Procedure

No reasons for judgment? Here’s what you do.

Q. Let’s say that a trial court renders an appealable judgment against your client. You want to appeal, and you want the record to include the trial court’s written findings and reasons for judgment. So you file a timely request for written findings and reasons under La. Code Civ. P. art. 1917, but the trial court fails to issue written reasons. What do you do?

A. “[T]he proper remedy for a trial court’s failure to provide written reasons for judgment, when a timely written request to provide reasons has been filed, is by writ or a motion for remand.” Wooley v. Lucksinger, 2009-0571, p. 75 (La. 4/1/11), 61 So. 3d 507, 570; see also id. n. 160 (collecting cases).


Appealing consolidated cases in federal court

Let’s say two civil actions in federal court are consolidated according to Fed. R. Civ. P. 42(a). A final judgment is entered in one of the consolidated cases but not the other. Is that judgment appealable? Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court answered “yes.” See Hall v. Hall, No. 16-1150 (Mar. 27, 2017). The Court reasoned that consolidation does not merge the consolidated cases into one civil action; instead each case retains its identity as a separate civil action.


Dismissal of amended petition not a final judgment

Let’s say a trial court renders judgment on exceptions that dismisses the plaintiff’s amended petition “in its entirety with prejudice at [plaintiff’s] cost.” Is the judgment final and appealable? In a recent decision, the La. First Circuit said, “Nope.” State v. Teva Pharmaceuticals Indus., Ltd., 2017-0448 (La. App. 1 Cir. 2/8/18), 2018 WL 773968, 2018 La. App. LEXIS 224. Why? Because the judgment did not dismiss leftover claims in the original petition.

Not surprisingly, the procedural history of this case is complicated. In its original petition, the state alleged claims under the Louisiana Monopolies Act, the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices Act, and unjust enrichment. The defendants pleaded some peremptory exceptions. In a judgment signed on June 1, 2016, the trial court sustained most of the exceptions (no right of action, no cause of action), and overruled the exceptions with respect to the state's claim for an injunction under LUTPA. Importantly, the only claim that this judgment dismissed was the unjust-enrichment claim.

The state then filed an amended petition that incorporated by reference the original petition and added some paragraphs. The defendants repleaded their exceptions. In a judgment signed on December 8, 2016, the trial court struck all but three paragraphs of the amended petition, sustained peremptory exceptions as to all claims, and dismissed the amended petition with prejudice. 

On appeal, the First Circuit determined that it lacked appellate jurisdiction because neither the June 1 judgment nor the December 8 judgment was a final, appealable judgment. the June 1 judgment was not final because it dismissed fewer than all of the state’s claims against the defendants. The December 8 judgment was not final because it dismissed only the amended petition; it failed to dismiss the original petition. Therefore, the state’s claims under the LMA and LUTPA remained undismissed.

Most lawyers (including me) would have thought that the December 8 judgment was final and appealable. This decision is something to keep in mind when drafting a judgment intended to sustain peremptory exceptions and dismiss the entire suit—make sure that the judgment explicitly dismisses all claims.


It’s never too late to plead prescription.

Here’s an unusual sequence of events. Plaintiffs filed a petition to nullify a judgment. The defendant pleaded a peremptory exception of prescription. The trial court sustained the exception and dismissed the suit. The court of appeal reversed and remanded for further proceedings. On remand, at the conclusion of trial testimony, the defendant re-urged its exception of prescription. After taking the matter under advisement, the trial court rendered judgment dismissing the plaintiffs’ petition with prejudice without addressing prescription. Plaintiffs appealed. Without answering the appeal, the defendant re-urged its exception of prescription in the court of appeal. Can the court of appeal consider the exception? Yes, says the Louisiana Fourth Circuit. See Loughlin v. United Services Auto. Ass’n, 2017-0109, pp. 13–16 (La. App. 4 Cir. 12/20/17), — So. 3d —. And what’s more, the Loughlin court sustained the exception! Id., p. 21. 

“What about law of the case?” you ask. The Fourth Circuit determined that, in the first appeal, it did not rule on the merits of the exception. Instead, it found that the claim was not prescribed on the face of the petition and there was no evidence to contradict the petition’s allegations. Id., p. 15. Thus, the defendant was free to re-urge the exception in the trial court and (unlike the first time) offer evidence to support the exception.

From there, it was only a tiny step to for the defendant to re-urge the exception on appeal. See La. Code Civ. P. art. 2163 (appellate court may consider peremptory exception raised for first time in that court); see also La. Code Civ. P. art. 2133(B) (party who does not answer appeal may still assert, in support of the trial court’s judgment, any argument supported by the record).


Can you appeal denial of arbitration by a La. state court?

Here’s an interesting issue that I came across today. The Federal Arbitration Act includes a provision allowing an immediate appeal of an order refusing to enforce an arbitration clause. See 9 U.S.C. § 16(a)(1). But suppose that a case governed by the FAA is in a Louisiana state court. Under La. Code Civ. P. art. 2083, an interlocutory judgment cannot be appealed unless an appeal is “expressly provided by law.” Is a Louisiana trial court’s order denying arbitration appealable to a Louisiana court of appeal. In at least two circuits (the Fourth and the Fifth), the answer is “no.” Despite the FAA, a party to a Louisiana case seeking appellate review of an order denying arbitration must apply for a supervisory writ. See Saavedra v. Dealmaker Developments, 2008-1239 (La. App. 4 Cir. 3/18/09), 8 So. 3d 758, 761–62; and Allen v. Valero Energy Corp., 06-726, pp. 3–4 (La. App. 5 Cir. 1/9/07), 951 So. 2d 370, 371–72.


When do you need a bond to take a devolutive appeal?

Usually, an appellant taking a devolutive appeal does not have to post an appeal bond. See La. Code Civ. P. art. 2124(A). But there’s an exception to this rule: in a worker’s compensation case, an employer appealing an award of benefits must post a bond “guaranteeing that the employer will pay the amount of the award,” plus interest and costs. when the worker’s compensation judge has awarded benefits to the employee. La. R.S. 23:1310.5(C). This rule applies to both suspensive appeals and devolutive appeals. See Coolidge v. Butler, 16-937 (La. App. 3 Cir. 11/22/17)

Another procedural quirk under R.S. 23:1310.5(C): the time to post the bond does not begin to run until the worker’s compensation judge has notified the employer of the bond amount. In Coolidge, the employee moved to dismiss the employer’s appeal for failure to post the bond. The Third Circuit granted the motion. But since the WCJ had failed to set the amount of the bond, the Third Circuit dismissed the appeal as premature, and remanded the case for the WCJ to set the bond amount.

That’s a wrap for this year, folks. I just peaked at the blog archives and was surprised to realize that this blog passed its 5th birthday back in October. Thanks for reading, and best wishes for the New Year.


When is a “partial” summary judgment appealable?

Plaintiff sues Defendant. Defendant filed a reconventional demand against Plaintiff and a third-party demand against an insurer. The trial court renders summary judgment dismissing Plaintiff’s main demand but reserving Defendant’s reconventional demand and third-party demand. Is the judgment appealable? Yes, according to the Third Circuit in Hester v. Burns Builders, 17-824 (La. App. 3 Cir. 11/29/17). The court reasoned that the judgment is final under La. Code Civ. P. art. 1915(A)(1) and (3) because it dismissed Plaintiff’s principal action in its entirety. It didn’t matter that Plaintiff remained a party in his capacity as a defendant in reconvention.


A sanctions judgment under La. Code Civ. P. art. 1471 is appealable.

Let’s say a party disobeys an order compelling discovery. The discovering party moves for sanctions under La. Code Civ. P. art. 1471, and the trial court grants the motion, holding the recalcitrant party in contempt and striking its pleadings. Is the sanctions judgment final and appealable? According to the Fourth Circuit, it is. Celeste v. Starboard Mgt., LLC, 2016-1318 (La. App. 4 Cir. 11/6/17)

The facts and procedural history in Celeste are complicated; for this post’s purposes, here is the skinny version. After the defendants disobeyed an order compelling discovery, the trial court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for sanctions under art. 1471, finding the defendants in contempt and striking their affirmative defenses and reconventional demand. This judgment was signed on April 3, 2014, and notice of judgment was sent the next day. On May 1, 2014, defendants filed a “Notice of Intent to Take Supervisory Writs/Appeal,” but failed to pursue appellate review of the April 2014 judgment.

Fast forward to 2016, when the defendants filed a motion to reconsider the April 2014 judgment, and the plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court denied the motion to reconsider as untimely and granted summary judgment in the plaintiffs’s favor. The defendants moved for new trial, and when that motion was denied, took an appeal. Among their assigned errors was the trial court’s April 2014 judgment striking their affirmative defenses and reconventional demand. The Fourth Circuit held that, with respect to the April 2014 judgment, the appeal was untimely. Citing two prior decisions (Stiltner v. Stiltner, 00-2079 (La. App. 4 Cir. 11/08/00), 772 So. 2d 909; and Pittman Constr. Co. v. Pittman, 96-1079 (La. App. 4 Cir. 3/12/97), 691 So. 2d 268), the Fourth Circuit held, “All contempt judgment are deemed final judgments, subject to immediate appeal.” Celeste, pp. 9–10.

The defendants argued that a judgment imposing sanctions under art. 1471 is not appealable under La. Code Civ. P. art. 1915(A)(6), which allows an immediate appeal from a judgment imposing sanctions under La. Code Civ. P. arts. 191, 863, or 864, or La. Code Evid. art. 510(G), because art. 1471 is not specifically listed in art. 1915(A)(6). But the Fourth Circuit rejected this argument, reasoning that “it makes no difference whether the trial court expressly issued sanctions pursuant to La. C.C.P. art. 1471 or art. 191 in order to trigger La. C.C.P. art. 1915(A)(6)’s application,” since both art. 191 and art. 1471 authorize the trial court to sanction a party for disobeying a court order. Celeste, p. 11.

 


Decretal language needed to appeal an injunction

In at least five prior posts, I’ve written about appeals being dismissed because the judgment appealed from lacked decretal language: language stating the party in whose favor the judgment is rendered, the party against whom the judgment is rendered, and the relief being granted or denied.1 Earlier this month, the Louisiana Fourth Circuit gave that rule a new twist, applying it to a judgment purporting to grant a preliminary injunction.

In Wells One Investments, LLC v. City of New Orleans, 2017-0415 (La. App. 4 Cir. 11/2/17), the trial court rendered a judgment stating that Wells One’s motion for preliminary injunction “is hereby granted,” but did not state what the city was ordered to do or not do. The city appealed under La. Code Civ. P. art. 3612, which gives parties the right to appeal a “judgment relating to a preliminary or final injunction ....” But the Fourth Circuit dismissed the appeal because the judgment failed to name the party being enjoined and, contrary to La. Code Civ. P. art. 3605, failed to “describe in reasonable detail, and not by mere reference to the petition or other documents, the act or acts sought to be restrained.”

The lesson from this case seems to be that any appealable judgment—not just a final judgment—must contain decretal language, naming the winning and losing parties and spelling out the precise relief being granted or denied.

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1. See these posts from Jan. 21, 2013; Apr. 4, 2013; Feb. 25, 2016; Apr. 7, 2017; and Sept. 3, 2017.


How not to draft a judgment, × 3

Last month, the Louisiana Fourth Circuit dismissed three appeals (that I know of) because the judgment appealed from lacked decretal language and therefore was not a valid, final judgment:

Lacking from all three judgments was decretal language. As these cases say, decretal language must do three simple things: (1) Name the party in whose favor the ruling is ordered. (2) Name the party against whom the ruling is ordered. (3) State the relief that is granted or denied. In these three instances, the judgments should have said something like, “Judgment is hereby rendered in favor of [defendant’s name] and against [plaintiff’s name], dismissing all claims of [plaintiff’s name] against [defendant’s name] with prejudice.” If only some of the plaintiff’s claims are being dismissed, then the decree must identify the specific claims being dismissed.

In Louisiana, lawyers need to know how to draft a proper judgment. That is because in many Louisiana district courts, the lawyer who prevails at the hearing of the exception or motion is instructed to draft the judgment.