Articles Posted in Louisiana Supreme Court

by
In 2009, plaintiff Nikola Vekic sought to buy three oyster leases which were jointly owned by Dragutin Popich and his daughters Mary Popich and Helen Popich Harris (collectively “the Popich family”). Although the parties disputed the content of the discussions which took place between them regarding the sale of the three oyster leases, it was undisputed that the Popichs’ lawyer, Roger Harris (husband of Helen), transmitted a letter stating that Popich was “unwilling to do a credit sale.” Instead, Harris drafted and submitted an agreement entitled “Sublease Agreement With Option to Purchase” along with a proposed act of sale to Vekic, who reviewed the documents along with his attorney. Vekic executed the sublease agreement on April 14, 2009, without raising any issues regarding its contents. The terms of the artfully-crafted agreement differed significantly from a typical lease or sublease in that the Popich family transferred all of the rights and responsibilities of ownership to Vekic without the benefit of a formal transfer of title between the parties. Vekic was bound to pay the full $90,000 in “rent” regardless of whether the leases were damaged or were even subject to a complete taking. Vekic could not under any condition terminate the lease and was responsible for fulfilling all of the legal requirements to maintain the leases, including paying the $2 per-acre lease fee to the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. After paying $60,000 of the "rent" owed, the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon well exploded, closing the area where the leases at issue here were located for a considerable amount of time. Vekic paid the Popich family the remaining $30,000 he owed under the agreement in May, 2011. On June 19, 2011, Mr. Vekic exercised his option to purchase, and the parties executed the act of sale, which had been prepared in 2009 along with the original agreement, without any modifications. In the wake of the spill, a class action lawsuit was filed against BP. Vekic filed a claim with the Deepwater Horizon Economic Claim Center (“DHECC”) which included the leases at issue. Helen Harris, also an attorney, prepared and filed claims for the Popich family, informing the DHECC of the 2009 agreement with Vekic and post-spill Act of Sale. A dispute arose regarding which party was entitled to the proceeds from the oil spill settlement for damages to certain oyster leases. The Louisiana Supreme Court disagreed with the Court of Appeal and found that the trial court did not err in accepting evidence beyond the four corners of the contract at issue and did not manifestly err in its factual findings and ultimate interpretation that the agreement at issue entitled the plaintiff to the settlement proceeds for property damage to the leases at issue. View "Vekic v. Popich" on Justia Law

by
Tax sale purchasers of three condominium units brought actions to quiet title following the tax debtor’s failure to pay ad valorem taxes on the units. The district court found the tax sale purchasers had provided insufficient notice of the right to redeem to the mortgagee for the units, denied the petitions to quiet title, and afforded the defendant mortgagee thirty days to redeem the properties. The issue presented through this appeal was whether the post-sale notice required by La. Rev. Stat. 47:2122(4) could be effectuated either by the tax collector under La. Rev. Stat. 47:2156(B) or by the tax sale purchaser under La. Rev. Stat. 47:2156(A). After review of the applicable statutes, the Louisiana Supreme Court found the court of appeal erred in finding the failure of the tax collector, though mandated to do so by La. Rev. Stat. 47:2156(B), to mail or attempt to mail post-sale written notice of the tax sales to the mortgagee required the tax sales to be set aside. Instead, the Court found the plain language of the governing statutes allowed post-sale notice to the interested tax party to be provided by a tax sale purchaser in accordance with La. Rev. Stat. 47:2156(A), and thus the requirement that the interested party must be duly notified of the tax sale under La. Rev. Stat. 47:2122(4) could be satisfied by the tax sale purchaser. Accordingly, the Court reversed the court of appeal, and remanded the case to that court for consideration of the issues pretermitted by the court of appeal’s reasoning. View "Central Properties v. Fairway Gardenhomes, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Louisiana legislature in 2006 passed Act 853 and Act 567, which amended the laws governing compensation for levee servitude appropriations with a particular focus on appropriations for use in hurricane protection projects. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari in this matter for three purposes: (1) to interpret specific provisions of the 2006 amendments to La. Const. art. I, section 4, La. Const. art. VI, section 42, and La. R.S. 38:281(3) and (4); (2) to determine the amount of compensation that was due a property owner whose property was appropriated by a levee district pursuant to a permanent levee servitude for use in a hurricane protection project; and (3) to determine whether La. R.S. 38:301(C)(2)(f) or La. R.S. 13:5111 governed an award for attorneys’ fees in a levee servitude appropriation dispute. The Court held the 2006 amendments to La. Const. art. I, section 4, La. Const. art. VI, section 42 and 38:281(3) and (4) reduced, rather than eliminated, the measure of damages to be paid to a property owner for the taking of, or loss or damage to, property rights for the construction, enlargement, improvement, or modification of hurricane protection projects from “full extent of the loss” to the more restrictive “just compensation” measure required by the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which was the fair market value of the property at the time of the appropriation, based on the current use of the property, before the proposed appropriated use, and without allowing for any change in value caused by levee construction. Furthermore, the Court held La. R.S. 38:301(C)(2)(f) governed an award for attorneys’ fees in a levee appropriation dispute. View "South Lafourche Levee Dist. v. Jarreau" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Dana Johno filed suit against Plaquemines Parish Government (“PPG”) and numerous other defendants alleging his house was unlawfully demolished by PPG and its agents after Hurricane Katrina. The plaintiff subsequently moved to have La. R.S. 9:2800.17, which provided retroactive statutory immunity to the government and its agents for certain actions taken in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, declared unconstitutional. The District Court granted the plaintiff’s motion. Significantly, the issue of immunity was never raised or argued by PPG. Only one of the defendants, Hard Rock Construction, LLC, one of the contractors for PPG, appealed the District Court’s ruling. The Supreme Court affirmed: "When a party acquires a right to assert a cause of action prior to a change in the law, that right is a vested property right which is protected by the guarantee of due process. Thus, a cause of action, once accrued, cannot be divested by subsequent legislation." Because the plaintiff’s causes of action accrued before effective date of the statute, the statute was unconstitutional as applied in this matter. View "Johno v. Doe" on Justia Law

by
Whitney and Pamela Smith entered into a residential mortgage contract with Saxon Mortgage Services (“Saxon”), which was secured with a promissory note on the Smiths’ home in Grant Parish. The Smiths later failed to make their installment payments beginning June 1, 2004. Two months later, Mr. Smith died in an automobile accident. On November 4, 2004, J.P. Morgan Chase Bank (“Chase”), as trustee for Saxon, filed suit for executory process against the Smiths, seeking to deliver a notice of seizure to Ms. Smith. Ms. Smith, fearing that she would be evicted from her home over the holidays, moved her children out of the house and sought an injunction to stop the seizure by executory process. In support, she argued the foreclosure documents were not in authentic form pursuant to the requirements set forth in La. Code Civ. P. art. 2635(A)(2) because they were executed in front of only one witness. Ms. Smith also filed a reconventional and third party demands against Chase, alleging wrongful seizure, conversion, and federal due process violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983. Ultimately, the Banks were found to have improperly seized the Smith home. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether private attorneys for the lender were entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the ground their actions did not violate 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Supreme Court found that the district court properly granted summary judgment, and the court of appeal erred in reversing that judgment. View "Bank of New York Mellon v. Smith" on Justia Law

by
The City of Baton Rouge/Parish of East Baton Rouge sought injunctive relief against defendant Stephen Myers to compel him to cease his alleged violation of the City-Parish’s Unified Development Code (the “UDC”), Title 7, Chapter 8, Section 8.201, Appendix H, entitled “Permissible Uses.” The City-Parish alleged that more than two unrelated persons were residing in a home owned by the defendant in an area zoned “A1” and restricted to “single-family dwellings.” The defendant answered the petition, admitting that he was the owner, but denying that he occupied the premises, as he had leased the property to other occupants. The defendant sought dismissal of the action for injunctive relief and asserted, both as an affirmative defense and as the basis for his reconventional demand for declaratory judgment: that the UDC zoning law’s restrictive definition of “family” was unconstitutional on its face and as applied, violating his state and federal constitutional rights of freedom of association; deprived him of his property without due process of law; denied him an economically viable use of his property; and violated his equal protection rights, contending the ordinance “impose[d] greater limitations on owners who choose to rent their homes . . . than it does on owners who choose not to rent their homes” and also by prohibiting “foster children and non-adopted stepchildren without a living biological parent from being able [to] reside with their respective foster parents and stepparents . . . while allowing an unlimited number of very distant relatives via blood, marriage or adoption to reside together.” The defendant also urged, along with defenses and/or matters not relevant hereto, that the zoning law’s definition of “family” should be declared void for vagueness because its prohibitions were not clearly defined and it does not contain an unequivocal statement of law. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded the district court erred in its rulings; therefore, the Court reversed the declaration of unconstitutionality and the denial of a suspensive appeal, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "City of Baton Rouge v. Myers" on Justia Law

by
The issue this case presented to the Supreme Court involved mineral rights and royalties associated with a production well located on a certain tract of land owned by the plaintiffs in Terrebonne Parish. Two conveyances were at issue: a 1966 mineral deed and a 1992 cash sale. The plaintiffs asserted the 1966 mineral deed did not create a valid mineral servitude and, consequently, sought to be declared as owning 100% of the mineral rights since their purchase of the subject property by act of cash sale in 1992, and demanded to be awarded the royalties due from June 29, 1997, until the well stopped producing sometime in 2001 or 2002. Plaintiffs further asserted a violation of the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices Act based on the allegation that various acts of the defendants amounted to a tortious conspiracy to deprive the plaintiffs of the royalties due them. The trial court ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor, finding the 1966 deed did not create a valid servitude over the subject property, plaintiffs were the owners of the mineral rights as of the 1992 purchase, and the defendants’ conduct amounted to unfair trade practices. The appellate court reversed and vacated the judgment, finding that the 1966 mineral deed had created a valid mineral servitude and that the 1992 act of cash sale had placed the plaintiffs on notice that the mineral rights to the property had been previously conveyed. The appellate court then remanded the case for consideration of the remaining issues associated with any rights the plaintiffs may have acquired from settlements with predecessor mineral interest owners in 2001 and 2005. After its review of the case, the Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeal: the 1966 mineral deed was sufficiently specific to identify the property to be conveyed and, thus, to create a valid mineral servitude and to place third parties on notice of the existence of that servitude. Plaintiffs did not acquire the mineral rights to the subject property via the 1992 warranty deed. Furthermore, the actions of the defendants did not rise to the level of an unfair trade practice within the meaning of the act. View "Quality Environmental Processes, Inc. v. St. Martin" on Justia Law

by
The plaintiffs in this case, Jimmie Jackson, E. Simms Hardin, and KSD Properties, LLC, untimely paid ad valorem taxes to the City of New Orleans on their respective properties, and were assessed penalties, fees, and interest thereon for various tax years between 2003 and 2009. Plaintiffs filed a class action suit against the City, seeking a declaration that Ordinance Number 22207, and the collection of any penalties, fees, and interest collected thereunder, violated the statutes and constitution of Louisiana, and that the application of Ordinance Number 22207 to this case violated U.S. Constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection. The district court issued rulings on the City's exceptions and on the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, which: granted the City's exception of no cause of action as to Jackson and Hardin, dismissing these plaintiffs (for failing to comply with the city ordinance requiring payment under protest); denied the City's objections of no cause of action and prescription as to plaintiff KSD; and granted KSD's motion for summary judgment (upon a finding of unconstitutionality as to Ordinance Number 22207). Both plaintiffs and the City filed motions for new trial. The City's motion was granted in part, to dismiss KSD's claims as to its 2008 tax penalty and fees for failure to state a cause of action and to amend the judgment accordingly (for KSD's failure to timely assert a protest as to the penalty and fees assessed for that year's delinquent tax payment); the motions for new trial were denied in all other respects. On appeal to the Supreme Court, the City argued the district court erred in granting summary judgment by declaring Ordinance Number 22207 unconstitutional. After review of the district court record and the applicable law, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Jackson v. City of New Orleans" on Justia Law

by
The issue before the Supreme Court in this case centered on the limitation of liability afforded to a member of a limited liability company (LLC). In 2007, Mary Ogea signed a contract entitled "Custom Home Building Agreement" for Merritt Construction, LLC, to build a home on an undeveloped parcel of land she owned. On behalf of the LLC, its sole member, Travis Merritt, signed the contract. The contract did not specifically describe the type of foundation to be provided for the home. After the construction work had advanced well past the point of building the foundation and framing the home, Ogea hired another concrete contractor to pour a driveway and patio. This concrete contractor informed Ogea that he believed there were problems with the concrete work for the home's foundation. Ogea then hired a licensed engineer, Charles Norman, to inspect the structure. Norman conducted several inspections and concluded there were indeed significant problems with the slab foundation. Ogea notified the LLC of the problems with the foundation. Based on her consultations with Norman, Ogea requested a refund of all monies she paid to the LLC (approximately $94,000) and sought demolition of the unfinished home. The LLC did not reply to the refund request. Ogea did not make the final installment payment called for in the contract, and the LLC ceased all work on the home. Ogea then sued the LLC and Merritt individually. Ogea sought to recover the money she had expended for the home, plus other damages under the New Home Warranty Act. The district court rendered judgment against both Merritt and the LLC "in solido" for various items of damages. Both Merritt and the LLC appealed. The court of appeal reduced the amount of the general damage award, but affirmed the imposition of personal liability on Merritt. After reviewing the record and the controlling legal principles, the Supreme Court reversed the lower courts' judgment of personal liability against Merritt and dismissed the claims against him. View "Ogea v. Merritt" on Justia Law

by
The issue before the Supreme Court in this matter centered on whether defects in load-bearing walls were a result of "any defect" due to noncompliance with the buildings standards subject to a one year peremptive period, or whether they constituted a "major structural defect" subject to a peremptive period of five years. This case stemmed from damages caused by a home flooding. The District Court found the defects in the four exterior load-bearing walls constituted a major structural defect under the Act to which the five-year warranty period applied and awarded plaintiff Barbara Shaw damages. The Court of Appeal reversed, finding the plaintiff's claim was for a defect in workmanship subject to a one year peremptive period. After review, the Supreme Court reversed, finding the record supported the failure of the load-bearing walls affected the "load-bearing functions to the extent the home becomes unsafe, unsanitary, or is otherwise unlivable," as provided by La. Rev. Stat. 9:3143. Thus, it constituted a major structural defect and the five-year warranty applied. View "Shaw v. Acadian Builders & Contractors, LLC" on Justia Law