Category: Litigation

Creating Obstacles to Frivolous Claims

The costs of litigation can be substantial, but a seldom used statute arms defendants with a tool to minimize these costs.  If a defendant has not filed another pleading, La. R.S. 13:4522 allows the defendant to request that a court order the plaintiff to post a bond as security to cover certain costs. If the plaintiff fails to post this security in the time fixed, his case will be dismissed without prejudice.

The security identified in this statute can include expert witness fees, deposition costs, exhibit costs, and other related expenses.  The defendant bears the burden of showing the amount needed for proper security. If a plaintiff’s damages are questionable, or preliminary investigation shows that the plaintiff might be apportioned most of the liability for the incident, the attorney filing the suit may think twice before pursuing the claim further, especially if a substantial amount of security is ordered.

By its terms, the statute does not apply to cases brought in forma pauperis. It also does not apply to claims filed in the Parish of Orleans. Everywhere else, the provisions of La. R.S. 13:4522 can add a layer of protection in the defense of frivolous claims.

 

John Grinton is a Keogh Cox associate whose practice areas include commercial and construction litigation. When not practicing law, John spends most of his time with his wife and son, and their two dogs.

Too Much Money and No One to Give it to- The Cy Pres Doctrine

What happens when someone leaves money in a will to a charity that has closed its doors by the time the will is probated? In this strange circumstance, a court may apply the “cy pres doctrine” to answer this question. Cy pres is a French term which loosely translates to mean “as near as possible.” In modern litigation, cy pres is not only used to distribute charitable donations, but also to distribute millions of dollars left over in class action settlements.

In the example above, a court may use cy pres to transfer the donated money to a charity similar to the one that had shut down. In class actions, there are often funds left over when not enough people register to receive money under a settlement. In this situation, the court will use cy pres to decide where this money goes; but that decision is a tricky one. Courts will sometimes direct these funds to a governmental entity loosely related to what the lawsuit was about. Other times these funds will go to a charity. Whatever the choice, there are usually complaints.

In one case, a nationwide class of AOL customers agreed to a settlement in a class action filed in California. Even though class members lived all over the country, the cy pres funds went to a legal aid office in Los Angeles, where the judge’s husband served as a director. This raised some eyebrows.

In another case, Kellogg’s settled a class action filed because its advertisements claimed that frosted mini-wheats improved kids’ brain power, which -sadly- turned out not to be true. Those cy pres funds initially went to a charity designed to feed the poor. However, the court later ruled that the funds should have gone to a group that protected the public from false advertising.

As more and more cases like these garnered attention, rules were passed as to how to distribute these funds. Generally, these rules require some connection between the issues in the lawsuit and the mission of the group that gets the funds. While the United States Supreme Court has yet to address these issues, Chief Justice Roberts recently indicated that the Court may be ready to put its stamp on cy pres.

We may be “as near as possible” to some clarity in the murky law of cy pres.

When the Stakes are High: Class Actions in Louisiana

They make movies about “class actions” exactly because they can involve high stakes, with millions, even billions of dollars on the line. The class action procedure can create exposure at this level because of the large numbers of potential claims involved. Class actions are used to address losses experienced from unfair or fraudulent business practices, natural disasters, industrial explosions, or any event or action which is alleged to have damaged a large group in a similar way.  

 As a procedural device, the class action combines several claims (often hundreds or thousands) into a single action. A key battle in most Louisiana class actions is whether the proposed claim can properly be “certified” as a class action under Louisiana procedure. The recent Fourth Circuit decision in Duhon v. Harbor Homeowners’ Ass’n., Inc., 2016 WL 3551620 (La. App. 4 Cir. 6/30/16) addressed whether the lower court’s class “certification” was proper under Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure Article 591.  

 Duhon involved damages experienced following hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  In particular, the class representatives sought damages against the Harbor View Condominium Association and its insurers claiming that the association was guilty of faulty repairs following these two hurricanes. In deciding whether certification was proper, the Duhon court considered the following elements, all of which must be present to certify a proper class action: 

 Numerosity- the class must be so numerous that joinder of all involved persons would prove impractical;

 Commonality- the case must present questions of law and fact that are common to the class; 

 Typicality- the claims and defenses of the representative parties must be typical of the claims or defenses of the class; and, 

 Adequacy of representation- the representative parties must be positioned to fairly and adequately protect the interest of the class.

 After analyzing each of these “elements,” the Duhon court upheld the Trial Court’s certification of the claim as a class action. Further, the court concluded that the questions of law and fact common to the members of the class predominated over any questions affecting only individual members such that a class action was superior to other available methods to fairly and efficiently adjudicate the controversy.  

 While the class action procedure has its detractors, it is sometimes the only real option to address a harm to a large group. Now that the class in Duhon has been certified, the case will proceed through discovery and towards trial on the merits. Who knows, they may make a movie about it someday.

What Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow Has to Do With Spoliation

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For more than a century, the debate has raged over whether Mrs. O’Leary and her famous cow truly started The Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Were the tragic events of that conflagration to happen today, someone would ask Mrs. O’Leary to produce the “RFID” chip in her bovine. (You know they would). They would contend that this key evidence could show the whereabouts and movement of the cow at the time the fire began.  When she could not produce it, they would claim not only that she started the fire that destroyed a swath of Chicago, but that she also destroyed the evidence of her guilt. They would cry “spoliation.”

Discovery in a Digital World

The image of a law firm stuffed with banker boxes floor-to-ceiling is shifting to the view of a computer server filled with gigabytes of information. This is increasingly a digital world and the documents, photographs, charts, memos, and emails that are the “stuff” cases are built upon now often come in digital form. As a result, great emphasis is placed upon “electronic discovery.”

after files