Justia Class Action Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Louisiana Supreme Court
Crooks v. Dept. of Natural Res.
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
Aisola v. Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp.
Plaintiffs, alleging to be putative class members of multiple class actions, have filed their own individual suits against the defendant, Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corporation (Citizens). Plaintiffs were residents of, and owned homes in, St. Bernard Parish at the time Hurricane Katrina. Their properties were insured under policies of all-risk or homeowners insurance by defendant. Plaintiffs originally filed suit against Citizens on December 3, 2009, seeking contractual and bad faith damages arising out of Citizens’ handling of their property damage claims related to Hurricane Katrina. Citizens excepted on grounds of prescription and lis pendens. At issue is whether the doctrine of lis pendens barred plaintiffs’ suits where the plaintiffs were not named parties in the first-filed class actions. The Supreme Court found the trial court erred in overruling the defendant’s exception of lis pendens. View "Aisola v. Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp." on Justia Law
Arabie v. CITGO Petroleum Corp.
As a consequence of a June 2006 storm, the stormwater drainage and storage system (including the wastewater treatment facility) at the Lake Charles refinery of Defendant CITGO Petroleum Company (CITGO), was filled beyond available capacity and overflowed, resulting in a major oil spill. Over 21 million gallons of waste, including 17 million gallons of contaminated wastewater and 4.2 million gallons of slop oil, escaped from the two existing wastewater storage tanks into an area around the tanks which was surrounded by levees or dikes. The oil spill, which was described at trial as "major" and "catastrophic," eventually contaminated over 100 miles of shoreline along the Calcasieu River, and required several months to clean up. Fourteen plaintiffs, employees of Ron Williams Construction (RWC) working at the Calcasieu Refining Company (CRC) south of the CITGO refinery, filed suit against CITGO and R&R Construction, Inc. (R&R) alleging various injuries due to their exposure to noxious gases emanating from the spill. CITGO and R&R stipulated that they were liable for the spill and agreed to pay plaintiffs for all their compensatory damages assessed to CITGO and R&R. After a two week bench trial, the district court ruled that plaintiffs had proved their injuries were caused by CITGO's admitted negligence in allowing the spill. The court of appeal affirmed, holding that the district court's finding the spill caused plaintiffs' injuries was not an abuse of discretion. The Supreme Court granted review of this case to determine whether the courts below erred as to the allocation of fault, in awarding damages for fear of future injury, and in awarding punitive damages. In sum, the Court held that Louisiana's conflict of laws statutes did not provide for the application of the punitive damages laws of Texas or Oklahoma under the facts of this case, that plaintiffs proved that their damages were caused by their exposure to toxic chemicals contained in the oil spill, that plaintiffs are entitled to damages for fear of contracting cancer, and that CITGO did not produce at the hearing on summary judgment factual support sufficient to establish that it would be able to satisfy its evidentiary burden of proof at trial. The Court affirmed in part, and reversed in part. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Arabie v. CITGO Petroleum Corp." on Justia Law
Price v. Martin
The Supreme Court granted certiorari in this lawsuit to determine whether the lower courts correctly applied the standards for analyzing class action certification set forth in La. C.C.P. arts. 591, et seq. In February 2003, five individuals residing and owning property in Alexandria, Louisiana, in the vicinity of the Dura-Wood Treating Company, filed on their own behalf and as representatives of a class of persons who allegedly suffered damages as a result of operations at the wood-treating facility, a "Class Action Petition for Damages." The petition, which was amended several times, alleged that the Dura-Wood facility was primarily engaged in the production of creosote-treated railroad ties, and that significant quantities of creosote sludge were deposited into the canal and ponds. The appellate court ultimately found no reversible error in the district court’s judgment certifying the class, although it candidly acknowledged “a number of potential problems with the class as it had been defined." After reviewing the record and the applicable law, the Supreme Court found the lower courts erred in concluding that common questions of law or fact existed, that questions of law or fact common to members of the class predominated over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action was superior to other available methods for a fair and efficient adjudication of this matter. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the district court which granted Plaintiffs' motion for class certification. View "Price v. Martin" on Justia Law
Arceneaux v. Amstar Corp.
In 1999, four employees of a Domino Sugar refinery sued parent company Tate & Lyle North America Sugars, Inc. (T&L) for damages from noise exposure during their employment with T&L between 1947 and 1994. Continental Casualty Insurance Company insured T&L with eight general liability policies. Each of the policies contained exclusions for bodily injury to employees arising out of the course and scope of their employees. In one of the eight policies, the exclusion was deleted by a special endorsement effective in 1975. After T&L notified Continental of the lawsuit, Continental retained defense counsel to defend T&L. In 2001, 125 new plaintiffs were added to the suit, and the complaint was amended to allege noise exposure from 1947 to 2001. At some point, trial was continued to allow for settlement. In 2003, without Continental's consent, T&L settled with 1 of 15 "flights" of plaintiffs for $35,000 per plaintiff. After that settlement, Continental was notified. One month later, Continental withdrew from the defense, disclaiming its liability based on a mistaken belief that all of its policies contained the exclusions for injuries to employees. In the subsequent years following the first settlement, additional plaintiffs were added. In 2004, the trial court granted partial summary judgment to T&L, finding that Continental had waived its right to rely on its policy exclusion defenses for "first flight" plaintiffs. The issue before the Supreme Court centered on Continental's exclusions and its disclaiming liability for subsequent plaintiffs. Upon careful consideration of the trial court record, the Court held that an insurer's breach of the duty to defend does not result in a waiver of all coverage defenses when the insured seeks indemnity under the policy. In this case, Continental had disclaimed coverage at the time more plaintiffs were added to the lawsuit, and did not provide a defense to those claims. Therefore, waiver principles did not apply. Continental was only liable to T&L in indemnity on a pro rata basis for the exposures that took place during the coverage period. The Court remanded the case for a determination of whether twelve remaining plaintiff-flights met the settlement criteria.