Justia Louisiana Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Family Law
Succession of Willie Clyde Burns
The decedent Willie Clyde Burns married Silver Ruth Cooper in 1959. The couple lived in Claiborne Parish, Louisiana and had three children. A divorce petition was filed in 1966 in Arkansas, captioned “Sybia Ruth Burns vs. W. C. Burns.” A final judgment of divorce was rendered on August 26, 1966 by the Arkansas court. Willie filed a divorce petition in Claiborne Parish in 1967, and the petition was served on Silver, captioned “W.C. Burns (Col.) vs. Sylvia Ruth Burns.” There was no judgment of final divorce rendered in this case. Silver went on to marry Welcome Boyd in 1968. Willie went on to marry Annie Bradley in 1970. Annie testified at trial that at the start of their marriage she and Willie had no assets and that anything Willie owned at the time of his death was acquired during their marriage. The couple was married for 45 years and had two children. Willie died intestate in 2015. Annie petitioned to open Willie’s succession and appoint an administratrix. Silver filed a Petition in Intervention in which she sought to be named Willie’s surviving spouse as she was never lawfully divorced from him. In support of her position, Silver provided a report by a forensic document examiner who concluded that the signatures on the documents of both divorce proceedings did not belong to Silver. She also testified that she never went by the names Sybia or Sylvia. The trial court granted the petition to intervene, declared the Arkansas divorce invalid, and recognized Silver as the legal wife of Willie at the time of his death. In addition, the trial court found that Annie was a good faith putative spouse based on Annie’s testimony that Willie told her he was divorced. The trial court then said that the estate would be divided according to the formula in Prince v. Hopson, 89 So.2d 128 (La. 1956), allocating one-fourth of the community to the legal spouse, one-fourth to the putative spouse, and the decedent’s one half to his heirs. The Lousiana Supreme Court reversed the trial court's division of the community, finding that as a good faith putative spouse, Annie had an undivided one-half interest in the community. Willie’s five children were to divide equally his undivided one-half interest in the community, subject to Annie’s usufruct. View "Succession of Willie Clyde Burns" on Justia Law
Kendrick v. Estate of Michael Barre, et al.
Plaintiff Dejaun Kendrick, individually and on behalf of her minor son, sued the estate of the deceased, Anthony Michael Barre, seeking filiation and child support. The estate filed exceptions of prescription, no cause of action, and no right of action. The trial court granted the exceptions, but the court of appeal reversed. Finding an initial child support claim cannot be brought after the father’s death, the Louisiana Supreme Court reversed the court of appeal and reinstated the trial court’s ruling granting the exception of no cause of action. View "Kendrick v. Estate of Michael Barre, et al." on Justia Law
Kinnett v. Kinnett
Keith Andrews intervened in the divorce proceedings of Karen and Jarred Kinnett, asserting he was the biological father of Ms. Kinnett’s youngest child. His avowal action was filed eighteen months after the child’s birth. The Louisiana Supreme Court found the avowal action untimely and perempted under Louisiana Civil Code article 198 . The case was remanded for the court of appeal to address Andrews’ remaining constitutional challenge. View "Kinnett v. Kinnett" on Justia Law
Cook v. Sullivan
The issue in this child custody matter was whether the trial court applied the correct law in awarding joint custody to Sharon Sullivan, the biological parent, and Billie Cook, a non-parent and Sharon’s former same-sex partner. The court of appeal reversed the trial court, concluding that an analysis of the best interest of the child under La. Civ. Code art. 134 was not warranted, because the evidence did not show that an award of sole custody to Sharon would result in substantial harm to the child under La. Civ. Code art. 133. Finding the trial court committed legal error, the Louisiana Supreme Court did a de novo review of the record, and affirmed the judgment of the court of appeal that reversed the trial court’s judgment recognizing Billie Cook as a legal parent of Sharon Sullivan’s child and awarding the parties joint custody. View "Cook v. Sullivan" on Justia Law
Posted in: Family Law
Kunath v. Gafford
The child at issue in this case, Grayson, was born on February 14, 2013 to a mother with a significant history of drug abuse; Grayson allegedly had drugs in his system at birth. Shortly thereafter, in March 2013, Grayson was adjudicated a “child in need of care,” placed in the custody of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (“DCFS”), and entrusted to the physical care of foster parent Samantha Gafford. While in Gafford's, Grayson suffered severe personal injuries, which included brain damage, blindness, and seizures; it was also alleged that the child had bite marks on his thigh and abdomen. Gafford did not disclose these injuries until Grayson was taken to the hospital in May 2013. This suit was filed to recover damages for personal injuries suffered by an infant while in the custody of DCFS and in the physical care of foster parents. After all other claims were dismissed except allegations that DCFS was vicariously liable for the actions of the foster mother, based not only on an employer-employee relationship, but also based on DCFS’s non-delegable duty as the legal custodian of the child, as set forth in Miller v. Martin, 838 So.2d 761 (2003), DCFS filed a peremptory exception pleading the objection of no cause of action, claiming La. R.S. 42:1441.1 barred the application of La. C.C. art. 2320 to DCFS. The district court denied the peremptory exception, and the appellate court denied the ensuing writ application filed by DCFS. The Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed the district court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Kunath v. Gafford" on Justia Law
Rismiller et al. v. Gemini Ins. Co.
Because the Louisiana Supreme Court found in its original opinion that plaintiffs had a right of action under La. C.C. arts. 2315.1 and 2315.2, their constitutional challenge was pretermitted and “that part of the district court judgment declaring [these code articles and La. C.C. art. 199 to be] unconstitutional as applied to children given in adoption” was vacated. Having found on rehearing that the codal analysis of La. C.C. arts. 2315.1, 2315.2 and 199 foreclosed a right of action to the plaintiff children, who were given in adoption, for the death of their biological parent and half-siblings, the Supreme Court was called on to address the propriety of the district court’s declaration that La. C.C. arts. 2315.1, 2315.2, and 199 are “unconstitutional as applied to children given in adoption.” The Court found a rational basis existed for limiting the categories of eligible claimants in La. C.C. arts. 2315.1 and 2315.2 to those who “are likely to be most affected by the death of the deceased.” Children given in adoption “have moved into a new parental relationship, becoming children ‘by adoption,’ who are eligible claimants in the unfortunate occurrence of the tortious death of their adoptive parents. Likewise, the transfer of children into a new parental unit as children ‘by adoption’ terminates, for purposes of wrongful death and survival actions, any connection between the ‘children given in adoption’ and any biological siblings who were not ‘given in adoption.’” For these reasons, the district court legally erred in finding that the fact that Daniel Goins and David Watts were adopted did not prevent them from bringing survival and wrongful death claims for the deaths of their biological father and biological half-siblings and in overruling the defendant’s exception raising the objection of no right of action. The Supreme Court's original decree was vacated and the district court's judgment was reversed. Judgment was entered sustaining the defendant insurance company's peremptory exception raising the objection of no right of action, and dismissing the claims that were the subject of this exception. View "Rismiller et al. v. Gemini Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Rismiller v. Gemini Insurance Co.
Defendant Gemini Insurance Company appealed a district court's holding La. C.C. arts. 2315.1, 2315.2 and 199 were “unconstitutional as applied to children given in adoption” and overruling the defendants’ peremptory exceptions of no right of action. At issue was whether plaintiffs Daniel Goins and David Watts, two adult children who were given in adoption as minors, had a right to bring wrongful death and survival actions stemming from the deaths of their biological father and his two minor children, who were not given in adoption, and were plaintiffs’ biological half-siblings. After a de novo review, based on the clear and unambiguous wording of La. C.C. arts. 2315.1 and 2315.2, the Louisiana Supreme Court concluded Goins and Watts were “children of the deceased” and “brothers of the deceased” who were permitted to bring wrongful death and survival actions arising from the death of their biological father and half-siblings. In view of the Court's holding that plaintiffs had a right to assert survival and wrongful death actions, the Court declined to address their argument that La. C.C. arts. 2315.1, 2315.2 and 199 were unconstitutional as applied to children given in adoption. View "Rismiller v. Gemini Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Louisiana In the Interest of A.L.D. & L.S.D.
The Louisiana Supreme Court granted a writ in this termination of parental rights case to determine if the court of appeal erred in reversing a district court judgment terminating the parental rights of the father, C.K.D. The child was removed from his mother's care after testing positive for methamphetamines. The Department of Children and Family Services developed a case plan for the parents; as relating to C.K.D., the plan required him, among other things, to remain drug free, maintain a safe and stable home that met the basic needs of his children, complete random drug screens, and obtain a legal source of income to support his children. The plan was amended to require that C.K.D. complete parenting classes, anger management, and mental health counseling and to pay $25/month per child to DCFS for the support of his children. DCFS initially placed the children with C.K.D.’s mother, D.D. Some time later, DCFS received reports that C.K.D. was improperly living with D.D., and that D.D. was possibly using drugs while caring for the children. C.K.D., D.D., and both children tested positive for drugs. As a result, DCFS removed the children from D.D.’s home and placed them in non-relative foster care with G.B. Shortly thereafter, DCFS petitioned to terminate both parents' parental rights. After reviewing the record and the applicable law, the Court found no reversible error in the district court’s ruling that termination was supported by clear and convincing evidence and that termination was in the best interests of the children. View "Louisiana In the Interest of A.L.D. & L.S.D." on Justia Law
Webb v. Webb
At issue in this case was a post-divorce community property partition. The former husband, Daniel Webb, filed a claim for reimbursement and for the classification of a promissory note of $250,000 as a community obligation. The promissory note corresponded to a loan secured by a mortgage on the family home. Mr. Webb contended that Mrs. Webb owed reimbursement for loan payments and that the loan should be considered a community obligation because he borrowed the money to pay community debts. Mr. Webb admitted that he caused a forged signature for Mrs. Webb to be placed on the loan documents and that he concealed the existence of the loan and the mortgage on the family home from her. The forgery was eventually discovered, and formal attorney disciplinary charges were brought against him, a Louisiana-licensed attorney. In the ensuing disciplinary proceedings, Mr. Webb admitted his misconduct, but represented to this court that he was taking “sole financial responsibility” and“full responsibility” for the loan and was otherwise committed to “making right” what he had done. Shortly after the disciplinary order was issued, Mr. Webb returned to the district court where the community property partition was pending. There, Mr. Webb claimed that, although he personally incurred the $250,000 debt, responsibility for the loan should be an obligation shared by both Mr. and Mrs. Webb, rather than solely by Mr. Webb. The district court rejected Mr. Webb’s claim, finding that Mr. Webb’s representations in his attorney discipline case amounted to a judicial confession that he alone was responsible for the debt. Mr. Webb appealed, and the appellate court ruled in his favor by classifying the loan as a community obligation and ordering Mrs. Webb to personally reimburse Mr. Webb for loan payments he made after the community property regime was terminated. Mrs. Webb sought review by the Louisiana Supreme Court, arguing Mr. Webb's admission in his disciplinary hearing precluded him from making her partly responsible for his loan. Applying the doctrine of judicial estoppel, the Supreme Court held that in the community property litigation, Mr. Webb could not shift responsibility for his fraudulent loan to Mrs. Webb. View "Webb v. Webb" on Justia Law
In re: L.M.M., JR.
The biological mother of a child placed under guardianship with the child’s paternal great-aunt filed a petition to terminate that guardianship and to regain custody of the child. Following a three-day trial, the district court terminated the guardianship and awarded joint custody of the child to the guardian and the biological mother, with the mother designated as the domiciliary custodian. On appeal, the court of appeal reversed the district court judgment, reinstated the guardianship, and remanded the case to the district court for purposes of establishing a visitation schedule for the mother. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari to assess whether the correct legal standards were applied by the lower courts, and to review the correctness of the district court’s determination that the guardianship should be terminated. The Court held that the proper standard for determining whether an order of guardianship should be modified or terminated was statutorily prescribed by Article 724 of the Children’s Code, which, in this case, required proof by the movant/mother by “clear and convincing evidence” of “a substantial and material change in the circumstances of the guardian or child” because either “[c]ontinuation of the guardianship is so deleterious to the child as to justify a modification or termination of the relationship” or “the harm likely to be caused from a change in the guardianship is substantially outweighed by the advantages to the child of the modification.” Weighing the evidence in light of that evidentiary burden, the Court agreed with the court of appeal’s assessment that the district court erred in determining that the mother met her burden of proving the guardianship should be terminated. Therefore, the Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeal reinstating the guardianship order. View "In re: L.M.M., JR." on Justia Law