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La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 2276 provides that parol evidence shall not be admitted against what is beyond what is contained in the acts nor on what may have been said before, or at the time of making them, or since. Other than in an action for reformation for mutual mistake, the sole exception to this general rule excluding parol evidence is that uncertain ties or ambiguities in the language may be clarified by parol evidence.
The instant litigation began on August 22, 1974, when A. J. Graffagnino and Donald G. Perez, owners of the property at the corner of 8th Street and Causeway Boulevard in Metairie, filed a petition to enjoin the defendants, Lifestyles, Inc. and Murray P. Holmes, an officer of Lifestyles, from removing or disassembling a structure on the land. The defendants then answered, alleging that the structure is an "O'Dome", a dome-like building on a wooden platform supported by pilings and hooked up to electrical and water connections. The defendant, Murray, later testified at trial that the former owner of the property, Leeand, Inc., had allowed Lifestyles to place this demonstration model of the type of building it sells in return for keeping the grass cut. The defendants further alleged that the building is designed to be portable and therefore movable and its ownership did not pass when ownership of the land passed to the plaintiffs on December 20, 1973. Defendants also alleged that Leeand had agreed in its arrangement with Lifestyles that it would retain ownership of the O'Dome and the right to remove it at the end of the lease and had informed the plaintiffs of this agreement before plaintiffs had bought the property. The defendant also reconvened against the plaintiffs for damages to the structure, which is now destroyed, in the amount of $ 15,000.00. The defendants also third-partied the former owner, Leeand and its president, Folse Roy, alleging that if the third party defendants had failed to notify the original plaintiffs, specifically the ownership of the structure separate from the land, then the third party defendants are liable to defendants for the amount of their reconventional demand.
Did ownership pass on to the plaintiffs by virtue of the act of sale?
The written act of sale by which Leeand conveyed the land to the plaintiffs on December 20, 1973, describes the property conveyed as "Six certain lots of ground, together with all the buildings and improvements thereon …'. The property is described in the same manner in the mortgage and conveyance certificates. In this case the wording of the contract of sale between Leeand and the plaintiffs is clear and unambiguous. Ownership of all buildings and improvements transferred with the land. The terms of the verbal agreement between Leeand and Lifestyles cannot be introduced to vary the terms of the contract of sale. It is agreed by all parties that Lifestyles did own the O'Dome and did lease the land from Leeand in July of 1973. Nevertheless, this lease was not recorded and the plaintiffs were not parties to it, so the plaintiffs acquired the property and buildings and improvements thereon free of obligations of the unrecorded lease regardless of the plaintiffs' actual knowledge of the situation. Therefore, ownership of the O'Dome passed to the plaintiffs in the act of sale if it was a "building or improvement', i. e., an immovable. The Court believes that it is an immovable, a "building or other construction' according to La.C.C. Art. 464 (now C.C. Art. 463, as revised by acts of 1978, No. 728), and the jurisprudence of this state.
While the O'Dome is designed to be portable, it is also designed to withstand storms and high winds. Therefore, when it is in use, it is designed to have a degree of permanency. The structure involved in this case was situated on a platform integrated into the ground with pilings. The structure remained so situated on the property for over a year in all kinds of weather, as the defendant, Holmes, testified that it was designed to do. It could be and was designed to be disassembled and transported easily, but it would lose its identity as a result. Furthermore, as the court held in Ellis v. Dillon, supra, the courts must determine what is a building or other construction qualifying as an immovable under Art. 464 (now Art. 463, revised by Acts 1978, No. 728) in light of the social needs of the time. The O'Dome is designed to be easily portable, yet it is intended to be used as a dwelling. When used as a dwelling it is integrated with the soil and stationary. It is a movable only when disassembled, i. e., not in use. The O'Dome on the plaintiff's property was therefore an immovable and therefore ownership of it passed to the plaintiffs along with the land it occupied in the act of sale of December 20, 1973.