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Law School Case Brief

Joiner v. Abercrombie - 42638 ( La. App. 2 Cir 09/31/07), 968 So. 2d 1184

Rule:

Lesion beyond moiety is a sale of a corporeal immovable for which the buyer paid less than one-half of its fair market value. Lesion can be claimed only by the seller, La. Civ. Code Ann. art 2589. Fair market value is defined as the amount a willing and informed buyer would pay a willing and informed seller for a particular piece of property, with neither being under any compulsion to buy or sell. La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 2590 provides that the immovable sold must be evaluated according to the state in which it was at the time of the sale.

Facts:

Plaintiff Luzon Joiner, an elderly World War II veteran, sold a 198-acre tract of land located on Highway 33 in Union Parish to defendants, Robert S. Abercrombie and Brenda Kay Hobson Abercrombie, for $110,000. Robert Abercrombie, a timber buyer and manager, had bought and cut timber on this tract from Joiner in the past. The deed was drafted and notarized by attorney Bruce Hampton. Within one month of the sale, defendants transferred the property by an exchange deed to Pinoak Investments, LLC, which developed and sold the property as a residential area. Attorney Hampton, one of the owners of Pinoak, signed the exchange deed as the duly authorized manager of Pinoak. Exactly what Pinoak paid for the property is at issue in this action for damages. Plaintiff seller alleges lesion beyond moiety, contending that the sale price of his transfer to the Abercrombies was less than one-half of the value of the property. The trial court found that plaintiff did not prove lesion and dismissed his lawsuit.

Issue:

Was the seller of real property entitled to damages under legion by moiety?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The judgment was reversed and rendered in favor of the seller in the amount of $190,000, together with interest from the date of judicial demand. The appellate court found that if the attorney was representing the buyers when he purchased the property for his development company, then he may have been in violation of the rules of professional conduct. It held that the trial court erred in denying the seller the right to examine the attorney about the details of the transaction and in particular, the structuring of the purchase price between the developer and the buyers. It was clear that the timber management agreement was a sham, designed to conceal the true purchase price received by the buyers, which was $300,000. The trial court also erred in relying solely on the appraisal of one expert who evaluated the property as cutover timberland without considering the testimony of the three experts who concurred that the property in question had its highest and best use as residential. Because the fair market value was $300,000 and the profit realized by the buyers was $190,000, the seller was entitled to damages in the amount of $190,000.

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