Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Louisiana Supreme Court
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Taxpayers Kraig and Kelly Strenge appealed directly to the Louisiana Supreme Court a declaration by a district court that La. R.S. 47:1990 was unconstitutional, as applied. The district court’s ruling on partial summary judgment also held that the Louisiana Tax Commission (the “Commission”) exceeded its authority in promulgating Section 3103(Z) of Title 61, Part V of the Louisiana Administrative Code (the “Rules and Regulations”) and declared Section 3103(Z) unconstitutional. The underlying issue centered on the Taxpayers challenge to the correctness of the appraisal of their residential property in Lafayette Parish in 2016. After the Lafayette City-Parish Council (Board of Review) ruled in favor of the Assessor, Taxpayers appealed to the Commission. The Commission ruled that the fair market value of the property for tax year 2016 was $231,500, not $288,270 as determined by the Assessor, and ordered the Assessor to reduce Taxpayers’ 2016 assessment accordingly. Two days after the Commission’s oral ruling, the Assessor assessed the fair market value of Taxpayers’ property for the 2017 tax year again at $288,270. Taxpayers again appealed, and after a hearing, the Commission issued a “Rule to Show Cause” to the Assessor. That dispute went before the district court, and the court’s decision served as the grounds for this appeal. The Supreme Court found the district court erred in ruling the Commission exceeded its authority in promulgating Section 3103(Z) and declaring Section 3103(Z) unconstitutional but correctly declared La. R.S. 47:1990 unconstitutional, as applied. Accordingly, judgment was reversed in part and affirmed in part. View "Comeaux v. Louisiana Tax Commission" on Justia Law

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The Louisiana Supreme Court granted this writ application to address the specific question of whether there was a cause of action for a writ of mandamus compelling a municipality to satisfy a judgment for back wages owed to its firefighter employees. Based on the ministerial nature of the statutorily and constitutionally mandated duty of the municipality to appropriate funds to satisfy the judgment, the Court found the lower courts erred in sustaining the exception of no cause of action. View "Lowther et al. v. Town of Bastrop" on Justia Law

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This case involved a defamation claim brought by the executive director of a public agency against the State of Louisiana and the Louisiana Legislative Auditor arising out of statements appearing in two audit reports and the summaries which accompanied the release of those audit reports. Plaintiff claimed the audits cast his conduct in connection with his duties at the agency in a defamatory light. The defendants moved for summary judgment, but the district court denied the motion, finding the existence of genuine issues of material fact. The court of appeal denied writs. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari, primarily to determine whether the lower courts erred in concluding that genuine issues of material fact precluded summary judgment. Finding there were no genuine issues of material fact, and that the questions presented were all questions of law, the Supreme Court further found that the statements were not actionable as a matter of law, but rather statements of opinion relating to matters of public concern that did not carry a provably false factual connotation. As such, the statements were entitled to full constitutional protection. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the judgments of the lower courts and granted summary judgment in favor of defendants. View "Johnson v. Purpera" on Justia Law

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The Judiciary Commission of Louisiana filed a disciplinary proceeding against respondent, Justice of the Peace Cody King on one count that alleged respondent violated Canons 1, 2, 2A, 3A(1), 3A(7), and 3B(1) of the Code of Judicial Conduct (1996) and La. Const. Art. V, section 25(C). In 2018, the Attorney General's Office filed the first of three complaints against Respondent with the Office of Special Counsel of the Commission, asserting that Respondent failed to respond to constituents in his district, and likewise failed to respond to letters or calls from the Attorney General's office. In 2019, Hannah Zaunbrecher filed a complaint, asserting: (1) Respondent was difficult to reach; (2) he overcharged Ms. Zaunbrecher for an eviction she filed; (3) he did not set a court date in the eviction matter despite repeated requests from Ms. Zaunbrecher after the eviction was filed; and (4) Respondent failed to refund the unearned filing fee. The OSC sent letters to Respondent notifying him of each complaint. Respondent did not reply despite later acknowledging that he received them. After a hearing on these charges, the Commission filed a recommendation with the Louisiana Supreme Court concluding that the above violations had been proven. To this, the Supreme Court agreed with the Commission’s recommendation, and ordered the removal of Respondent from office, that he reimburse the Commission the costs incurred in the investigation and prosecution of the case, and further, that he pay restitution for an unearned filing fee he failed to return to Parish Leasing Company, LLC. View "In re: Justice of the Peace Cody King, Ward 6, Morehouse Parish" on Justia Law

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Frederick Meiners, III was employed as Assistant Fire Chief with the St. Tammany Parish Fire Protection District No. 4 (“District”). In early 2016, Meiners agreed to retrieve a repaired ambulance unit from Hattiesburg, but informed his supervisor, provisional fire chief Kenneth Moore, that he first had to attend a speaking engagement with a ladies’ group that would last approximately thirty minutes. At 1:08 p.m. that day, Jennifer Glorioso, the wife of Fire Equipment Operator Glorioso (hereinafter referred to as “FEO Glorioso”), photographed Meiners sitting at a table at the La Madeleine restaurant with his wife and his lawyer. She later sent a text message containing this photograph to her husband. At 2:30 p.m., District Fire Chief Brady Anderson advised Chief Moore that Meiners was not yet back from his meeting and offered to pick up the ambulance himself. Chief Moore declined Anderson’s offer. After being reassured by Meiners he was on his way back to the District, Chief Moore received a text from an unknown phone number that contained a photograph of Meiners taken at the restaurant. Chief Moore then provided a written notice of investigation to Meiners, stating that he was “initiating an investigation into an incident involving you in a matter which occurred on February 19, 2016, specifically, conflicting details regarding a speaking engagement while on duty.” The notice of investigation also stated the “persons conducting this investigation will be Corianne Green and a PMI representative.” Chief Moore then placed Meiners on administrative leave with pay. After a hearing, Meiners was terminated from his employment with the district based on his conduct on the date of the ambulance pickup. The termination was affirmed by the St. Tammany Parish Fire Protection District No. 4 Civil Service Board (“Board”). Upon review, a district court reversed and remanded, finding that untruthfulness alone, did not mandate termination, where the misconduct did not result in a detrimental effect on the efficient and orderly operation of the fire department. The Louisiana Supreme Court found the district court erred in remanding the case to the Board to impose discipline other than termination. The Court reversed judgment and reinstated the Board's decision. View "Meiners v. St. Tammany Parish Fire Protection Dist. No. 4 et al." on Justia Law

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This dispute involved ad valorem taxes for the tax years 2013 through 2016. In October 2012, D90 Energy, LLC, purchased two gas wells and one saltwater disposal well. The wells were subject to ad valorem property taxation in Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana. Relying on a Commission regulation applicable to oil and gas wells, D90 argued that a purchase price in a valid sale is fair market value; therefore, the wells should be valued at $100,000.00 for each of these tax years. For each tax year, the Assessor rejected D90’s documentation of the sale, explaining, in part, that his office never uses the sales price as fair market value for oil and gas wells. Rather, the Assessor used valuation tables provided by the Commission, which take into account age, depth, type, and production of the wells. D90 appealed each assessment to the Commission, presenting documentary evidence and live testimony to establish the $100,000.00 purchase price for the wells and the arms-length nature of the sale. It presented additional evidence to establish that the condition and value of the wells were virtually identical for each tax year. The district court affirmed the Commission’s valuations for all four tax years. Reviewing only what was presented to the Assessor, the court of appeal reversed the district court and reinstated the Assessor’s valuation. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted D90’s writ application to determine the correctness of the assessments, the proper scope and standard of review, and the legal effect of D90’s failure to pay taxes under protest. After review, the Court determined the district court was correct in affirming the Commission, thus reversing the appellate court's judgment. View "D90 Energy, LLC v. Jefferson Davis Parish Board of Review" on Justia Law

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The Louisiana Supreme Court granted review in this case to determine whether the Louisiana Commissioner of Insurance was bound by an arbitration clause in an agreement between a health insurance cooperative and a third-party contractor. The Louisiana Health Cooperative, Inc. (“LAHC”), a health insurance cooperative created in 2011 pursuant to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, entered an agreement with Milliman, Inc. for actuarial and other services. By July 2015, the LAHC was out of business and allegedly insolvent. The Insurance Commissioner sought a permanent order of rehabilitation relative to LAHC. The district court entered an order confirming the Commissioner as rehabilitator and vesting him with authority to enforce contract performance by any party who had contracted with the LAHC. The Commissioner then sued multiple defendants in district court, asserting claims against Milliman for professional negligence, breach of contract, and negligent misrepresentation. According to that suit, the acts or omissions of Milliman caused or contributed to the LAHC’s insolvency. Milliman responded by filing a declinatory exception of lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing the Commissioner must arbitrate his claims pursuant to an arbitration clause in the agreement between the LAHC and Milliman. The Supreme Court concluded, however, the Commissioner was not bound by the arbitration agreement and accordingly could not be compelled to arbitrate its claims against Millman. The Court reversed the appellate court's judgment holding to the contrary, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Donelon v. Shilling" on Justia Law

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Elaine Kirt died in 2010, due to complications that developed shortly after undergoing eye surgery. On September 23, 2011, her son, Neville Kirt, appearing in person and on behalf of his deceased mother and his two brothers, filed a request with the Division of Administration asking for a medical review panel to review the care provided to his mother by three defendants: Dr. Rebecca Metzinger, the attending surgeon; Dr. Theodore Strickland III, the anesthesiologist for the procedure; and Tulane Medical Center. In a reply letter to Neville, the Patient’s Compensation Fund Oversight Board (PCF) acknowledged receipt of the request; confirmed Dr. Metzinger, Dr. Strickland, and Tulane University Hospital & Clinic were qualified under the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act (Act); informed Kirt a filing fee of $100 per qualified defendant was due; and requested payment of $300. The notice stated the failure to pay would render the request invalid, without effect, and would not suspend the time to file suit. Days later, then appearing through counsel, the Kirts sent a second letter asking to amend its previous request, adding two additional nurses. The Kirts included a $500 check to cover filing fees. A medical review panel convened, reviewed the care provided by all named healthcare providers, and found no breach of the standard of care. The Kirts thereafter filed against the doctors and nurses. Claims against the doctors were dismissed by summary judgments because there was no proof they breached the standard of care while treating Elaine Kirt. Those judgments expressly barred allocating fault to the dismissed parties and prohibited introducing evidence at trial to establish their fault. The nurses then filed peremptory exceptions of prescription, claiming the request for a medical review panel was invalid because the Kirts failed to pay the final $100 filing fee, and prescription was not suspended for any claims. The trial court concurred with the nurses and granted an exception of prescription. The Supreme Court determined that because the Kirts paid filing fees for five of six named defendants, dismissal of one of the nurses was proper for lack of a filing fee. The Court determined the lower courts did not consider or decide the merits of the Kirts' argument that they could not have reasonable known about the claims against two of the nurse defendants until one was deposed. Because the lower courts did not consider or decide the merits of the Kirts' basis for the exception of prescription, which could have turned on factual findings, the Supreme Court pretermitted consideration of these arguments and remanded the matter to the trial court for further disposition of the exception. View "Kirt v. Metzinger" on Justia Law

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In consolidated actions, the common issue presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court’s review centered on whether a writ of mandamus should issue to the clerk of an appellate court for the purpose of directing the clerk to comply with certain rules for the random assignment of panels and cases at that court. In a three-page per curiam, the First Circuit explained its allotment procedures were changed in 2019 after the 2018 amendment to La. R.S. 13:319. The First Circuit stated it adopted rules requiring a procedure for random allotment by the Clerk’s office of both appeals (Internal Rule 2.3(d)(l)(c)) and writ applications (Internal Rules 3.9(a)),4 with consideration for recusals and emergencies. In a supplemental per curiam, the First Circuit discussed composition of judicial panels, each regular panel comprising of one member randomly chosen through mechanical means from the four members of each of the Court's three election districts. The random composition of the initial three-judge panels was adopted pursuant to a five-year plan of rotation of members among the panels. To further ensure random composition of the panels, panel members of particular panels did not sit as an intact panel in the following year. The four randomly drawn regular panels also sat on writ duty throughout the Court's six appeal cycles. Petitioner Texas Brine’s petition alleged the First Circuit’s composition of judicial panels “dramatically limits the number of unique panels that can hear writs, appeals, and contested motions before the First Circuit from 220 unique combinations to 64 unique combinations - a reduction of approximately 70.9%.” It concluded this policy was an “affront to the requirement of randomness.” The Solomon plaintiffs’ mandamus petition was premised on the First Circuit’s practice, used between 2006-2018, of assigning subsequent appeals or applications for writs to a panel which included a judge who sat on the original panel and may have taken the lead or authored the first opinion/ruling in the case. The Supreme Court determined the First Circuit’s assignment system was reasonably designed “to select judges for panels in a random fashion which does not permit intentional manipulation by either the judges or the litigants.” The Court therefore denied Texas Brine’s mandamus petition, and dismissed the Solomon plaintiffs’ application as moot. View "Texas Brine Co., LLC v. Naquin" on Justia Law

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In 1962, the United States began constructing various structures in and around the Catahoula Basin pursuant to a congressionally-approved navigation project under the River and Harbor Act of 1960 to promote navigation on the Ouachita and Black Rivers. In conjunction with that project, the State of Louisiana signed an “Act of Assurances,” which obligated the State to provide the federal government with all lands and property interests necessary to the project free of charge, and to indemnify the federal government from any damages resulting from the project. In 2006, plaintiffs Steve Crooks and Era Lea Crooks filed a “Class Action Petition to Fix Boundary, For Damages and For Declaration [sic] Judgment.” The Crookses alleged they represented a class of landowners in the Catahoula Basin whose property was affected by increased water levels from the project. Ultimately, the trial court certified the plaintiffs as one class, but subdivided that class into two groups – the “Lake Plaintiffs” and the “Swamp Plaintiffs” – depending on the location of the properties affected. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to determine whether the plaintiffs’ inverse condemnation claims for compensation against the State were prescribed under La. R.S. 13:5111 and/or 28 U.S.C. 2501. The lower courts relied on the decision in Cooper v. Louisiana Department of Public Works, 870 So. 2d 315 (2004), to conclude the one-year prescriptive period for damage to immovable property found in La. C.C. art. 3493 governed, and the continuing tort doctrine applied to prevent the running of prescription on the plaintiffs’ claims. The Supreme Court found the lower courts erred in relying on Cooper and held that the three-year prescriptive period for actions for compensation for property taken by the state set forth in La. R. S. 13:5111 governed and the plaintiffs’ inverse condemnation claims were prescribed. View "Crooks v. Dept. of Natural Res." on Justia Law