interests in the Judgment of Possession in the Succession of Simpson H. Sharp, * * * and in the Judgment of Possession in the Succession of Nannie Kate Carter Sharp, * * *
"Defendants herein purchased from the common ancestor in title of both plaintiff and defendants, Simpson H. Sharp, the following described land, by acts recorded in COB 61, Folio 187, Entry Number 2481 and COB 66, Folio 526, Entry Number 8227:
"The five acres conveyed to defendants was originally part of the tract of land of which plaintiff herein owns the fifteen acre residue, more or less, the possession of which is at issue in this lawsuit.
"The heirs of Simpson H. Sharp, plaintiff's vendors, cut and removed timber from the fifteen acre tract presently owned by plaintiff during the year 1965, and were paid for same.
"Defendants claim possession of the fifteen acre tract without any title whatsoever thereto and without any right to possession
"WHEREFORE, PLAINTIFF PRAYS that after due proceedings had, that there be judgment in favor of J. H. Jenkins Contractors, Inc., and against Joseph J. Farriel and Mary Victoria Farriel, jointly and in solido, recognizing plaintiff as the true and lawful owner of the above described property, and as such entitled to the full and undisturbed possession thereof, and ordering said defendants to deliver possession of said property to plaintiff, and for all costs of these proceedings.
"II. For all general and equitable relief."
(We have quoted plaintiff's petition in full because of contentions advanced by defendants, infra, with respect to some of the petition's allegations.)
In answer, defendants averred in Article 4 thereof that the allegations of Article 4 of plaintiff's petition were admitted as being generally correct. They averred in Article 5 of their answer that the five acres referred to does adjoin the fifteen acre tract in question in this suit. Article 7 and the prayer of defendants' answer recite:
The facts of record disclose that the acreage in controversy was formerly owned by Simpson H. Sharp, Sr., and his wife, Nannie Kate Carter Sharp, now deceased, and was part of the Sharps' extensive land holdings. Plaintiff's deeds, five in number, enumerated in its petition supra, all recite that it was purchasing all of the right, title, and interest in and to all immovable property formerly owned by Simpson H. Sharp, Sr. and Mrs. Nannie Kate Carter Sharp in Livingston Parish, Louisiana. Plaintiff's petition, supra, was based on title and was heard in the trial court on its allegations. Lengthy testimony was adduced at trial; it pertained in great part to the possession of the defendants of the controversial acreage and the respective titles of both plaintiff and defendants. At the trial's conclusion, the trial court stated:
The trial court rendered judgment in accordance with its statement supra; it recognized defendants to be the owners by purchase and title of the easterly five acres adjoining the ten acres which it adjudicated to plaintiff; it recognized Joseph J. Farriel to be the owner by the acquisitive prescription of thirty years of the westerly five acres adjoining the adjudicated ten acres.
Plaintiff appealed to the Court of Appeal and alleged that the trial judge was in legal error in ruling that the defendants were owners by purchase of the easterly five acres of the property in dispute.
Defendants answered the appeal, claiming ownership of the entire twenty acre parcel and alternatively contending that plaintiff's claim as to the center ten acres should be rejected because of plaintiff's alleged failure to establish title thereto.
The Court of Appeal found that plaintiff failed to establish its title to the middle ten acres; it stated:
The Court of Appeal found that defendants did not prove their claim of ownership to the middle ten acres of the subject land by virtue of thirty years adverse possession. It stated: "* * * Neither do we find that defendants have possessed the middle 10 acres in such manner as to give open public notice and fixing with certainty the limits of the property intended to be possessed. As to actual enclosures, it is shown that defendants did not fence the property until one year prior to plaintiff filing suit." The Court further stated: "Defendants' use of this portion of the tract has been minimal and sporadic. Moreover, it has not been either exclusive or uninterrupted inasmuch as the Sharps have, within the last thirty years exercised acts of ownership over the center 10 acres by conducting timber operations thereon at least twice." The Court of Appeal dismissed the defendants' claim to the center ten acres with prejudice.
The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of the trial court, supra, with respect to the eastern and western tracts. It stated:
Certiorari was applied for by plaintiff and granted. Herein the following three errors are assigned to the opinion and decree of the Court of Appeal:
The testimony of Joseph J. Farriel is to the effect that during the Second World War he entered the Service on December 12, 1942 and was released November 22, 1945; he was twenty-one years of age when he entered the Service and forty-eight years at the time of trial. When questioned as to whether he attempted to buy five acres of land located near where he was living at the time of trial, Farriel responded, "I bought five acres in 1944 joining Mr. Willie Brown at that time, was paid for then, in '44, my wife paid for it then. She purchased it. I wrote her and she went and bought it." He said that the purchase was from Simpson H. Sharp, Sr. At this time, counsel for the Farriels made the following objection: "Your Honor, we object to any testimony along these lines on the grounds that the plaintiffs have alleged in Article 4 of their petition this had been purchased property which is described in the petition from Simpson H. Sharp and we have admitted that. That is the five acres so any further evidence is irrelevant and immaterial. It is alleged and admitted." The trial court responded, "I see no point in pursuing that because it is already a matter of record." (The preceding took place at the beginning of trial when Farriel was called for cross examination.)
Appearing as a witness in chief for the defendants, Farriel testified that the 1944 sale of the eastern five acres to him and his wife was executed while he was in South America. He stated, "* * * I bought that so my wife and I would have a home, when I came out of service. And then after I came home, my father was sick, he had to be under doctor's care constantly and he said to me, son, would you stay here and take care of me and mama until we both pass away and I
With respect to the 1948 correction, Farriel testified:
The correction deed, as stated supra, was executed on May 19, 1948; it was recorded on May 21, 1948, COB 66, page 526.
The testimony supra preponderates to the effect that the Farriels purchased the eastern five acres, the subject land which is our sole concern on this review. The sale executed by private act, as stated supra, was a matter of public record, and the correction was executed before a notary and recorded. The plaintiff therefore had knowledge of defendants' purchase and was fully aware of the ownership claim when it executed its extensive purchases in Livingston Parish.
When plaintiff brought the instant suit, its knowledge was expressed in its petition, supra, when it affirmed in Article four, supra, that defendants had purchased the eastern five acres. Plaintiff's petition was signed by its attorney. It was argued in this Court that the signing of a petition by an attorney was not the equivalent of a plaintiff's verification or judicial admission of the allegations of the petition.
Art. 863, LSA-C.C.P., provides:
"As a legal concept, the judicial confession is designed to dispense with evidence. It has the effect of withdrawing the subject matter of the confession from issue. * * * In the landmark case of Frost-Johnson Lumber Co., supra, [133 La. 497, 63 So. 122], this Court pointed out that Article 2291
A litigant is estopped or bound by allegations of fact in his pleadings, but not by allegations which are only pronouncements or conclusions of law. Scurria v. Russo, La.App., 134 So.2d 679; Lawrence v. Recoulley, La.App., 235 So.2d 437. However, "While a judicial confession under LSA-C.C. art. 2291 is defined as a declaration which a party makes in a judicial proceeding and is full proof against him, he is not estopped from contradicting his sworn allegations in the absence of a showing that his adversary was misled or deceived by reason of the averment. * * *" Mouledous v. Poirier, La.App., 221 So.2d 291 (1969). Also, a judicial admission in a pleading is not binding when made through an error in fact, such as through ignorance of or a misapprehension of the true facts. Modicut v. Rist, La.App., 98 So.2d 268; Gros v. United States Fidelity & Guaranty Company, La.App., 183 So.2d 670.
Plaintiff, as found supra, did not misapprehend the true fact that defendants had purchased the eastern five acres of the subject land. It knew by defendants' answer that they were going to attempt to prove at trial that they had possessed fifteen acres west of the eastern five acres. Plaintiff's counsel made a statement of fact in the present petition, supra, that defendants had purchased the eastern five acres, and whether we call such a statement a judicial admission or otherwise, we find that plaintiff is bound by its counsel's statement of fact; the record discloses neither error or conclusion of law nor error of fact. We find that the trial judge ruled correctly in disallowing extensive evidence in regard to the eastern five acres. We conclude that both lower courts correctly held that defendants were the true and lawful owners of the eastern five acres of the subject land.
There is no evidence of record showing that the western five acres acquired by Joseph J. Farriel by acquisitive prescription or the adverse prescription of thirty years was misunderstood by him to be the eastern five acres. The statement of the Court of Appeal, supra, treating of the possession of the western five acres is correct; we are in accord with the Court of Appeal's findings as summarized.
For the reasons assigned, the judgment of the Court of Appeal, First Circuit, is affirmed; all costs of this Court to be paid by plaintiff.
"* * * LSA-C.C.P. art. 864 indicates the reason for the requirement of article 863, namely, to fix the responsibility in event disciplinary action should be necessary for improper pleading. The pleading is not an end in itself but the means to an end and must be construed to do substantial justice. LSA-C.C.P. art. 865. * * *"