Justia Civil Procedure Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Louisiana Supreme Court
Newtek Small Business Finance, LLC v. Baker
Baker Sales, Inc. (“BSI”) obtained two loans from Newtek Small Business Finance, Inc. (“Newtek”) which were secured by mortgages on BSI’s commercial property. Robert and Elsa Baker (collectively “the Bakers”) executed agreements unconditionally guaranteeing payment of all amounts owed on the loans. These agreements were secured by conventional mortgages on the Bakers’ home. BSI filed for bankruptcy approximately two years later. Newtek filed a proof of claim in the bankruptcy proceeding for the total amount of the outstanding balance of the loans. The bankruptcy court granted Newtek’s motion to lift the automatic bankruptcy stay. Newtek then filed a petition for executory process in state court against BSI and the Bakers requesting seizure and sale of BSI’s commercial property without the benefit of appraisal. Newtek purchased the seized property at a sheriff’s sale; the bankruptcy case was subsequently closed. Newtek filed the suit at issue here, seeking to foreclose on the Bakers’ home. The trial court issued a judgment preliminarily enjoining the sale of the Bakers’ home and converted the proceeding from executory to ordinary. The Bakers filed a petition seeking a declaration under the Louisiana Deficiency Judgment Act (“LDJA”) that as the underlying debt was extinguished, Newtek could no longer pursue them as sureties. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari review to determine whether a creditor’s recovery in a deficiency judgment action was barred against a surety when a creditor forecloses on property through a judicial sale without appraisal. Harmonizing the LDJA with the law of suretyship, the Supreme Court agreed with the court of appeal that such recovery was barred. View "Newtek Small Business Finance, LLC v. Baker" on Justia Law
Bellard v. ATK Construction, LLC et al.
In April 2019, plaintiff Zach Bellard petitioned for damages for personal injuries he allegedly sustained when a defective attic/ceiling joist broke and caused him to fall while working as a plumber on a construction project (the “Project”) involving renovations to a building located on the campus of The University of Louisiana at Lafayette (“ULL”). Plaintiff named as defendants: ATK Construction, LLC (“ATK”), Bernard, the Board of Supervisors for the University of Louisiana System, Garden City Construction Co., Inc., United Fire & Indemnity Company, and American Empire Surplus Lines Insurance Company. Plaintiff alleged his injuries were due to the fault and negligence of the Defendants and that, as a result of their fault and/or obligation to insure, Defendants were individually and jointly liable. Plaintiff did not allege any contractual privity with the Defendants, including Bernard, or any other source of liability beyond negligence. Over one year after Plaintiff filed his petition, Bernard filed a third party demand against Doug Ashy, alleging it entered into a contract with ULL in 2017 to furnish all labor, materials, equipment, transportation, supervision, permits, etc., necessary to complete “Phase I” renovations to the Project. Doug Ashy filed an Exception of Prematurity and an Exception of Prescription, asserting: (1) the tort indemnity claim was premature because Bernard had not suffered a compensable loss; and (2) the claims for redhibition and products liability were prescribed because Bernard failed to file its third party demand within 90 days of Plaintiff’s demand pursuant to La. C.C.P. art. 1041. Doug Ashy also filed an Exception of No Right and/or No Cause of Action. The district court granted the Exception of Prematurity and Exception of Prescription and found the Exception of No Right and/or No Cause of Action to be moot as a result of its ruling. While both Doug Ashy and Bernard focused their arguments to the Louisiana Supreme Court on prematurity and prescription of Bernard’s third party claims, the Court observed it was questionable whether the facts alleged in the petition could ever support a third party claim for tort indemnity. The Court remanded the case to the district court for reconsideration of Plaintiff's exceptions: "a suit alleging liability of a defendant arising solely as a result of its own fault cannot support a defendant’s claim for tort indemnity." View "Bellard v. ATK Construction, LLC et al." on Justia Law
Menard v. Targa Resources, L.L.C.
United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit certified a question of law to the Louisiana Supreme Court. The questions related to claims made by Kirk Menard, who worked as an environmental, safety, and health specialist at Targa Resources, LLC’s Venice, Louisiana plant. His job duties included ensuring Targa complied with various state and federal environmental and safety standards. Menard reported to two individuals: his “official supervisor,” David Smith, who resided at another facility, and an “indirect supervisor,” Ted Keller, who served as an area manager for the Venice plant. Menard’s indirect supervisor, in turn, reported to Perry Berthelot, a Targa District Manager. In a conference call, Menard reported that the total suspended solids in certain recent water samples exceeded regulatory limits. At the end of the call, Berthelot told Menard to call him back to discuss the plan for rectifying these exceedances. Menard obliged, and he alleged Berthelot told him he should dilute the sewage samples with bottled water. Menard claimed that in response he nervously laughed and said, “no, we’re going to correct it the right way.” The federal appellate court asked the Louisiana Supreme Court: (1) whether refusals to engage in illegal or environmentally damaging activities were “disclosures” under the current version of the Louisiana Environmental Whistleblower Statute ("LEWS"); and (2) whether LEWS afforded protection to an employee who reports to his supervisor an activity, policy, or practice of an employer which he reasonably believes is in violation of an environmental law, rule, or regulation, where reporting violations of environmental law, rules, or regulations, is a part of the employee’s normal job responsibilities. The Supreme Court responded in the affirmative to both questions. View "Menard v. Targa Resources, L.L.C." on Justia Law
Jones v. Market Basket Stores, Inc.
The district court awarded damages to plaintiff Lashondra Jones who was allegedly injured when she stepped on a wooden pallet with an attached pallet guard, holding a bulk watermelon bin, to reach a watermelon in the bottom of the bin, and the pallet guard collapsed. Defendant Market Basket Stores, Inc. appealed, and the appellate court reversed the award, finding manifest error in the factual findings of the district court requiring de novo review and concluding that the watermelon display did not present an unreasonable risk of harm to plaintiff. After review, the Louisiana Supreme Court concluded there was no manifest error in the district court’s finding of negligence on the part of the defendant; therefore, the appellate court erred in its ruling. View "Jones v. Market Basket Stores, Inc." on Justia Law
Tisdale v. Hedrick, et al.
Matthew Morgan, an inmate assigned to the Concordia Parish Correctional Facility and under the supervision of the Sheriff of Concordia Parish, escaped from his trustee work assignment at the Concordia Parish courthouse. Morgan walked to a nearby Wal-Mart parking lot where he attempted to carjack and kidnap Sharon Tisdale. Tisdale was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the incident, and filed suit against Morgan and the Sheriff. Following a trial, the district court found both defendants liable, apportioning 90 percent of the fault to the Sheriff and 10 percent to Morgan. The district court awarded Tisdale $250,000 in general damages. The issue this case presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court's review was whether the district court erred in its apportionment of fault, and whether the court abused its discretion in awarding damages. The Supreme Court determined fault should have been reallocated, decreasing the Sheriff’s fault to 50 percent and increasing Morgan’s fault to 50 percent. However, the Court found no abuse of discretion in the award for general damages. View "Tisdale v. Hedrick, et al." on Justia Law
Johnson, et al. v. Vincent, et al.
Lake Charles Rubber and Gasket Co., L.L.C. ("Lake") and its sole owner, Vesta Balay Johnston (collectively, Plaintiffs), and Gulf Coast Rubber and Gasket, L.L.C. ("Gulf') and Bryan Vincent (collectively, Defendants), both appealed certain court of appeal rulings. Defendants asserted the court of appeal failed to correctly apply the manifest error standard of review in reversing the district court's findings that certain Lake information in Gulf's possession did not constitute "trade secrets" or that their misappropriation was not otherwise a violation of the Louisiana Unfair Trade Secrets Act ("LUTSA"). They further argued the court of appeal erred in increasing the damages award from $700,000 to $19,574,884, i.e., a multiple of nearly 28, where ample evidence in the record supported the district court's judgment as to damages. Plaintiffs argued the court of appeal erred on rehearing by eliminating the treble damages applied to its award for unjust enrichment and dismissing Johnston's claim for diminution in value of her ownership interest in Lake. The Louisiana Supreme Court reversed the court of appeal in part as to its finding that Lake's parts numbering system and descriptions constituted a trade secret under LUTSA. Furthermore, the Court reversed the court of appeal as to the increase in the amount of lost profit damages. The case was remanded to the district court for a recalculation of lost profit damages giving consideration to the violations of LUTSA related to Gulf's misappropriation of Lake's customer lists and inventory usage history with respect to the Sasol customer contract. The Court affirmed in all other respects and remanded for further proceedings. View "Johnson, et al. v. Vincent, et al." on Justia Law
Crooks, et al. v. Louisiana, Dept. of Nat. Resources
This matter arose from a 2006 class action suit instituted by Steve Crooks and Era Lee Crooks (“Class Plaintiffs”) against the State through the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (“LDNR”) concerning the ownership of riverbanks in the Catahoula Basin and subsequent mineral royalty payments. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted review in this case to address whether mandamus may lie to compel the State to pay a judgment rendered against it for mineral royalty payments. Finding that the payment of a judgment concerning the return of mineral royalties received by the State required legislative appropriation, an act that is discretionary in nature, the appellate court erred in issuing the writ of mandamus. View "Crooks, et al. v. Louisiana, Dept. of Nat. Resources" on Justia Law
Pineville City Court, et al. v. City of Pineville, et al.
The Pineville City Court was fully funded by the City of Pineville. This funding included amounts for the salaries of three clerk positions and accompanying human resources services. In turn, the City Court reimbursed the City for forty-percent of those expenses. In November 2020, the Pineville City Court informed the City that it would no longer reimburse the forty- percent as it had done in the past. Thereafter, the City sent notice that it would reduce payments of the clerks’ salaries by forty-percent, cease providing payroll and human resources services, pay only sixty-percent of the clerks’ retirement contributions, and discontinue the clerks’ participation in the city’s Blue Cross health plan. In this mandamus action the issue presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court's review was whether the court of appeal erred in reversing the trial court’s judgment that granted the City's exception of no cause of action. The plain language of La. R.S. 13:1888 A mandated only a minimum salary amount that must be paid to the city court clerk and deputy clerks. "The governing authorities have discretion to pay more than the mandated minimum salary. A mandamus action is an incorrect vehicle for the demand asserted by Pineville City Court because the underlying duty is not purely ministerial in nature." Accordingly, the Supreme Court found that the trial court correctly granted the exception of no cause of action. View "Pineville City Court, et al. v. City of Pineville, et al." on Justia Law
Spencer v. Valero Refining Meraux, LLC
In 2020, an accident, fire, and explosion occurred in the hydrocracker unit at a Valero Refining-Meraux, LLC refinery in Meraux, Louisiana. No significant levels of chemicals were detected as a result of the explosion. Multiple residents in the vicinity of the refinery filed suit for the negligent infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiff Brittany Spencer and her two minor children, Chloe LaFrance and Lanny LaFrance III, were at home sleeping when the explosion occurred. Their residence was approximately 2,000 feet from the epicenter of the explosion. Spencer and Chloe were unexpectedly awakened by a loud sound of unknown origin and a significant shockwave and vibration of unknown origin. Lanny was not awakened. The sound and/or shockwave shook Spencer’s bedroom window. Spencer went outside and observed a large flame of the fire coming from the refinery, and the sky was lit up. Almost immediately after the explosion, Spencer began to hear police vehicles, fire trucks, and ambulances as part of the emergency response that lasted for several hours. Spencer went back inside, and she and Chloe went back to sleep. On the morning of the explosion, Spencer and her children left their residence out of an abundance of caution and did not return until two days later. Spencer eventually returned to her normal sleep schedule, albeit with some trouble; she did not allow her children to play outside due to concerns for their safety. Thereafter, Spencer and her children began staying at their residence less and later moved away from the refinery in June 2020. Spencer, individually and on behalf of her minor children, and Lanny LaFrance, Jr. on behalf of his minor children, filed suit against Valero alleging damages for emotional distress, but did not allege physical injury, property damage, or financial loss. Valero appealed when a trial court awarded damages to plaintiffs for negligent infliction of emotional distress. The Louisiana Supreme Court found no Plaintiff met their burden of proving they were entitled to such an award, and reversed the trial court. View "Spencer v. Valero Refining Meraux, LLC" on Justia Law
Hidden Grove, LLC v. Brauns
This case arose from a dispute regarding the excavation of lots located in the The Grove Subdivision between plaintiff Hidden Grove LLC (“Hidden Grove”), the developer of The Grove, and homeowner defendants Richard and Lisa Brauns (the Braunses). In 2011, the Braunses purchased a home located on Lot 14 of The Grove from a third party not involved in this litigation. The next day, the Braunses purchased Lot 15 from Hidden Grove for $100,000. They also acquired a right of first refusal to purchase Lots 16 and 17. The surface elevations of Lots 16 and 17 were eight feet higher than that of Lot 15. Because the Braunses intended to add on to their home and build a swimming pool on Lot 15, they sought to lower the elevation of Lots 16 and 17 to match the elevation of the lots previously purchased. Hidden Grove agreed the Braunses could lower the elevation of Lots 16 and 17, at their own expense. Before the parties executed a written agreement setting forth the engineering specifications for the excavation, work began in January 2013 on oral permission of Hidden Grove. In June 2013, after the excavation was near completion, disputes arose between the parties, specifically as to whether the Braunses were required to extend the retaining wall onto Lots 16 and 17. When Richard Brauns told Hidden Grove that the wall would terminate at the boundary of Lot 15 and 16, Hidden Grove ordered the Braunses to stop work and “get off the property.” Hidden Grove filed suit against the Braunses alleging breach of contract and requesting specific performance of concluding the excavation and construction of a retaining wall through the backs of Lots 16 and 17. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted review in this matter to review the court of appeal’s determination that Hidden Grove could not assert a claim for enrichment without cause under Civil Code article 2298 for failure to establish the “no other remedy at law” element of the claim. The Court concluded the court of appeal erred and remanded the matter to the court of appeal for consideration of pretermitted issues. View "Hidden Grove, LLC v. Brauns" on Justia Law