With the New Year just getting started, here’s an issue to look out for if the New Year brings a new judge to the case.
On December 3, 2020, a pro tempore judge in a district court presided over a hearing of defendants’ motions for summary judgment and granted both motions. The written judgment was signed on January 5, 2021 by the newly elected successor judge—not the same judge who heard and granted the motions on December 3. The plaintiff appealed.
In its original opinion, the court of appeal dismissed the appeal without prejudice for lack of an appealable judgment. Relying on caselaw interpreting La. Code Civ. P. art. 1911, the court of appeal interpreted Article 1911 to require that a final judgment be signed by the same judge who presided over the case. Since the judgment was not signed by the judge who presided over the summary-judgment hearing, the court of appeal held that it was invalid and unappeable. Payne v. St. Bernard Parish Hosp. Serv. Dist., 2021-CA-0135 (La. App. 4 Cir. 10/13/21).
The defendants–appellees applied for rehearing. The court of appeal granted rehearing, vacated its earlier judgment, found that the district court’s judgment was valid after all, and went on to decide the merits of the appeal. The defendants argued, and the court of appeal agreed, that La. R.S. 13:4209(B) authorizes a successor judge to sign "a judgment which conforms with the judgment rendered” by the former judge “if the judge who rendered the judgment dies, resigns, or is removed from office, or if his term expires before signing the judgment in the case ....” Payne v. St. Bernard Parish Hosp. Serv. Dist., 2021-CA-0135 (La. App. 4 Cir. 12/1/21). Judge Ledet dissented, citing cases requiring the successor judge to explicitly state that she or he was complying with La. R.S. 13:4209.