A sanctions judgment under La. Code Civ. P. art. 1471 is appealable.
28 November 2017
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.