Justia Louisiana Supreme Court Opinion Summaries
KLING VS. HEBERT
The Supreme Court of Louisiana was asked by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on whether the commencement of a suit in a court of competent jurisdiction and venue interrupts prescription as to causes of action, understood as legal claims rather than the facts giving rise to them, not asserted in that suit. This query arose from the case of Randall Kling who initially filed suit in state court alleging his dismissal from the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control was in retaliation for submitting written complaints about workplace and ethics violations. He later filed a complaint in federal district court citing substantially similar facts and seeking relief for violations of his federal First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.The Supreme Court of Louisiana answered the certified question by stating that prescription or the period within which a lawsuit may be filed is interrupted when notice is sufficient to fully inform the defendant of the nature of the claim of the plaintiff, and what is demanded of the defendant. The Court explained that the essence of interruption of prescription by suit is notice to the defendant of the legal proceedings based on the claim involved. The court emphasized that notice is sufficient when it fully informs the defendant of the nature of the plaintiff's claim, and what is demanded of the defendant. Thus, the court took a balanced approach between a broad interpretation of interruption and a narrow one, placing emphasis on notice to the defendant, addressed on a case-by-case basis. View "KLING VS. HEBERT" on Justia Law
LAW INDUSTRIES, LLC VS. STATE
In a dispute arising from a contract for refurbishing an elementary school, the Supreme Court of Louisiana ruled that no unfair trade practices claim could be stated against the State of Louisiana, Department of Education, Recovery School District (the “State”). The plaintiff, Advanced Environmental Consulting, Inc. (“AEC”), had subcontracted to perform asbestos abatement services for Law Industries, LLC, the general contractor. When the State terminated the contract due to unsatisfactory asbestos remediation progress, AEC amended its answer to Law Industries' breach of contract suit to include a claim of unfair trade practices under the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act (“LUTPA”). The State had objected to this claim, arguing that AEC had no cause of action and that the claim was perempted (time-barred). The Supreme Court of Louisiana held that AEC had failed to state a valid LUTPA cause of action against the State. It concluded that the State's actions were in furtherance of its governmental function of providing safe educational facilities for schoolchildren. The State, in this case, was a consumer of construction services, not a participant in "trade or commerce" as defined in the LUTPA, and was therefore not subject to a LUTPA claim. The court remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings consistent with its ruling. View "LAW INDUSTRIES, LLC VS. STATE" on Justia Law
STATE EX REL. ROBINSON VS. VANNOY
Darrell J. Robinson was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Robinson appealed to the Supreme Court of Louisiana, arguing that the state suppressed material evidence that violated his due process rights. The evidence in question included undisclosed deals with jailhouse informant Leroy Goodspeed, serology reports and notes, other forensic evidence, and eyewitness accounts inconsistent with trial testimony.The court found that the state did suppress evidence and this evidence was favorable to the defense. The court further found that the undisclosed evidence was material and its suppression undermined confidence in the verdict. Consequently, the court decided that Robinson did not receive a fair trial, resulting in a verdict unworthy of confidence. The court reversed Robinson's conviction, vacated his sentence, and remanded the case for a new trial. View "STATE EX REL. ROBINSON VS. VANNOY" on Justia Law
STATE OF LOUISIANA VS. JOSE M. SAGASTUME
In this case, the Supreme Court of Louisiana reviewed a conviction for domestic abuse battery involving strangulation. The defendant, Jose Sagastume, was found guilty by a unanimous jury and sentenced to three years imprisonment with two years suspended, followed by two years of probation. The defendant appealed his conviction, arguing that the trial court erred in denying his challenges for cause against two potential jurors: a retired police officer and a former assistant district attorney. However, the defense counsel did not object when the trial court denied these challenges.The Court of Appeal set aside the conviction, stating that despite the lack of formal objection, the defense counsel's reasons for the challenges and subsequent use of peremptory challenges to remove the jurors were sufficient to preserve the issue for review.The Supreme Court of Louisiana disagreed, ruling that according to the Code of Criminal Procedure art. 800(A), a defendant must object contemporaneously to a ruling refusing to sustain a challenge for cause in order to assign it as an error on appeal. The court found that the defense counsel's acquiescence without objection did not meet this requirement. Therefore, it reversed the ruling of the Court of Appeal, reinstated the conviction and sentence, and affirmed them. The court emphasized that the legislature's language in Article 800(A) was clear: an objection must be made at the time of the ruling, and the nature and grounds for the objection must be stated at that time. View "STATE OF LOUISIANA VS. JOSE M. SAGASTUME" on Justia Law
Posted in: Criminal Law
Caldwell v. City of Shreveport
The Louisiana Supreme Court granted review in this case to clarify the statutory funding obligations of the City of Shreveport (“the City”) to the Shreveport City Marshal (“the Marshal”). Based on the plain language of the relevant statutory provisions, the Court found find La. R.S. 13:1889 required only that the City fund the operation and maintenance expenses of the physical offices of the Marshal. View "Caldwell v. City of Shreveport" on Justia Law
Posted in: Government & Administrative Law
Louisiana in the interest of D.W.
The Louisiana Supreme Court granted the State’s application to review the court of appeal’s determination that the State failed to prove that 16-year-old D.W. was the person who entered a sheriff’s vehicle and stole firearms from inside it, and therefore that the evidence was insufficient to support the delinquency adjudication for burglary involving a firearm, La. R.S. 14:62, and theft of a firearm, La. R.S. 14:67.15. After reviewing the record, the Supreme Court found the State presented sufficient evidence that D.W. was a principal, in accordance with La. R.S. 14:24, to these felony-grade delinquent acts regardless of whether he personally entered the vehicle and took the firearms that were inside it himself. Therefore, the Court reversed the ruling of the court of appeal and reinstated the delinquency adjudication and dispositions imposed by the juvenile court, which were then affirmed. View "Louisiana in the interest of D.W." on Justia Law
Pete v. Boland Marine & Mfg. Co, LLC et al.
The issue this case presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court's review was whether the court of appeal properly found no abuse of discretion in a jury’s award of approximately $10 million in general damages to plaintiff Henry Pete who developed mesothelioma as a result of his exposure to asbestos. Intertwined with this issue was the fundamental question of the manner by which appellate courts were to review damage awards for excessiveness; necessarily, the same rules would apply in determining whether an award was too low. Louisiana jurisprudence had a long-standing general principle that, in reviewing a general damage award, the “initial inquiry . . . is whether the trier of fact abused its discretion in assessing the amount of damages.” Thereafter, and only when a determination has been made that the “trier of fact has abused its ‘much discretion,’” will a court “resort to prior awards . . . and then only for the purpose of determining the highest or lowest point which is reasonably within that discretion.” Such determinations are not subject to mathematical exactitude or scientific precision. The Court held that an appellate court must consider relevant prior general damage awards as guidance in determining whether a trier of fact’s award is an abuse of discretion. Applying this principle to this case, the Court found the jury abused its discretion in awarding $9,800,00.00 in general damages. "The evidence presented at trial does not support an award that far exceeds the highest reasonable awards in cases involving similar injuries. Accordingly, based on the evidence adduced at trial, we find $5,000,000.00 to be the highest amount that could reasonably be awarded." View "Pete v. Boland Marine & Mfg. Co, LLC et al." on Justia Law
In re: JUDGE G. Michael Canaday
In Louisiana v. Bartie, 14th Judicial District Court Case Number 12615-16, Div. G, Judge Michael Canaday presided over multiple hearings relating to the defendant’s indigency and his request for ancillary funding for defense experts. Because the hearings involved the disclosure of defense strategy, they were conducted without the district attorney, and the transcripts were sealed. Judge Canaday found the defendant was not indigent and denied his request for funding. The defense filed a writ application with the Third Circuit Court of Appeal challenging the indigency ruling. To facilitate filing the application, Judge Canaday granted defense counsel’s request for transcripts of the hearings. After defense counsel moved to obtain a missing transcript, Judge Canaday ordered the transcript be given to defense counsel and handwrote that it be “release[d] from seal.” Judge Canaday then received an email from the district attorney’s office asking whether his order gave the district attorney’s office access to the transcripts, or only defense counsel and the Third Circuit. Defense counsel was not copied with this email. Judge Canaday replied: “Since I don’t believe the state could appeal my granting relief to the defense on funding, I don’t think they can support the courts [sic] position to deny. The courts [sic] reasons will be sufficient for the 3rd to review. If the 3rd requests a states [sic] response obviously they could access the record.” Defense counsel was not included in these communications. The district attorney’s office then filed a “Motion to Unseal All Documents and Transcripts in Regards to Determining Indigency of the Defendant.” This motion was styled neither ex parte nor unopposed. Without a hearing, Judge Canaday signed an order granting the district attorney’s office the requested relief. Defense counsel did not have an opportunity to respond. The materials released by Judge Canaday included a transcript of a closed hearing where defense strategy specific to Bartie was discussed, including experts and their expected testimony. Defense counsel successfully argued for Judge Canaday’s recusal from the Bartie case. Writ applications seeking reversal of the recusal were denied by both the Third Circuit and the Louisiana Supreme Court. The recusal and subsequent related writ applications resulted in the expenditure of significant time, effort, and funds by both the state and defense counsel. There were negative media reports concerning Judge Canaday’s actions. Media reports prompted a Judiciary Commission investigation. The Commission found Judge Canaday engaged in improper ex parte communications and inappropriately granted a state motion to release documents from seal without holding a hearing or otherwise allowing defense counsel the opportunity to respond. The Commission recommended that he be publicly censured and pay costs. The Louisiana Supreme Court concurred with the censure recommendation. View "In re: JUDGE G. Michael Canaday" on Justia Law
Sebble v. St. Luke’s #2, LLC d/b/a St. Luke’s Living Center, et al.
The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari in this medical malpractice matter in order to consider whether the gross negligence standard of La.R.S. 29:771(B)(2)(c) was to be considered by a medical review panel when the medical treatment occurred during a declared state of public health emergency pursuant to La.R.S. 29:766(A). To this, the Court found the trial court did not err in declaring that La.R.S. 29:771(B)(2)(c) should not be considered or applied in medical review panel proceedings and, therefore, did not err in granting Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment. Likewise, the court of appeal did not err in its affirmation. Thus, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Sebble v. St. Luke's #2, LLC d/b/a St. Luke's Living Center, et al." on Justia Law
The Cartesian Company, inc. v. Div. of Admin. Law Ethics Adj. Bd. Panel, et al.
The issue this case presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court's review involved the constitutionality a part of the Louisiana Ethics Code, La. R.S. 42:1113(B). Specifically, the Court reviewed whether the trial court erred in granting the motion for summary judgment filed by Plaintiffs-respondents, The Cartesian Company, Inc. (“Cartesian”) and Greg Gachassin (collectively “Plaintiffs”). The trial court ruled that the words “in any way interested in” contained in La. R.S. 42:1113(B) “are hereby struck down, and declared of no effect, as violating both the Federal and State Constitutions because these words . . . are unconstitutionally vague and overbroad . . . as interpreted and applied” to Plaintiffs. The trial court also denied the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants-respondents, Division of Administration Law Ethics Adjudicatory Board (Panel A) (“EAB”) and the Louisiana Board of Ethics (“BOE”)(collectively “BOE”). Defendants appealed, and the matter was transferred by the appellate court as a direct appeal to the Supreme Court pursuant to La. Const. Art. V, § 5(D). The Supreme Court found the trial court erred in finding the phrase “in any way interested in” facially unconstitutionally overbroad. Accordingly, it reversed this portion of the judgment. However, the Supreme Court found the trial court correctly determined the phrase was unconstitutionally vague as applied to Plaintiffs and unconstitutionally vague on its face as to all of its applications. As a result, the phrase “or be in any way interested in” was hereby struck from La. R.S. 42:1113(B). The remainder of the statute remained viable and could stand. Accordingly, this portion of the trial court’s judgment was affirmed, amended in part, and affirmed as amended. View "The Cartesian Company, inc. v. Div. of Admin. Law Ethics Adj. Bd. Panel, et al." on Justia Law