Justia Louisiana Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Class Action
Crooks v. Dept. of Natural Res.
In 1962, the United States began constructing various structures in and around the Catahoula Basin pursuant to a congressionally-approved navigation project under the River and Harbor Act of 1960 to promote navigation on the Ouachita and Black Rivers. In conjunction with that project, the State of Louisiana signed an “Act of Assurances,” which obligated the State to provide the federal government with all lands and property interests necessary to the project free of charge, and to indemnify the federal government from any damages resulting from the project. In 2006, plaintiffs Steve Crooks and Era Lea Crooks filed a “Class Action Petition to Fix Boundary, For Damages and For Declaration [sic] Judgment.” The Crookses alleged they represented a class of landowners in the Catahoula Basin whose property was affected by increased water levels from the project. Ultimately, the trial court certified the plaintiffs as one class, but subdivided that class into two groups – the “Lake Plaintiffs” and the “Swamp Plaintiffs” – depending on the location of the properties affected. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to determine whether the plaintiffs’ inverse condemnation claims for compensation against the State were prescribed under La. R.S. 13:5111 and/or 28 U.S.C. 2501. The lower courts relied on the decision in Cooper v. Louisiana Department of Public Works, 870 So. 2d 315 (2004), to conclude the one-year prescriptive period for damage to immovable property found in La. C.C. art. 3493 governed, and the continuing tort doctrine applied to prevent the running of prescription on the plaintiffs’ claims. The Supreme Court found the lower courts erred in relying on Cooper and held that the three-year prescriptive period for actions for compensation for property taken by the state set forth in La. R. S. 13:5111 governed and the plaintiffs’ inverse condemnation claims were prescribed. View "Crooks v. Dept. of Natural Res." on Justia Law
Aisola v. Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp.
Plaintiffs, alleging to be putative class members of multiple class actions, have filed their own individual suits against the defendant, Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corporation (Citizens). Plaintiffs were residents of, and owned homes in, St. Bernard Parish at the time Hurricane Katrina. Their properties were insured under policies of all-risk or homeowners insurance by defendant. Plaintiffs originally filed suit against Citizens on December 3, 2009, seeking contractual and bad faith damages arising out of Citizens’ handling of their property damage claims related to Hurricane Katrina. Citizens excepted on grounds of prescription and lis pendens. At issue is whether the doctrine of lis pendens barred plaintiffs’ suits where the plaintiffs were not named parties in the first-filed class actions. The Supreme Court found the trial court erred in overruling the defendant’s exception of lis pendens. View "Aisola v. Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp." on Justia Law
Baker v. PHC-Minden, L.P.
Across the state, plaintiffs were filing complaints against health care providers from whom they sought treatment following automobile accidents and with whom their health care insurers had contracted reimbursement rates for the services rendered. At issue was the legality of these providers' policy of collecting or attempting to collect the undiscounted rate from the insured if a liability insurer may be liable, implemented through the filing of medical liens against plaintiffs' lawsuits and settlements pursuant to the health care provider lien statute. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve a conflict among the appellate courts of this state on the issue of whether a class action is the superior method for adjudicating actions brought pursuant to the Health Care Consumer Billing and Disclosure Protection Act ("Balance Billing Act"). After review, the Court found plaintiffs in the Third Circuit Court of Appeal proceeded as a class, while plaintiffs in the Second Circuit Court of Appeal were denied class certification. After reviewing the record and the applicable law, the Supreme Court found the class action was superior to any other available method for a fair and efficient adjudication of the common controversy over the disputed billing and lien practices. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the Second Circuit. Finding all other requirements for class certification properly met, the Court reinstated the judgment of the trial court. View "Baker v. PHC-Minden, L.P." on Justia Law
Oleszkowicz v. Exxon Mobil Corp.
In 2002, Warren Lester and hundreds of other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corp. and others seeking personal injury damages allegedly caused by exposure to naturally occurring radioactive material (“NORM”) and other hazardous materials at various Louisiana pipeyards operated by Intracoastal Tubular Services, Inc. (“ITCO”). A flight of several plaintiffs, including John Oleszkowicz, was severed and transferred to the 24th Judicial District Court, at which point the only remaining defendants were ITCO and Exxon. The jury considered each of the plaintiffs’ compensatory claims for increased risk of cancer, as well as a claim for exemplary damages pursuant to former La. Civ. Code art. 2315.3. During the course of trial, the district court instructed the jurors that plaintiffs could bring a “new lawsuit” in the event they actually contracted cancer. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded damages for the increased risk of cancer. Oleszkowicz was personally awarded $115,000 in compensatory damages. Significantly, the jury did not award exemplary damages to the plaintiffs for increased risk of cancer, based on a finding that Exxon did not engage in wanton or reckless conduct in the storage, handling, or transportation of hazardous or toxic substances. The court of appeal affirmed the judgment on appeal, and the Supreme Court denied writs. Several months after the verdict, Oleszkowicz was diagnosed with prostate cancer. As a result, he filed the instant suit against Exxon and others, alleging his cancer stemmed from the same NORM exposure at ITCO’s pipeyard. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether the plaintiff’s claim for punitive and exemplary damages was barred by res judicata and, if so, whether “exceptional circumstances” existed to justify not applying res judicata to bar the claim, as set forth in La. Rev. Stat. 13:4232(A). Although the court of appeal cited “exceptional circumstances” to justify relief from the res judicata effect of the jury’s verdict on the issue of punitive damages, the Supreme Court found no such “exceptional circumstances” exist under the facts of this case and reversed the appellate court's ruling. View "Oleszkowicz v. Exxon Mobil Corp." on Justia Law
Oliver v. Orleans Parish School Board
This class action arose out of the termination of approximately 7,600 former teachers and other permanent employees of the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) as a result of Hurricane Katrina and the State of Louisiana’s subsequent takeover of Orleans Parish schools. Although the district court denied defendants’ exceptions of res judicata, a five judge panel of the court of appeal unanimously found that res judicata ordinarily would apply to the facts of this case, but that exceptional circumstances barred its application. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted two writ applications to determine whether the doctrine of res judicata barred plaintiffs’ claims against the OPSB and/or the State defendants, and, if not, whether the OPSB and/or the State defendants violated the plaintiffs’ due process rights in relation to the plaintiffs’ terminations. The Supreme Court agreed with the court of appeal that res judicata applied but found no exceptional circumstances that would preclude its application. Furthermore, the Court found that, even if res judicata did not apply to certain parties’ claims, neither the OPSB nor the State defendants violated plaintiffs’ due process rights. View "Oliver v. Orleans Parish School Board" on Justia Law
Anderson v. Ochsner Health System
The Louisiana Supreme Court granted this writ application to determine whether a plaintiff had a private right of action for damages against a health care provider under the Health Care and Consumer Billing and Disclosure Protection Act. Plaintiff Yana Anderson alleged that she was injured in an automobile accident caused by a third party. She received medical treatment at an Ochsner facility. Anderson was insured by UnitedHealthcare. Pursuant to her insurance contract, Anderson paid premiums to UnitedHealthcare in exchange for discounted health care rates. These reduced rates were available pursuant to a member provider agreement, wherein UnitedHealthcare contracted with Ochsner to secure discounted charges for its insureds. Anderson presented proof of insurance to Ochsner in order for her claims to be submitted to UnitedHealthcare for payment on the agreed upon reduced rate. However, Ochsner refused to file a claim with her insurer. Instead, Ochsner sent a letter to Anderson’s attorney, asserting a medical lien for the full amount of undiscounted charges on any tort recovery Anderson received for the underlying automobile accident. Anderson filed a putative class action against Ochsner, seeking, among other things, damages arising from Ochsner’s billing practices. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court found the legislature intended to allow a private right of action under the statute. Additionally, the Court found an express right of action was available under La. R.S. 22:1874(B) based on the assertion of a medical lien. View "Anderson v. Ochsner Health System" on Justia Law
Smith v. Transport Services Co. of Illinois
"This procedurally complex writ" concerned the tolling of prescription in a class action entitled "Fulford v. Transport Services Co." (Fulford/Abram), filed in Louisiana state court, then removed to federal court where class certification was denied. After class certification was denied and the case was still pending in federal court, other putative class members filed individual claims in a Louisiana state court, entitled "Smith v. Transport Services Co." (Smith). The specific issue this case presented was whether Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure Article 596A(3) suspended prescription for putative class members, plaintiffs herein, when a class action filed in a Louisiana state court was removed to federal court. The Louisiana Court found that under Article 596 prescription was suspended for the putative class members (Smith et al.) upon the filing of the Fulford/Abram class action in a Louisiana state court, and none of the three triggering events contained in Article 596 to resumed the tolling of prescription occurred. Thus, the Court reversed the Court of Appeal and overruled defendants’ exception of prescription. View "Smith v. Transport Services Co. of Illinois" on Justia Law
Emigh v. West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital
A putative class action was filed against West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital for alleged violations of La. R.S. 22:1874, also known as the "Balance Billing Act." This case was expanded to name several health insurance issuers as defendants. The claim under review by the Louisiana Supreme Court was asserted by plaintiff Laura Delouche against her insurer, Louisiana Health Service & Indemnity Company, d/b/a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana (Blue Cross). The Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether a cause of action existed, whereby Delouche could pursue a legal remedy against Blue Cross. Finding no cause of action, and no reversible error in the trial court's decision, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Emigh v. West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital" on Justia Law
Doe v. Southern Gyms, LLC
In 2010, plaintiff Jane Doe was contacted by detectives in the Baton Rouge Police Department and asked to identify whether she was the subject of a photograph, obtained from a video, captured by a pen camera which had been surreptitiously placed in the women’s shower/changing room of a fitness center in downtown Baton Rouge. Plaintiff was a member of a gym called “Anytime Fitness,” a fitness center owned by Southern Gyms, LLC. Further investigation by police revealed that an assistant manager and trainer at the fitness center secretly videotaped the plaintiff and other women in the women’s shower/changing room of the gym. The police told the plaintiff her image was one of four women discovered on the pen camera when the pen camera was turned over to police. Telschow was arrested and prosecuted for video voyeurism. He ultimately pleaded guilty to four counts of video voyeurism and sentenced to a nine month term of imprisonment. Ultimately the issue before the Supreme Court was whether the lower courts correctly applied the standards for analyzing class action certification set forth in La. C.C.P. art. 591, et seq. After reviewing the record and the applicable law, the Court found the lower courts erred in concluding the plaintiff satisfied the threshold requirement of numerosity, necessary for class certification. Accordingly, the Court reversed the district court's judgment which granted plaintiff’s motion for class certification. View "Doe v. Southern Gyms, LLC" on Justia Law
Duckworth v. Louisiana Farm Bureau Mutual Ins. Co.
The Supreme Court granted certiorari in these consolidated cases to resolve an issue of first impression: whether a member of a putative class was entitled to the suspension of prescription provided for in La. C.C.P. art. 596 when an independent, individual lawsuit is filed prior to a ruling on the class certification issue. The respective district courts in each of these cases sustained exceptions of prescription, dismissing plaintiffs' individual lawsuits filed prior to a resolution of the class certification issue in class action proceedings in which the plaintiffs were putative members. The court of appeal affirmed the dismissals, finding that the filing of an individual lawsuit by a member of a putative class prior to a ruling on the class certification issue operates as an "opt out" of the class action and a forfeiture of the suspension provisions of La. C.C.P. art. 596. After reviewing the relevant statutory provisions, the Supreme Court found that because plaintiffs were members of a class asserted in a class action petition, they were entitled to the benefits of the suspension of prescription provided under La. C.C.P. art. 596, notwithstanding that they also filed individual actions prior to a resolution of the class certification issue. As a result, the Court reversed the judgments of the lower courts sustaining exceptions of prescription to the petitions of the plaintiffs and remanded these matters to the respective district courts for further proceedings. View "Duckworth v. Louisiana Farm Bureau Mutual Ins. Co." on Justia Law