Justia Louisiana Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Plaintiff Reginald Martin named truck driver Rodney Thomas, his employer Greer Logging, LLC, and its insurer National Liability and Fire Insurance Company as defendants in this personal injury case. Plaintiff alleged he and defendant Thomas were involved in a collision: Thomas was operating a 2016 Peterbilt tractor truck owned by Greer Logging and was backing into a driveway. Plaintiff alleged that following the accident he suffered from several injuries including head/facial contusions, multiple broken ribs, a fractured sternum, an open fracture of the tibial plateau, an open comminuted fracture of his left patella, and open wounds of the left leg, knee, and ankle. At issue in this motion for partial summary judgment was whether a plaintiff could pursue both a negligence cause of action against an employee for which the employer was vicariously liable, and a direct claim against the employer for its own negligence in hiring, supervision, training, and retention as well as a negligent entrustment claim, when the employer stipulated that the employee was in the course and scope of employment at the time of the injury. The Louisiana Supreme Court held that a plaintiff could maintain both claims even if the employer has stipulated to the course and scope of employment. The Court therefore reversed the partial summary judgment in favor of the employer which dismissed the claims asserted directly against it, and remanded to the district court. View "Martin v. Thomas et al." on Justia Law

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In the latter part of August 2021, University Health Shreveport, LLC d/b/a Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport and LSU Health-St. Mary Medical Center, LLC (Employer) notified all employees that they were required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 29, 2021. Employees not vaccinated within the specified time were subject to disciplinary action, including mandatory use of leave time and, ultimately, termination. Employer’s policy permitted exemptions to the vaccine requirement for valid religious and medical reasons. Thereafter, 39 plaintiffs (Employees) filed suit against Employer, challenging the employee vaccine mandate and requesting injunctive and declaratory relief, including a temporary restraining order (TRO). The Louisiana Supreme Court found the issue of a vaccine mandate implemented by a healthcare-employer was resolved by the application of Louisiana Civil Code article 2747, the employment-at-will doctrine. "an employer is at liberty to dismiss an at-will employee and, reciprocally, the employee is at liberty to leave the employment to seek other opportunities. However, these rights are tempered by federal and state provisions, both statutory and constitutional, but no such exceptions apply here. Employees have no statutory claim under La. R.S. 40:1159.7 because there is no healthcare provider-patient relationship alleged here. Employees likewise have no constitutional claim under La. Const. art. I, sec. 5 because the employer is a private actor, and this constitutional provision only limits governmental actors. Accordingly, the decision of the court of appeal is reversed, and the judgment of the trial court is reinstated." View "Hayes, et al. v. Univ. Health Shreveport, LLC" on Justia Law

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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

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The Louisiana Supreme Court granted this writ application to address the specific question of whether there was a cause of action for a writ of mandamus compelling a municipality to satisfy a judgment for back wages owed to its firefighter employees. Based on the ministerial nature of the statutorily and constitutionally mandated duty of the municipality to appropriate funds to satisfy the judgment, the Court found the lower courts erred in sustaining the exception of no cause of action. View "Lowther et al. v. Town of Bastrop" on Justia Law

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The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari review in this case to determine whether the court of appeal properly granted summary judgment in favor of defendant Louisiana Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company (“Farm Bureau”), where Farm Bureau argued that the “regular use” exclusion in its automobile insurance policy issued to plaintiff precluded uninsured motorist (“UM”) coverage, because plaintiff was operating a vehicle owned by his employer at the time of the accident. The plaintiff in this matter, Charles Higgins, was injured in an automobile accident while operating a truck owned by his employer, AT&T. The other driver in the accident was underinsured, and AT&T did not carry UM coverage on the truck. Higgins subsequently filed the instant suit against his personal UM insurer, Farm Bureau. Because the Supreme Court found the policy’s “regular use” exclusion impermissibly derogated from the requirements of the Louisiana uninsured motorist statute (the “UM statute”), La. R.S. 22:1295, the Court found this exclusion inapplicable and reversed the decision of the court of appeal. View "Higgins v. Louisiana Farm Bureau Casualty Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court's review centered on whether an employee who suffers from noise-induced hearing loss was entitled to indemnity benefits pursuant to La. R.S. 23:1221(4)(p), which conferred such benefits to employees who sustained “a permanent hearing loss solely due to a single traumatic accident.” James Hartman, Jr. was employed by the St. Bernard Parish Fire Department. During the course of his employment, Hartman was exposed to injurious levels of noise, which resulted in permanent hearing loss. Testing from 2006 to 2017 showed a gradual increase in hearing loss. The Fire Department opposed Hartman's claim for compensation, asserting, among other things, that his claim for work-related hearing loss was not covered by La. R.S. 23:1221(4)(p), which applied only where the permanent hearing loss was “solely due to a single traumatic accident.” Finding that cumulative hearing loss incurred as a result of repeated exposure to high noise levels on the job did not constitute “a permanent hearing loss solely due to a single traumatic accident” as required for the award of permanent partial disability benefits pursuant to La. R.S. 23:1221(4)(p), the Supreme Court affirmed the judgments below. View "Hartman v. St. Bernard Parish Fire Dept." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Sherome Hankton, an officer with the New Orleans Police Department, filed this personal injury suit for damages resulting from an attack upon her by a prisoner, Conrad Jackson, while Officer Hankton was guarding Jackson during a hospital stay. Following a bench trial, the trial court apportioned 50% fault to Jackson, 40% fault to the hospital, and 10% fault to Officer Hankton; it then awarded damages totaling $1,134,287.44. The court of appeal affirmed in part, amended in part, and affirmed as amended. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the trial court’s allocation of fault. After review, the Supreme Court reallocated the percentages of fault: Jackson 50%, Officer Hankton 10%, University Hospital 25%, and NOPD 15%. As amended, the trial court's judgment was affirmed. View "Hankton v. Louisiana" on Justia Law

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Frederick Meiners, III was employed as Assistant Fire Chief with the St. Tammany Parish Fire Protection District No. 4 (“District”). In early 2016, Meiners agreed to retrieve a repaired ambulance unit from Hattiesburg, but informed his supervisor, provisional fire chief Kenneth Moore, that he first had to attend a speaking engagement with a ladies’ group that would last approximately thirty minutes. At 1:08 p.m. that day, Jennifer Glorioso, the wife of Fire Equipment Operator Glorioso (hereinafter referred to as “FEO Glorioso”), photographed Meiners sitting at a table at the La Madeleine restaurant with his wife and his lawyer. She later sent a text message containing this photograph to her husband. At 2:30 p.m., District Fire Chief Brady Anderson advised Chief Moore that Meiners was not yet back from his meeting and offered to pick up the ambulance himself. Chief Moore declined Anderson’s offer. After being reassured by Meiners he was on his way back to the District, Chief Moore received a text from an unknown phone number that contained a photograph of Meiners taken at the restaurant. Chief Moore then provided a written notice of investigation to Meiners, stating that he was “initiating an investigation into an incident involving you in a matter which occurred on February 19, 2016, specifically, conflicting details regarding a speaking engagement while on duty.” The notice of investigation also stated the “persons conducting this investigation will be Corianne Green and a PMI representative.” Chief Moore then placed Meiners on administrative leave with pay. After a hearing, Meiners was terminated from his employment with the district based on his conduct on the date of the ambulance pickup. The termination was affirmed by the St. Tammany Parish Fire Protection District No. 4 Civil Service Board (“Board”). Upon review, a district court reversed and remanded, finding that untruthfulness alone, did not mandate termination, where the misconduct did not result in a detrimental effect on the efficient and orderly operation of the fire department. The Louisiana Supreme Court found the district court erred in remanding the case to the Board to impose discipline other than termination. The Court reversed judgment and reinstated the Board's decision. View "Meiners v. St. Tammany Parish Fire Protection Dist. No. 4 et al." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal granted summary judgment to plaintiff St. Charles Gaming Company d/b/a Isle of Capri Casino Lake Charles ("Grand Palais"), holding the casino was a :vessel" for the purposes of general maritime law. The decision contradicted Benoit v. St. Charles Gaming Company, LLC, 233 So. 3d 615, cert. denied, 139 S. Ct. 104 (2018), which held the Grand Palais was not a vessel. Plaintiff Don Caldwell worked for Grand Palais Riverboat, LLC, and was injured when the gangway attached to the riverboat malfunctioned and collapsed. Plaintiff petitioned for damages, alleging the Grand Palais was a vessel under general maritime law, and that he was a seaman under the Jones Act at the time of the accident. After a de novo review of the record, the Louisiana Supreme Court concluded the Grand Palais was a not vessel under general maritime law. Therefore, it reversed the judgment of the court of appeal and granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment, dismissing plaintiff’s suit. View "Caldwell v. St. Charles Gaming Company" on Justia Law

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In a workers’ compensation matter, the Louisiana Supreme Court was presented with the question of whether an employee’s motion to compel her employer to choose a pharmacy other than the pharmacy at its retail stores to fill her prescriptions was premature in the absence of any claim that she has not been furnished proper medical attention or that there have been delays or deficiencies in filling prescriptions. Elizabeth Soileau filed a disputed claim for workers’ compensation benefits alleging she injured her right arm and hand in the course and scope of her employment with Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (“Wal-Mart”). Pursuant to a 2012 consent judgment, Soileau received medical treatment, including prescriptions, some of which she filled at a Wal-Mart pharmacy. In 2016, Soileau obtained a judgment against Wal-Mart ordering that she was entitled to receive certain prescriptions, as prescribed by her physician. Soileau began filling her prescriptions at Falcon Pharmacy. Following the Louisiana Supreme Court's opinion in Burgess v. Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans, 225 So.3d 1020, which held the choice of pharmacy belonged to the employer, Wal-Mart notified Soileau in writing that she could only use “a Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club Pharmacy” for her future prescriptions needs. Wal-Mart further advised Soileau it would not issue reimbursement for medications dispensed to Wal-Mart workers’ compensation patients from any pharmacy other than a Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club Pharmacy. Soileau moved to compel, arguing she “should not be forced to obtain medications from her employer directly and cannot go without her medication.” The motion proceeded to a hearing before the Office of Workers’ Compensation (“OWC”). At the hearing, Soileau testified that in September 2017 (after she filed her motion), Wal-Mart’s pharmacy denied two of her workers’ compensation prescriptions, but admitted she had no written documentation of the denial. The workers’ compensation judge explained that in the event Soileau experienced any delays or deficiencies in the filling of her prescriptions, she “has a remedy under Louisiana Revised Statute 23:1201E.” Soileau appealed. A divided panel of the court of appeal reversed, finding that a conflict of interest would be created if Wal-Mart were permitted to designate its own pharmacy as the only pharmacy Soileau could use for her workers’ compensation prescriptions. The Supreme Court found the matter was indeed premature and did not present a justiciable controversy. It therefore vacated the judgment of the court of appeal. View "Soileau v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc." on Justia Law