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.
A Workers’ Compensation Judge in Monroe, Louisiana found that a claimant met his burden of proving that a specific mosquito bite at work caused him to contract the West Nile Virus, resulting in permanent total disability.
At trial, the claimant asserted that “he specifically remembers being bitten on his left leg by a mosquito” while working in the break room of his employer, Graphic Packaging. Claimant presented evidence that mosquitoes were present at the work site, although his purported eyewitness to the event (who also contracted the disease) was proven to have not been at work that day.
The director of the Ouachita Parish Mosquito Abatement District was offered by the claimant and testified that there was a prevalence of mosquitoes in Ouachita Parish during that summer which carried the West Nile Virus. Mosquitoes trapped near both the employer’s location and the claimant’s house tested positive. According to the director, the only way to determine if a mosquito is infected with West Nile is to have that particular mosquito tested. An expert epidemiologist for the employer added that the most commonly infected mosquitoes would not have been active during the middle of the day when the claimant alleges he was bitten.
Based upon the testimony of the claimant, his witness, and the experts, the Workers’ Compensation Judge ruled that the claimant had sufficiently proven that the specific mosquito infected with the West Nile Virus had bitten him at work. The court also stung the employer and its workers’ compensation insurer with penalties and attorneys’ fees, finding that they had not contested the claim on a reasonable basis.
The Court of Appeal in Allen vs. Graphic Packaging, No. 51,080 (La. App. 2d Cir. 1/11/17), – – So 3d – -, upheld the Workers’ Compensation Judge. The court noted that all proof of the “accident” rested upon circumstantial evidence and that the claimant possessed no direct evidence that the break room mosquito carried the disease. In this setting, the claimant “faced a burden of proof to show circumstantially that the break room mosquito carried the disease.” Utilizing the “manifest error or clearly wrong standard,” the appellate court held that the claimant had met his burden despite his indirect proof.
The Allen court ultimately reversed the finding of permanent total disability, because the Workers’ Compensation Judge misapplied the statutory requirements. It also reversed the award of penalties and attorneys’ fees noting that “there were numerous factors sufficient to validate Graphic’s reasonable controversion of Allen’s claim.”
Lawsuits begin in the trial court. For that reason, the immediate focus remains in the trial court where the case will be decided by the jury or the trial judge. However, once the judgment is entered or the verdict reached, the focus quickly shifts to the appeals court. In many cases, what happens in the trial court is just “round one” and cases are often truly decided on appeal. This post will help to identify the types of issues considered when there is an appeal.