NEW ORLEANS — The Louisiana 4th Circuit Court of Appeal has upheld a trial court’s ruling against a woman who fought for the right to receive settlement payments for damage to oyster leases caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.
The woman, Helen Scott Ehle Barrois, is the wife of Austin Francis Barrois, who died in 2011 and left his estate to his wife, according to the appeals court.
The inheritance is passed down from his mother, Antoinette Bernice Cognevich Barrois, who acquired eight oyster leases from the state of Louisiana in the 1960s and 1970s while married to Mancil Joseph Barrios, according to the appeals court.
Mancil Barrios died in 1975 leaving his will, while Bernice Barrios died without leaving a will in 1981, the opinion stated. He had four children from two previous marriages.
“The Mancil Executors are the direct descendants of Mancil and his second wife, Flora,” the appeals court wrote.
According to the appeals court, two children born from Mancil’s third marriage with Bernice are Austin and Bernita Joan Barrois. After Austin Barrois died, Helen Barrois was named the independent executor of the succession of Bernice executrix, the opinion said.
As part of the payments for damage to oyster leases, the appeals court said the BP Settlement Trust had paid Helen Barrois an initial disbursement of $384,000 and a second payment of $155,725.33, for a total of $539,725.33.
“Helen deposited these funds in her personal checking account,” the opinion stated. “With these funds, Helen paid her attorneys $137,874.46 (20 percent), purchased a $200,000.00 annuity, and then depleted the remaining funds. Helen did not pay any of these BP settlement funds to the Mancil Executors.”
Russell E. Barrois Jr. and Kenneth B. Barrois Jr., who are the co-executors of the succession of Mancil, said the oyster leases were the community property of the Mancil Barrois and Bernice Barrois successions.
They said Helen Barrois wrongfully asserted full ownership of the oyster leases, wrongfully converted monetary compensation owed to the succession of Mancil, wrongfully failed to turn over compensation to the Succession of Mancil and wrongfully failed to account to the succession of Mancil for proceeds derived from the oyster leases.
Helen Barrois had argued that the oyster leases were the separate property of Bernice and, upon her death, were the separate property of the succession of Bernice, the opinion stated.
The trial court issued summary judgment in favor of the Mancil executors and denied Helen Barrois’ motion for new and exception of prescription.
In the appeals court, Helen argued that the trial court made factual and legal errors in granting summary judgment in favor of the Mancil executors.
“First, she argues that there is a disputed issue of material fact as to how much money she received from the BP settlement fund,” the opinion stated. “Helen asserts that she received only $401,850.87.”
The appeals court said BP paid Helen in two disbursements of $384,000.00 and $155,725.33 as compensation for her claim for damage to the oyster leases.
“Helen, who hired several attorneys to represent her in the claims process, then allowed her attorneys to deduct $137,874.46 from the settlement to pay her attorney’s fees,” the appeals court said.”It is not disputed that the entire $539,725.33 was paid to Helen.”
Helen also said she owns at least a 7/9th share of the oyster leases and BP payments and that the Mancil heirs, other than Austin, own at most 2/9th of the oyster leases and BP payments.
The appeals court said the trial court didn’t err in deciding that the succession of Mancil is entitled to 50 percent of the total compensation paid by BP for damage to the oyster leases.
The appeals court affirmed the summary judgment for the Mancil executors, affirmed the judgment denying the motion for new trial and affirmed the judgment denying the exception of prescription.