Justia Louisiana Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Vermilion Parish School Board (“VPSB”) filed suit in 2004, alleging oil and gas operations conducted pursuant to a 1935 mineral lease and a 1994 surface lease damaged Section 16 land. VPSB asserted causes of action for negligence, strict liability, unjust enrichment, trespass, breach of contract, and violations of Louisiana environmental laws. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted rehearing to reconsider its prior decision in Louisiana v. Louisiana Land and Exploration Co., 20-00685 (La. 6/30/21), _So.3d_. The case presented two main issues: (1) the proper interpretation of Act 312 relative to the award of damages for the evaluation or remediation of environmental damage; and (2) whether the strict liability tort claim prescribed. With the benefit of additional oral argument and briefing, the Court affirmed its original decree. View "Louisiana, et al. v. Louisiana Land & Exploration Co., et al." on Justia Law

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Defendant Chrystal Clues-Alexander was indicted for the second degree murder of her husband. She made two motions to declare former La.C.Cr.P. art. 782(A) unconstitutional, and require a unanimous jury at trial, which the district court denied. In 2018, she pleaded guilty to manslaughter. She pleaded guilty unconditionally and did not reserve any issues for review pursuant to Louisiana v. Crosby, 338 So.2d 584 (La. 1976). The Louisiana Supreme Court granted review to determine whether the court of appeal erred in ruling that defendant was entitled to withdraw her guilty plea based on Ramos v. Louisiana, 590 U.S. ___, 140 S.Ct. 583, 206 L.Ed.2d 583 (2020). At the time defendant pleaded guilty, the district court advised her that she had the right to a jury trial. After she pleaded guilty, the United States Supreme Court announced a new rule of criminal procedure in Ramos v. Louisiana, holding that a state jury must be unanimous to convict a criminal defendant of a serious offense. The Louisiana Court found that this jurisprudential development subsequent to defendant’s knowing and voluntary plea did not render her plea involuntary or unknowing. Accordingly, the Court reversed the ruling of the court of appeal and reinstated the district court’s ruling, which denied defendant’s motion to withdraw her guilty plea. View "Louisiana v. Clues-Alexander" on Justia Law

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On November 21, 2017, Richard Bush presented to Saint Bernard Parish Hospital for depression and suicidal ideations. At the hospital, Dr. Miguel Aguilera treated and discharged him. Bush attempted re-admittance with the same complaints, but was refused re-admittance. Thereafter, Bush attempted suicide in the hospital bathroom. He was found alive and transported to University Hospital in New Orleans for treatment; however, he succumbed to his injuries from the suicide attempt and died on November 30, 2017. In November 2018, his wife, Patricia Bush, on behalf of herself, her daughters, Madalyn and Ashley Bush, and on behalf of the decedent, Richard Bush, filed a formal pro se complaint with the Patient Compensation Fund (“PCF”) to convene a medical review panel (“MRP”), naming Saint Bernard Parish Hospital and Dr. Aguilera for malpractice relating to Richard Bush's death. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted this writ application in order to determine: (1) whether contra non valentem interrupted prescription; and (2) whether the court of appeal erred in relying on documents that were not entered as evidence and were not part of the record. The Court found that, while contra non valentem may interrupt prescription in a wrongful death claim in certain instances, it did not interrupt prescription in this case due to the fact that the court of appeal incorrectly considered documents that were not in evidence. The Court reversed the court of appeal’s ruling in part, affirmed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Medical Review Panel for the Claim of Richard Bush" on Justia Law

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Defendant Mark Spell was the pastor of a church in Central, Louisiana. On March 31, 2020, he was issued six misdemeanor citations for violating two executive orders issued by Louisiana Governor Edwards in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Louisiana Supreme Court found certain provisions of those two executive orders, as applied to defendant, violated his fundamental right to exercise religion, did not survive strict scrutiny, and were thus unconstitutional. View "Louisiana v. Spell" on Justia Law

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This litigation arose from a medical malpractice suit brought by plaintiffs, individually and on behalf of their minor daughter, against Dr. Daryl Elias, Jr. and his insurer. Plaintiffs alleged Dr. Elias committed malpractice during the child’s delivery, causing a separated right shoulder and a broken clavicle. Plaintiffs also alleged the child suffered permanent injury when the five nerve roots of her brachial plexus were completely and partially avulsed from the spinal cord, causing her to lose the use of her right arm. At the conclusion of trial, a jury returned a verdict in favor of defendants, finding the treatment provided by Dr. Elias to the child did not fall below the applicable standard of care for an obstetrician gynecologist. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case for the primary purpose of addressing two narrow issues: (1) whether any errors in the district court’s evidentiary rulings interdicted the jury’s fact-finding process; and (2) if so, whether the court of appeal erred in reviewing the record de novo. The court of appeal found the district court committed prejudicial legal error in excluding the child's treating orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Kozin’s testimony in part and permitting defendant's retained expert, Dr. Grimm, to testify. The Supreme Court found no error in the judgment of the court of appeal insofar as it reversed the district court’s ruling limiting Dr. Kozin from testifying as to the cause of the child’s injuries: "a review of Dr. Kozin’s excluded testimony reveals he did not render any opinions on whether Dr. Elias breached the standard of care or was otherwise negligent. Rather, he simply testified as to the cause of the child’s injury, explaining that based on his expertise, he was 'certain the force applied by the delivering physician led to this injury.'" The district court erred in restricting his testimony. However, the Supreme Court concluded the district court did not abuse its great discretion in finding Dr. Grimm’s testimony was admissible under the standards set forth in La. Code Evid. art. 702 and Daubert/Foret. The court of appeal erred in reversing the district court’s evidentiary ruling. Furthermore, the Court held the court of appeal abused its discretion by undertaking a de novo review of the record rather than remanding the case for a new trial. In all other respects, the judgment of the court of appeal was vacated, and the case was remanded to the district court for further proceedings. View "LaBauve, et al. v. Louisiana Medical Mutual Ins. Co., et al." on Justia Law

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The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to decide whether the district court had jurisdiction over a claim for penalties against an insurer arising from its failure to provide a defense in workers’ compensation proceedings, and, if so, whether the insurer violated its duties of good faith and fair dealing, thereby making it liable for damages and penalties. After review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court concluded the district court had jurisdiction over the claim and correctly found that the insurer breached its duties to its insured. However, the Court found the district court’s damage award rose to the level of an abuse of discretion. The judgment of the court of appeal was amended to award damages in favor of Cox, Cox, Filo, Camel & Wilson, LLC and against Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Corporation in the total amount of $61,655.00, representing $20,550.00 in special damages and $41,100.00 in penalties. View "Cox, Cox, Filo, Camel & Wilson, LLC v. Louisiana Workers' Compensation Corporation" on Justia Law

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The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to address whether the law in effect at the time a testamentary trust came into existence allowed the settlor of the trust to provide for substitution of beneficiaries when the original beneficiary died testate, but without descendants. The Supreme Court concluded the law permitted such substitution. View "Succession of Dean Bradley" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
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Jefferson Parish directly appealed a trial court’s judgment finding that Jefferson Parish ordinance, Section 36-320, et seq., titled, “School Bus Safety Enforcement Program for Detecting Violations of Overtaking and Passing School Buses” (“SBSEP”), was unconstitutional. After receiving notices of alleged violations of Section 36-320, et seq., of the Jefferson Parish Code of Ordinances, petitioners filed a class action Petition for Damages and Declaratory Judgment. They asserted multiple arguments against the SBSEP, including arguments based on violations of the Jefferson Parish Home Rule Charter and violations of Louisiana statutory law. Petitioners sought a judgment declaring Section 36-320, et seq. unconstitutional and the return of the fines they paid pursuant to the violations. The Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed the trial court, finding Section 36-320, et seq., unconstitutional because it violated Article VI, Section 5(G) and Article VIII, Section 10(A) of the Louisiana Constitution. View "Mellor, et al. v. Parish of Jefferson" on Justia Law

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The Louisiana Cemetery Board (“LCB”) challenged a district court’s judgment finding Louisiana Administrative Code 46:XIII.1503 C to be unconstitutional. Whether the Louisiana Supreme Court had appellate jurisdiction was raised as an issue in an Answer to Appeal filed by appellees, Westlawn Cemeteries, L.L.C. and the Trustees of the Westlawn Memorial Park Perpetual Care Trust Fund. The Supreme Court determined it did not have appellate jurisdiction in this case because the LCB was not a “governing body” and did not exercise “legislative functions.” Its rules and regulations, therefore, were not “laws” for which appellate jurisdiction would lie with the Supreme Court. However, the Court exercised its supervisory jurisdiction to "avoid further delay, and is in the interest of judicial economy." The Court found that the trial court properly found LAC 46:XIII.1503 C to be unconstitutional. "As the only issue in this appeal is the constitutionality of the Rule, no purpose would be served by remanding this case to the appellate court before review would inevitably be sought in this Court." View "Westlawn Cemeteries, LLC v. Louisiana Cemetery Board" on Justia Law

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In 2015, plaintiff Ronald Hicks was a passenger in a heavy-duty flatbed truck when it was rear-ended by a vehicle driven by Robert Harger, Jr., who was traveling at approximately 60-65 mph and did not brake before impact. Plaintiff was treated on 79 occasions with several orthopedic and pain management specialists and surgeons and underwent 13 separate procedures. Relevant here, plaintiff was initially examined by Dr. Jason Smith, an orthopedic spine surgeon, to whom he was referred in conjunction with his worker’s compensation plan. Dr. Smith examined plaintiff and found no evidence of obvious trauma resulting from the accident. Instead, he determined the condition of plaintiff’s lower back was indicative of preexisting degenerative disc disease that was aggravated by the accident. While Dr. Smith did not believe plaintiff exaggerated his pain, he also did not believe plaintiff was a candidate for surgery. Plaintiff ceased treatment with Dr. Smith on January 6, 2017. Plaintiff was thereafter referred by his attorney to Dr. Jorge Isaza, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in spine surgery. At the time of his 2017 deposition, Dr. Isaza recommended cervical surgery but had difficulty identifying the primary source of plaintiff’s lumbar pain and did not definitively suggest lumbar surgery. Dr. Isaza linked the collision to plaintiff’s injuries. In November 2017, defendants moved to compel an additional medical examination (“AME”) under Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure article 1464. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted the writ in this case to examine the meaning of the requirement of “good cause” in Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure article 1464. The Court held that a showing of “good cause” under article 1464 required the moving party establish a reasonable nexus between the requested examination and the condition in controversy. The Court found the trial court abused its discretion in denying defendants’ motion to compel an additional medical examination in this case. Judgment was therefore reversed and the matter remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Hicks v. USAA General Indemnity Co., et al." on Justia Law