Last Friday, the Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari in four civil cases. Here is a quick rundown of those cases:
Huval v. State ex rel. Dept. of Public Safety & Corrections, 2016-CC-1857. This case presents a question of subject-matter jurisdiction. The two plaintiffs were terminated from their employment by the Louisiana State Police. They appealed their terminations to the State Police Commission, a body with authority similar to that of the Civil Service Commission. The Commission overturned their terminations and suspended them. The State Police appealed the Commission’s decision to the Louisiana First Circuit, which reversed one plaintiff’s termination and upheld the other plaintiff’s suspension. The plaintiffs then filed a civil action for damages against the State Police, alleging defamation, malicious prosecution, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. As damages, they claimed loss of earnings and earning capacity, loss of benefits, and loss of employment. The State Police pleaded a declinatory exception of lack of personal jurisdiction, arguing that the Commission had exclusive jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ claims. The 19th JDC overruled the exception. The First Circuit, splitting 2-1, granted a supervisory writ and affirmed the 19th JDC’s judgment, with Judge McClendon dissenting. To read the First Circuit’s decision, follow this link.
Successions of Toney, 2016-C-1534. The issue in this case is the validity of a notarial testament. The trial court found that the testament’s failed to comply with La. Civ. Code art. 1577 and nullified the testament. The First Circuit affirmed 2-1, with Judge Higginbotham dissenting. To read the First Circuit’s decision, follow this link.
Acurio v. Acurio, 2016-C-1395. The issue in this case is the admissibility of a purported prenuptial agreement in the trial of a property settlement. The prenuptial agreement was executed four days before the marriage, between a notary and just one witness. (Under La. Civ. Code art. 1833, an authentic act requires two witnesses.) The plaintiff acknowledged the agreement under oath, but not until after the marriage. The trial court held that the agreement was null and therefore inadmissible. The Second Circuit reversed, holding that no time limit exists to acknowledge an act under private signature. This ruling appears to have created a circuit split; the Second Circuit acknowledged two decisions supporting the plaintiff’s argument for nullity. To read the Second Circuit’s decision, follow this link.
Safford v. Hammerman & Gainer Int’l, Inc., 2016-C-1591. The plaintiff, a former employee of the New Orleans Fire Department, filed a worker’s compensation claim against the Department for supplemental earnings benefits. The Department argued that the claim was prescribed. The issue is whether prescription is subject to an estoppel exception, applicable when an employer lulls an employee into a false sense of security and thus prevents the employee from timely making a claim. The trial court found estoppel inapplicable and sustained the Department’s exception of prescription. The Fourth Circuit reversed. To read the Fourth Circuit’s decision, follow this link. Although there was no evidence of any intent to mislead the plaintiff, the Fourth Circuit found that the circumstances resulted in the plaintiff’s “reasonable confusion” about the status of his claim.
To sum up: these four decisions include two cases with dissenting opinions in the court of appeal, one case where the court of appeal disagreed with the trial court, and one case appearing to create a circuit split. In short, they are all cases in which reasonable judges could reach differing conclusions. This common thread is something to consider the next time you apply to the Louisiana Supreme Court for a writ of review.