Justia Louisiana Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
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In an issue of first impression for the Louisiana Supreme Court, was what prescriptive period, if any, was applicable to a citizen suit for injunctive relief pursuant to LSA-R.S. 30:16 suit. Justin Tureau instituted a citizen suit pursuant to LSA-R.S. 30:16, alleging that defendants drilled and operated numerous oil and gas wells on his property, or on adjacent property, as well as constructed and used unlined earthen pits. Specifically, Tureau alleged that said unlined pits were either never closed, or were not closed in conformance with environmental rules and regulations, including Statewide Order 29-B, L.A.C. 43:XIX.101, et seq, which, among other things, requires the registration and closure of existing unlined oilfield pits, as well as the remediation of various enumerated contaminants in the soil to certain minimum standards. The Supreme Court held that a LSA-R.S. 30:16 citizen suit was not subject to liberative prescription. The Court further found that, insofar as the petition alleges that defendants violated conservation laws, rules, regulations, or orders, the allegations were sufficient to defeat an exception of no cause of action. The Court therefore affirmed the appeals court ruling, which overruled defendants’ exceptions of prescription, overruled the exceptions of no cause of action, and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Louisiana v. Pilcher" on Justia Law

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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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Plaintiff Cindy Planchard, filed suit against defendant, the New Hotel Monteleone, LLC. Plaintiff alleged that as she crossed the lobby of defendant’s hotel, she slipped on a foreign substance on the marble floor and fell, sustaining an injury. After discovery, defendant moved for summary judgment, relying on a surveillance video of the accident. The video showed a hotel employee dry mopping the lobby area at 8:36 p.m., approximately three minutes before plaintiff’s accident. Two “wet floor” signs are in place in the area. At 8:37 p.m., approximately one minute before plaintiff’s fall, two more “wet floor” signs were added to the area, and an employee continued to dry mop the area. Plaintiff was then seen to fall at 8:38 p.m. Defendant also submitted plaintiff’s deposition testimony. In her deposition, plaintiff acknowledged seeing the signs. Plaintiff also testified she “had to walk around” the signs because there “was no other path to the front door.” As a result, plaintiff stated she “walked to the side of the signs to get to the front door.” Plaintiff opposed defendant’s motion for summary judgment. Relying on her deposition testimony, plaintiff did not dispute that she saw the signs, but asserted that she thought they were “chalkboard” and did not read them. Plaintiff introduced pictures of the signs showing they did not have the traditional bright orange or yellow appearance, but were made of wood and brass. The district court denied the hotel's motion, concluding there were questions of fact concerning the “reasonableness on the part of the defendant” based on the visibility of the signs. The Louisiana Supreme Court reversed, finding that the undisputed evidence established plaintiff saw the warning signs in the area prior to her fall. "Any failure of plaintiff to read these signs was a product of her own inattentiveness and not a result of the defendant’s failure to take reasonable precautions." View "Blanchard v. New Hotel Monteleone, LLC." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Anne Marie Auricchio and Patrick Hogan, and defendant Lynleigh Harriston, owned neighboring properties. Harriston’s brother lived in a rental apartment on her property. Plaintiffs sued Harriston, contending she refused to stop her brother’s drug use on the property, which interfered with the peaceable use of Plaintiffs’ property. Ultimately, Plaintiffs claimed they moved due to the drug activities. Plaintiffs then moved for summary judgment, asserting no genuine issues of material fact existed with regard to the following: Harriston invited her brother to live in the apartment despite having full knowledge he was a drug addict who had been repeatedly incarcerated for heroin use, that the brother’s occupancy and drug activity was causing harm to Plaintiffs, and that Harriston did nothing to prevent or eliminate the harm. Harriston moved for a continuance and, alternatively, a motion to file opposition evidence after the Article 966(B)(2) fifteen-day deadline. Harriston’s motion explained her counsel had “some difficulties with COVID-19.” Ten days before the hearing, Harriston filed an opposition to the summary judgment motion. Plaintiffs opposed both the motion for continuance and the motion for leave to file the late opposition. The trial court denied the motion to continue, but allowed the late opposition. The motion for summary judgment was denied, with the trial court finding the late-filed opposition raised genuine issues of material fact. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari review to resolve a split between the courts of appeal relative to the interpretation of Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure article 966(B)(2). The Court held that, in the absence of consent by the parties, a trial court has no discretion to extend that article’s fifteen-day deadline for filing an opposition. This case was remanded for the trial court to rule on the motion for summary judgment without the late-filed opposition. View "Auricchio v. Harriston" on Justia Law

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Robert Johnson and Beverly Edwin were married for twenty-two years, and together had three children. During their marriage, Johnson signed and recorded an “Affidavit of Usufruct” in favor of Edwin “for the remainder of [Ms. Edwin’s] life even if she remarries.” This lifetime usufruct covered Johnson’s separate property in Walker, Louisiana. During their marriage, Johnson and Edwin lived in a house on the subject property and also rebuilt the house together following a fire. The couple separated in 2002 or 2003, at which time Edwin moved off of the premises, while Johnson continued to live there. The couple divorced in 2006. Johnson died intestate on August 13, 2010. In June 2014, Edwin petitioned to be named administratrix of Johnson’s succession and was initially appointed as such. However, the trial court removed her as administratrix and appointed three of Johnson’s fourteen children to serve as co-administrators, namely: Lorie Parker, Aveis Parker, and Robert Johnson, Jr. In 2018, after a family conflict arose regarding who had a right to use the property, Edwin filed a “Motion to Enforce Conventional Usufruct and Spousal Reimbursement Claim,” contending the house on the property was vacant, the value of the property was depreciating, and it needed repair. Edwin further alleged Johnson’s estate owed her $21,600.00, representing the amount of money she claimed to have expended to clean, maintain, and improve the property due to the alleged neglect of the co-administrators. The co-administrators countered, filing a peremptory exception of prescription in which they argued that Edwin’s usufruct was extinguished by the ten-year prescription of nonuse. In opposition to the exception, Edwin contended that the prescription of nonuse did not apply to a lifetime usufruct. Alternatively, she asserted that she had used the property during the pertinent ten-year period so as to interrupt the accrual of prescription for nonuse. Certiorari was granted in this matter to determine whether a usufruct “granted for life” was subject to the ten-year prescription of nonuse set forth in La. C.C. art. 621; and, if so, whether the lifetime usufruct established in this case was prescribed pursuant to that article. After review of the record and consideration of the provisions of the Louisiana Civil Code, the Louisiana Supreme Court held that while a lifetime usufruct may prescribe due to nonuse, the usufruct at issue did not prescribe as there was no ten-year period of continued nonuse. The lower courts’ judgments were reversed. View "In re: Succession of the Estate of Robert Johnson" on Justia Law

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Jessica Petersen and Charles Johnson began living together while Petersen was attending college in Georgia. Although Johnson worked as a mechanic, the couple’s lifestyle was funded almost entirely by a trust created for Petersen’s benefit by her grandfather. In 2000 they returned to Louisiana and purchased a house and surrounding acreage in Ouachita Parish. The act of sale expressly conveyed ownership of the property to Johnson and Petersen, both of whom signed the deed before a notary public and two witnesses. The purchase price was paid in full at closing with funds from Petersen’s trust. Shortly thereafter Petersen and Johnson acquired additional acreage adjacent to the original tract. This second act of sale also conveyed ownership of the property to Johnson and Petersen, and both signed the deed before a notary public and two witnesses. The purchase price for this parcel was paid with funds loaned to Petersen by her mother. At the time of the purchases, Petersen and Johnson were not married. They married soon afterward, had the first of three children, and began a life in their new home. Their relationship ended in divorce in 2006. Petersen was granted exclusive use of the home in the divorce proceeding and remained there until moving out of town and eventually out of state. A prospective buyer offered to purchase the property, but Johnson would not agree to the sale. In 2017 Johnson moved back into the house with his current wife and their children. In 2018 Petersen sold an undivided one-half interest in the property to Fairbanks Development, LLC., which then instituted this proceeding to partition the property, naming both Petersen and Johnson as defendants. The issue this case presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court's review was which of the following determines one’s status as a co-owner of immovable property: the authentic act conveying ownership of the property, or the source of the funds used to pay the purchase price. The Court found the authentic act controlled. View "Fairbanks Development, LLC v. Johnson et al." on Justia Law

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Arising under the 2006 version of La. R.S. 30:29 (referred to as Act 312), this oilfield remediation case involved the Vermilion Parish School Board (“VPSB”), individually and on behalf of the State of Louisiana, as petitioner, and Union Oil Company of California, Union Exploration Partners (collectively, “UNOCAL”), Chevron U.S.A., Inc., Chevron Midcontinent LP, and Carrollton Resources, LLC as defendants. Although the exact date of VPSB’s knowledge of contamination to the land was disputed, it was clear that VPSB became aware of such sometime in 2003 or 2004. In September 2004, VPSB filed a petition, urging causes of action for negligence, strict liability, unjust enrichment, trespass, breach of contract, and violations of Louisiana environmental laws. VPSB sought damages to cover the cost of evaluating and remediating the alleged damage and contamination to the property. It also sought damages for diminution of the property value, mental anguish, inconvenience, punitive damages, and stigma damages. UNOCAL sought reversal of the lower courts’ finding that VPSB’s strict liability claim was not prescribed. UNOCAL also contested the court of appeal’s ruling that the jury verdict was inconsistent and its remand for a new trial. Finding UNOCAL failed to prove that VPSB’s strict liability cause of action was factually prescribed, the Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeal’s ruling on prescription, but on alternative grounds. Finding the jury was improperly allowed to decide issues reserved solely for the trial court, and cognizant the extraneous instructions and verdict interrogatories permeated the jury’s consideration of the verdict as a whole, the Supreme Court vacated the trial court’s judgment and affirmed the court of appeal’s remand for new trial. View "Louisiana v. Louisiana Land & Exploration Co. et al." on Justia Law

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Taxpayers Kraig and Kelly Strenge appealed directly to the Louisiana Supreme Court a declaration by a district court that La. R.S. 47:1990 was unconstitutional, as applied. The district court’s ruling on partial summary judgment also held that the Louisiana Tax Commission (the “Commission”) exceeded its authority in promulgating Section 3103(Z) of Title 61, Part V of the Louisiana Administrative Code (the “Rules and Regulations”) and declared Section 3103(Z) unconstitutional. The underlying issue centered on the Taxpayers challenge to the correctness of the appraisal of their residential property in Lafayette Parish in 2016. After the Lafayette City-Parish Council (Board of Review) ruled in favor of the Assessor, Taxpayers appealed to the Commission. The Commission ruled that the fair market value of the property for tax year 2016 was $231,500, not $288,270 as determined by the Assessor, and ordered the Assessor to reduce Taxpayers’ 2016 assessment accordingly. Two days after the Commission’s oral ruling, the Assessor assessed the fair market value of Taxpayers’ property for the 2017 tax year again at $288,270. Taxpayers again appealed, and after a hearing, the Commission issued a “Rule to Show Cause” to the Assessor. That dispute went before the district court, and the court’s decision served as the grounds for this appeal. The Supreme Court found the district court erred in ruling the Commission exceeded its authority in promulgating Section 3103(Z) and declaring Section 3103(Z) unconstitutional but correctly declared La. R.S. 47:1990 unconstitutional, as applied. Accordingly, judgment was reversed in part and affirmed in part. View "Comeaux v. Louisiana Tax Commission" on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court’s review in this case centered on whether an award of attorney fees and other litigation costs to defendant landowners in an expropriation proceeding could be upheld under current law. The underlying matter arose from the construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. As part of the project, Bayou Bridge Pipeline, LLC (“BBP”), sought to acquire servitudes on the property of various landowners. The specific piece of property at the center of this litigation is approximately 38 acres of land (“the property”). Prior to reaching servitude agreements with all individuals with an ownership interest in this particular parcel of land, BBP began pipeline construction. Peter Aaslestad, one of the property owners, filed suit against BBP in order to enjoin BBP from further construction. BBP later stipulated that it would remain off the property as of September 10, 2018. However, the pipeline construction was more than 90% complete at that time. Meanwhile, in late July 2018, after it had begun construction on the property, BBP filed expropriation litigation against hundreds of property owners with whom servitude agreements could not be reached, including Mr. Aaslestad, Katherine Aaslestad, and Theda Larson Wright (collectively referred to as “defendants”). In response, defendants filed a reconventional demand against BBP, alleging BPP trespassed on their property and violated due process by proceeding with construction of the pipeline prior to a judgment of expropriation. The matter proceeded to a trial wherein the trial court granted BBP’s petition for expropriation, finding the expropriation served a public and necessary purpose. The trial court also granted defendants’ reconventional demand, finding that BBP trespassed on defendants’ property prior to obtaining permission or legal authority. The trial court ultimately awarded each defendant $75.00 for the expropriation and another $75.00 in trespass damages. The court of appeal reversed in part: upholding the constitutionality of the expropriation process, but finding that BBP violated defendants’ due process rights and awarded $10,000.00 to each defendant for trespass, and granted attorney fees. The Supreme Court determined the award of fees was constitutional, and upheld the Court of Appeal. View "Bayou Bridge Pipeline, LLC v. 38.00 Acres, More or Less, Located in St. Martin Parish et al." on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court's review stemmed from a class action suit relating to plaintiffs' inverse condemnation claims against the State, and whether those claims were prescribed under La. R.S. 13:5111 and/or 28 U.S.C. 2501. 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 that they represented a class of landowners in the Catahoula Basin whose property is affected by the increased water levels from a congressionally-approved navigation project authorized 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. 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 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 determined 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 plaintiffs’ inverse condemnation claims were prescribed. View "Crooks v. Louisiana Dept. of Nat. Resources" on Justia Law