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Court revives FEMA trailer fine case

Court revives FEMA trailer fine case

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – A south Louisiana motorcycle and motor home dealer is again facing $46,000 in fines for selling new travel trailers to a government agency without a proper license in the weeks following Hurricane Katrina.
The 1st Circuit Court of Appeal, in a ruling issued this month, reversed an earlier decision by state District Judge Wilson Fields, who ruled in September 2006 that Bourget’s of the South had a proper license to sell the trailers.
Bourget’s attorney, Robert Tarcza of New Orleans, said Wednesday he will ask the 1st Circuit to rehear the issue to clarify and possibly change its conclusion.
Bourget’s, a company owned by the father and uncle of state Rep. Gary Smith, D-Norco, obtained a license in January 2005 to sell new and used motorcycles, and used motor homes and travel trailers. On Sept. 9 and Sept. 17 that same year — soon after Hurricane Katrina hit — Bourget’s entered into contracts with FEMA to sell 279 travel trailers for evacuees.
Bourget’s delivered 211 of those trailers before a competitor filed a complaint Oct. 12, 2005, with the Louisiana Recreational and Used Motor Vehicle Commission. The complaint said Bourget’s was selling new trailers instead of used ones.
Bourget’s applied for a license to sell new motor homes and trailers on Oct. 17 and a license was issued the next day. But the new license fixed the effective date retroactively to Jan. 1, 2005.
During a Sept. 19, 2006, hearing before Fields, Commission Executive Director Jack Torrance testified that despite the effective date on the license, he considered the effective date to be the date it was actually issued, Oct. 18, 2005.
The commission fined Bourget’s $46,000, or $2,000 for each day it sold travel trailers before getting the proper license.
The appeals court ruling by a three-judge panel said the commission must be given deference in interpreting its own rules and that the commission’s ruling in the Bourget’s case was ‘not arbitrary, capricious or characterized by an abuse of discretion.’
The court added: ‘It is undisputed in this matter that regardless of the stated effective date on the license Bourget’s received, Bourget’s did not apply for or obtain a license authorizing it to sell new recreational vehicles until after it had already begun selling the vehicles to FEMA. Clearly Bourget’s could not have obtained a license within the meaning of the statute before it ever applied for one.’
Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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