Recently for a marketing piece, I was asked to answer the question, “What is an important case relevant to your practice area and why?” The answer I came up with is Gonzales v. Xerox Corp., 320 So. 2d 163 (La. 1975). At the risk of over-simplifying, Gonzales holds that, when an appellate court reverses a trial court’s judgment because of a legal error affecting the verdict, the appellate court ordinarily should not remand the case to the trial court for a new trial, but instead should determine the facts for itself and render the appropriate judgment. In these instances, the appellate court becomes the trier of fact.
Gonzales highlights the uniqueness of Louisiana civil appellate procedure. This uniqueness stems from La. Const. art. V § 10(B), which vests the courts of appeal with jurisdiction over both law and facts in civil cases, and from La. Code Civ. P. art. 2164, which empowers appellate courts not merely to review the trial court’s judgment, but to render judgment themselves. Gonzales is an application of these principles. And because a trial court’s legal error may lead to the appellate court’s having to decide the facts for itself, Gonzales highlights the importance of selling your side’s version of the facts to the appellate court.
That is why I think that, in the area of Louisiana civil appellate practice, Gonzales is one of the most important decisions on the books. Do you agree? What do you think is the most important case in this area? Comments are open.