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March 2014

Catching Bryan Garner tomorrow

Tomorrow I will be getting some high-quality CLE courtesy of Bryan Garner. His current road show is a triple feature: Advanced Legal Writing & Editing, The Redbook Seminar, and Making Your Case. Tomorrow’s stop will be in New Orleans at the Hotel Intercontinental. If you see me there, please say hello—I love meeting blog readers.

If you happen to live in southwest or northwest Louisiana, you can catch Bryan’s stop in Houston (April 3) or Dallas (April 18). If you have a chance to attend one of his seminars, I recommend that you do; your CLE time and dollars will be well spent.

“Writ’s too late, baby.”*

Under Uniform Rule 4-3, a return date for a supervisory-writ application should not be more than 30 days after notice of judgment as provided by La. Code Civ. P. art. 1914. But what event constitutes notice of judgment? Consider this sequence of events in a recent case, Rain CII Carbon, LLC v. Turner Industries Group, LLC, 14-121 (La. App. 3 Cir. 3/19/14):

  • Sept. 16, 2013: Trial court holds a hearing on a defendants dilatory and declinatory exceptions and rules from the bench, overruling the exceptions.
  • Sept. 30, 2013: Trial court signs a written judgment reducing its Sept. 16 oral ruling to writing.
  • Oct. 15, 2013: Trial court sends notice of the written judgment to the parties.
  • Oct. 29, 2013: Defendant files a motion for suspensive appeal.

Because the judgment overruling the exceptions was not a final, appealable judgment, the Third Circuit issued a rule to show cause why the appeal should not be dismissed. In response, the appellant acknowledged lack of an appealable judgment, but asked that the appeal be converted to a supervisory writ. The Third Circuit was willing to do so, but only if the motion for appeal was filed within the 30-day time to apply for a supervisory writ.

Alas, the Third Circuit found that the 30 days had expired before the motion for appeal was filed, even though it was filed within 30 days of the written judgment and 14 days after mailing of the notice of judgment. Why? Because the court determined that the September 16 ruling in open court constituted notice of judgment starting the 30-day delay to file a notice of intent, even though the judgment was later reduced to writing.

Since I have not seen the record in this case, I can’t comment on the correctness of the Third Circuit’s judgment. Having said that, this opinion reminds us of an important difference between notice of a final judgment and notice of an interlocutory judgment. A final judgment must be signed by the judge, and notice of judgment does not occur until the clerk mails notice of the written judgment. See La. Code Civ. P. arts. 1911 and 1913(A). In contrast, the general rule under La. Code Civ. P. art. 1914(A) is that, when an interlocutory judgment is rendered orally from the bench in open court, the oral ruling constitutes notice of judgment triggering the 30-day delay to seek a supervisory writ.

Article 1914(B) contains exceptions to this general rule, under which the mailing of notice of the written judgment constitutes notice of judgment. The exceptions:

  • if the court orders the judgment to be reduced to writing;
  • if a party, within 10 days of rendition in open court, requests that the judgment be reduced to writing; or
  • if the court takes the interlocutory matter under advisement.

The first exception is so common that lawyers sometimes forget that it is, in fact, an exception to the general rule. Remember that the exceptions in art. 1914(B) are just that: exceptions. If you don’t have something in writing showing application of any of the exceptions, you must assume that the general rule of art. 1914(A) applies, and that the ruling in open court triggers the 30-day time to apply for a supervisory writ.

Ten years ago, I wrote an article for the Louisiana Bar Journal making this same point: A Writ in Time, 51 La. B.J. 338 (Feb./Mar. 2004). Article 1914 has since been amended, but the basic message is still true. If you don’t have a transcript or a minute entry reflecting the court’s order that the judgment be reduced to writing, assume that your 30 days to seek a supervisory writ started when the judge ruled in open court.


* Profuse apologies to Carole King.