Court reverses and remands 15-year Family Worship Center property dispute

By Angela Underwood | Jul 5, 2018

A panel of Louisiana 1st Circuit Court of Appeal judges reversed and remanded a longtime property dispute between a worship center and health science park.

In a 19th Judicial District Court appeal out of the East Parish of Baton Rouge, Judges Michael Guidry, John Pettigrew and William Crain have reversed and remanded the Family Worship Center-Health Science Park LLC (FWCC) lawsuit ruling against Gary Solomon, Stephen Jones and Terry Jones of Health Science Park (HSP), according to a June 21 ruling.

The case, which dates back to 2003, is over a property purchase agreement between FWCC and HSP in Baton Rouge for the relocation site for Earl K. Long Medical Center, expressly limited to the control of Louisiana State University Health Science System. However, exact demographic detail was not in the agreement, “but a survey of the property was to take place after the option was executed,” according to the ruling, adding the agreement expired in August 2004.

“In September 2005, following Hurricane Katrina, both HSP and FWCC attempted to lease the property subject to the Nov. 5, 2004 option agreement,” according to the ruling.

Though the two parties attempted to reach an agreement in 2005, “wherein they agreed that FWCC would be given a 90-day opportunity to lease the property subject to the lease option, and if successful, would pay HSP $600,000,” according to the ruling, FWCC did not keep its end of the bargain and lease the property.

The property dispute continued for years, which brought the last court’s ruling out of the 19th District before the appellate court. Beginning the discussion by citing State ex rel. Division of Administration, Office of Risk Management v. National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Louisiana 2014, the ruling states, “the law of the case doctrine embodies the principle that an appellate court generally does not revisit its own rulings of law on a subsequent appeal in the same case.”

Furthermore,  “re-argument in the same case of a previously decided point will be barred where there is simply a doubt as to the correctness of the earlier ruling,” according to the ruling.

The panel of appellate judges deem “from our review of the record, it is clear that at the time this court rendered its prior opinions, FWCC had attacked the validity of the option agreement based on its alleged restriction to the LSU project and with regard to exercise of the lease option; neither its original petition nor its first supplemental and amending petition, which withdrew its claim for rescission, nullity, and/or avoidance of the option agreement and sought reformation, addressed the purchase property.”

That is when the panel ruled “the trial court abused its discretion in applying law of the case to prohibit FWCC from presenting evidence of the invalidity of the option agreement as a defense to HSP' s claims regarding the purchase property,” according to the ruling.

“We not only reverse the trial court's judgment sustaining the exception raising the objection of res judicata, but we also reverse the trial court's judgment rendered in conformity with the jury's verdict and remand this matter to the trial court for further proceedings,” the panel of judges concluded in the ruling.

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