Author: Brandi A. Barze

To Be or Not To Be Specific—Fact Pleading in Louisiana

Louisiana is a fact-pleading state. Accordingly, Louisiana law requires that a petition contain “a short, clear and concise statement of all causes of action and material facts arising out of the transaction or occurrence that is the subject matter of the litigation.”  See La. C.C.P. art. 891. Generally, the pleader must state what act or omission he will establish at trial. Legal conclusions disguised as factual allegations do not meet the pleading standards required by Louisiana law.

This concept recently was examined in Henderson v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 2021-0654 (La. App. 4 Cir. 12/17/21), 2021 WL 7162224, where the court considered bad faith allegations the plaintiff tried to assert against an insurer in his petition for damages. At the time of the underlying accident, the plaintiff was a passenger in a Lyft vehicle that was struck by an unknown driver. Steadfast Insurance Company was the Lyft driver’s insurer, and the plaintiff named Steadfast as a defendant to recover damages under its policy.

The plaintiff later amended his petition to seek uninsured/underinsured motorist benefits under the Steadfast policy. He also sought penalties from Steadfast for alleged bad faith and dealing in its insurance practices. In turn, Steadfast filed an exception of no cause of action, arguing that plaintiff’s petition only contained legal conclusions and not specific facts, which were insufficient to support a cause of action. The trial court overruled the exception.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal reversed the decision. Plaintiff’s amended petition alleged that Steadfast “refused to deal with him in good faith, including but not limited to, refusing to issue unconditional (McDill) tenders and taking actions in violation of La. R.S. 22:1892 and La. R.S. 22:1973.” The plaintiff also generally alleged the insurer acted “arbitrarily, capriciously and without probable cause” in its failure to pay money under its policy.

The Court noted that the plaintiff’s allegations were legal conclusions asserted as facts, which could not be considered as well-pleaded factual allegations for purposes of a no cause of action. Importantly, the court reiterated that a court may not consider legal conclusions “clothed as facts,” citing Hooks v. Treasurer, 06-0541, p. 10 (La. App. 1 Cir. 5/4/07), 961 So.2d 425, 431-32.  Accordingly, the plaintiff’s allegations, absent additional information, were insufficient to state a cause of action. The plaintiff failed to state specific actions or omissions that would be established at trial. Hence, he failed to state a cause of action.