Law School Case Brief
Mathews v. Mathews - 1 So. 3d 738, 2008 La. App. LEXIS 1689, 43806 ( La. App. 2 Cir 12/17/08)
The Civil Code defines two types of simulations. Article 2026 provides: A simulation is absolute when the parties intend that their contract shall produce no effects between them. That simulation, therefore, can have no effects between the parties. This contrasts with a relative simulation, where the parties intend that their contract produce effects between them which are different from those recited in their contract, La. C.C. art. 2027.
The Civil Code addresses in general the required consent for a contract in Article 1927, providing that a contract is formed by the consent of the parties established through offer and acceptance. Consent may be vitiated by error, La. C.C. art. 1948. For a valid contract, the court must find that there was a meeting of the minds of the parties to constitute consent. The existence or nonexistence of a contract is a question of fact which will not be disturbed by the appellate court unless clearly wrong.
In 1971, Lavada and her husband, Alfred Mathews, Sr., acquired the 51 acres with a house upon it, known as the Farm. Upon Alfred Sr.'s death in 1980, his widow, Lavada, was declared the surviving spouse and the owner of an undivided one-half interest in the community and usufructuary. Their two children, Alfred and Emmett, were recognized as the sole heirs and naked owners of the property, subject to their mother's usufruct. In 1996, defendant Emmett and his mother Lavada, executed a cash sale deed of the Farm. Defendant Emmett donated the one-half (1/2) undivided interest in the Farm to his cousin, co-defendant Charles Rusty Matthews. Defendants Emmett and Charles then partitioned the Farm. The attorney of Lavada Matthews wrote a letter to defendant Emmett, threatening a legal action to set aside the “invalid deed” of sale. Thereafter, Lavada executed an Act of Donation, donating a full ownership interest in the Farm to the other son, Alfred Matthews. In 2000, Lavada Matthews executed a revocation of her donation of the Farm to plaintiff Alfred Matthews. Notwithstanding the revocation, plaintiff Alfred filed suit against the defendants, his brother Emmett and his cousin, Rusty, and prayed that ownership of the Farm be recognized in his mother Lavada upon nullification of the Sale to defendant Emmett. Lavada died soon afterward in 2001.
1) Was the case sale deed executed by Emmett Matthews and Lavada Matthews a simulated contract?
2) Was the real intent of Lavada and Emmett Matthews in executing the cash sale deed to constitute a donation of the full ownership?
1) The Court held that the 1996 sale was an absolute nullity. The Court found that Emmett failed to sustain his burden of proving that he and his mother intended a relative simulation or disguised donation by the 1996 sale. Defendant Emmett conceded that the disputed written transaction was never completed as a sale and that no price was ever paid. Furthermore, Defendant Emmett testified that his mother Lavada never asked or instructed him to receive title to the property for some later division of ownership of the farm into thirds (between the two brothers and their cousin). The Court also resolved that the actions of Lavada of threatening suit against Emmett Matthews over "the invalid deed,” and executed an instrument purporting to donate the entirety of the ownership of the Farm to Alfred Matthews, clearly implied that the prior Sale was not intended to transfer the ownership of the Farm irrevocably to defendant Emmett.
2) There was no showing of a meeting of the minds between defendant Emmett and his mother Lavada to constitute their mutual consent for a donation. At the time of the Sale in 1996, defendant Emmett did not understand that his mother Lavada was donating the complete and irrevocable ownership of the Farm to him. This lack of a mutual understanding by the parties at the time of the execution of the Sale was also consequential for determining defendant Emmett's acceptance of the donation. Though defendant Emmett’s signature was on the cash sale deed form, the Sale obviously did not express the language of his acceptance of the property as a donee. Finally, the Court found that the actions of Lavada Matthews demonstrated that she had no donative intent to transfer the Farm to Emmett.
The Court reversed the trial court.
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