Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Louisiana Supreme Court
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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

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The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether the lower courts correctly ruled an online marketplace was obligated as a "dealer" under La. R.S. 47:301(4)(l) and/or by contract to collect sales tax on the property sold by third party retailers through the marketplace’s website. Wal-Mart.com USA, LLC (“Wal-Mart.com”) operated an online marketplace at which website visitors could buy products from Wal-Mart.com or third party retailers. From 2009 through 2015, Wal-Mart.com reported its online sales in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana of its products and remitted the required sales tax to the Louisiana Department of Revenue and ex-officio tax collector, then Sheriff Newell Normand (Tax Collector). The reported sales amount did not include proceeds from online sales made by third party retailers through Wal-Mart.com’s marketplace. Following an attempted audit for this period, Tax Collector filed a “Rule for Taxes” alleging Wal-Mart.com “engaged in the business of selling, and sold tangible personal property at retail as a dealer in the Parish of Jefferson,” but had “failed to collect, and remit . . . local sales taxes from its customers for transactions subject to Jefferson Parish sales taxation.” In addition, Tax Collector alleged that an audit of Wal-Mart.com’s sales transactions was attempted, but Wal-Mart.com “refused to provide [Tax Collector] with complete information and records” of Jefferson Parish sales transactions, particularly, those conducted on behalf of third party retailers. In connection with online marketplace sales by third party retailers, Tax Collector sought an estimated $1,896,882.15 in unpaid sales tax, interest, penalties, audit fees, and attorney fees. The Supreme Court determined an online marketplace was not a “dealer” under La. R.S. 47:301(4)(l) for sales made by third party retailers through its website and because the online marketplace did not contractually assume the statutory obligation of the actual dealers (the third party retailers), the judgment of the trial court and the decision of the court of appeal were reversed and vacated. View "Normand v. Wal-Mart.com USA, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were the Plaquemines Parish Council and the St. James Parish School Board, each being designated as the single collector for sales and use taxes levied by all taxing authorities within their respective parishes. Plaintiffs filed a Petition for Declaratory Judgment and Request for Preliminary and Permanent Injunction, and supplementing and amending petitions thereto, alleging that La.R.S. 47:337.102(I) violated La.Const. art. VI, section 29 and La.Const. art. VII, section 3. In 2010, Plaquemines Parish entered into an Agreement to Collect Local Taxes Due on the Sale or Use of Motor Vehicles and Factory Built Homes (“the agreement”) with the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (“the Department”) on behalf of the Department and the Vehicle Commissioner (“OMV”) for the collection of sales and use taxes levied in the parish. The agreement contains a provision allowing OMV to collect the identified sales and use taxes and to retain 1% of the taxes levied. St. James Parish also entered into an agreement with OMV for the collection of sales and use taxes levied in the parish. Their agreement contains the identical provision allowing OMV to collect the sales and use taxes and to retain 1% of the taxes levied as payment for its collection duties. After de novo review, the Louisiana Supreme Court concurred that La.R.S. 47:337.102(I) was unconstitutional. Consequently, the judgment of the district court declaring La.R.S. 47:337.102(I) unconstitutional and permanently enjoining the State of Louisiana, Department of Public Safety and Corrections, Office of Motor Vehicles from withholding locally levied sales and use taxes under the authority of La.R.S. 47:337.102(I) and from disbursing any funds withheld to the Louisiana Uniform Local Sales Tax Board was affirmed. View "West Feliciana Parish Government v. Louisiana" on Justia Law

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This dispute arose out of a project known as Phase III Levee Repairs at Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge located in Grand Chenier, Louisiana (“the Project”). In May 2017, the State, through the Division of Administration, Office of Facility Planning and Control (“State”) issued an advertisement for bids for the Project. Following the close of bidding, LeBlanc Marine, L.L.C. (“LeBlanc”) was the apparent low bidder on the Project, and Southern Delta Construction, L.L.C. (“Southern Delta”) was the apparent second low bidder. However, on September 20, 2017, the State informed LeBlanc that its bid was rejected because it failed to comply with Section 5.1.9 of the instructions to bidders. Specifically, the State claimed LeBlanc failed to submit written evidence of the authority of the person signing the bid as set forth in the instructions. The State thereafter determined Southern Delta was the lowest responsive bidder and awarded the contract for the Project to Southern Delta. LeBlanc filed a petition for injunctive and declaratory relief, seeking to enjoin the State from awarding the contract to Southern Delta, or alternatively, a declaration that any contract entered into by the State and Southern Delta was null and void. LeBlanc’s petition alleged that Southern Delta’s bid was also non-responsive because it violated Section 5.1.9 of the instructions to bidders by failing to include written evidence proving that the person who signed the bid had the authority to sign and submit the bid on Southern Delta’s behalf. In reasons for judgment, the district court found that the State was bound by the more restrictive requirements set forth in its instructions to bidders than what was provided in La. Rev. Stat. 38:2212(B)(5). The Louisiana Supreme Court found the district court erred in granting declaratory and injunctive relief in favor of LeBlanc based on a finding the State was bound by the more restrictive requirements set forth in its instructions to bidders. The Court therefore reversed the judgment of court of appeal which affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "LeBlanc Marine, L.L.C. vs. Louisiana, Division of Administration, Office of Facility Planning and Control" on Justia Law

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In a workers’ compensation matter, the Louisiana Supreme Court was presented with the question of whether an employee’s motion to compel her employer to choose a pharmacy other than the pharmacy at its retail stores to fill her prescriptions was premature in the absence of any claim that she has not been furnished proper medical attention or that there have been delays or deficiencies in filling prescriptions. Elizabeth Soileau filed a disputed claim for workers’ compensation benefits alleging she injured her right arm and hand in the course and scope of her employment with Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (“Wal-Mart”). Pursuant to a 2012 consent judgment, Soileau received medical treatment, including prescriptions, some of which she filled at a Wal-Mart pharmacy. In 2016, Soileau obtained a judgment against Wal-Mart ordering that she was entitled to receive certain prescriptions, as prescribed by her physician. Soileau began filling her prescriptions at Falcon Pharmacy. Following the Louisiana Supreme Court's opinion in Burgess v. Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans, 225 So.3d 1020, which held the choice of pharmacy belonged to the employer, Wal-Mart notified Soileau in writing that she could only use “a Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club Pharmacy” for her future prescriptions needs. Wal-Mart further advised Soileau it would not issue reimbursement for medications dispensed to Wal-Mart workers’ compensation patients from any pharmacy other than a Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club Pharmacy. Soileau moved to compel, arguing she “should not be forced to obtain medications from her employer directly and cannot go without her medication.” The motion proceeded to a hearing before the Office of Workers’ Compensation (“OWC”). At the hearing, Soileau testified that in September 2017 (after she filed her motion), Wal-Mart’s pharmacy denied two of her workers’ compensation prescriptions, but admitted she had no written documentation of the denial. The workers’ compensation judge explained that in the event Soileau experienced any delays or deficiencies in the filling of her prescriptions, she “has a remedy under Louisiana Revised Statute 23:1201E.” Soileau appealed. A divided panel of the court of appeal reversed, finding that a conflict of interest would be created if Wal-Mart were permitted to designate its own pharmacy as the only pharmacy Soileau could use for her workers’ compensation prescriptions. The Supreme Court found the matter was indeed premature and did not present a justiciable controversy. It therefore vacated the judgment of the court of appeal. View "Soileau v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc." on Justia Law