Category: Louisiana

SHOW ME YOUR TAX RECORDS: Why You Should Preserve Business and Tax Records

A case successfully handled by Keogh Cox on behalf of the Louisiana Department of Revenue serves a strong reminder of the importance of maintaining business tax records, and of the significant burden imposed on Taxpayers who do not.

In Barfield v. Diamond Construction, Inc., 51,291 (La. App. 2 Cir. 4/5/17), 217 So.3d 1211, writ denied, 2017-0751 (La. 9/15/17), 2017 WL 4105839, the Louisiana Second Circuit affirmed the Trial Court who granted summary judgment in favor of the Louisiana Department of Revenue in response to a Taxpayer’s failure to pay sales and use taxes over the span of several years.

Although the burden of proof on a motion for summary judgment is usually imposed on the party who filed the motion, a Louisiana statute (La. R.S. 13:5034) shifts the burden in suits filed by the Department of Revenue to collect unpaid taxes. Therefore, to defeat the Department’s motion in Barfield, the Taxpayer possessed the burden to demonstrate that taxes were not owed on the various transactions at issue. Because the law presumes that sales and rentals of tangible personal property are fully taxable, the Taxpayer possessed the additional burden to show that the sales and rentals involved exempted categories. In the face of this “double burden,” the Taxpayer was unable to provide business records to demonstrate the nature of each transaction as these records were not preserved by the Taxpayer.

During the Department’s audit, the Taxpayer was unable to present the necessary records to prove it did not owe taxes on certain transactions. As a result, the Department was allowed to complete the audit by making an estimate of the amount of taxes owed for the subject transactions. The resulting audit findings were then treated as prima facie correct and were ultimately accepted because the Taxpayer offered no contrary evidence.

Noting the Taxpayer’s poor record-keeping, the Court cited the failure to produce the necessary records in support of its conclusion that the Taxpayer did not create a “material issue of fact” in opposition to the Department’s motion. This warranted the entry of judgment in favor of the Department and should remind every business of the real-world need to keep your tax records.

 

Written by: Chris Jones and Brent Cobb

Another Year, Another Natural Disaster: What to do if Your Home is Damaged by a Storm or Flood

Unfortunately, Louisianans (and their property insurers) have endured many natural disasters in the past several years. From the historic flooding in the greater Baton Rouge area in August 2016 to the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey in August 2017, Gulf Coast residents are all too familiar with significant storms and flooding events. While the rebuilding process will take months or years, this article is designed to provide some basic information on how to document your property claim and apply for and obtain disaster assistance.

  • DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT – Once able, make sure to document the damages to your home and contents. Whether for a homeowners or flood insurance policy or to obtain government assistance, take plenty of photos and even video of the damage. Make a list of the items in your home that were damaged or destroyed. One way to organize this list is to group items from each room together; approximate the item’s age, where it was purchased, and its value when purchased. If you have receipts, try to salvage them. As you rebuild, and materials and items are thrown out, it will become more difficult to document your claim. Proper documentation will lessen the burden upon your insurer’s claims handlers and adjusters and may speed the processing of your claim. A lack of documentation may require the insurer to investigate longer and result in delay.
  • OBTAIN MULTIPLE ESTIMATES – Although the volume of work and distractions which follow a natural disaster make this difficult, try to obtain estimates for the work needed on your home. Pay for the estimate, if necessary. If you have three estimates and the amounts are close, they are more credible. Also, try and get as much detail as possible in each estimate, including specific materials to be used, dimensions, and finishes. Your insurer is looking to determine the true amount of the loss and thorough estimates help to define your claim.
  • APPLY FOR ASSISTANCE – Especially if your property is not insured, make sure to immediately apply for government assistance. You can apply for federal assistance at disasterassistance.gov. Oftentimes, the state government will also administer federal and state disaster assistance funds.

Recovering after a disaster may not be a quick or easy process, but spending more time and effort initially may ultimately save you time and allow you to present a claim your insurer will agree to pay.

 

You’ve Been Served – Now What? Understanding “Louisiana’s Pre-trial Procedure”

A deputy arrives at your home or office and announces that you have been served. You quickly realize you have been named as a defendant in a lawsuit. Now what?

Whether the suit involves a breach of contract, an automobile accident, or the one and a million other circumstances that can lead to a suit being filed, the process is essentially the same in Louisiana state courts. This blog provides a general roadmap of Louisiana’s “pre-trial” procedure, which applies in most situations. Different procedures are involved with workers’ compensation claims, administrative proceedings, medical malpractice claims, and other areas.

Petition/Answer – When a person or company believes they have been damaged by fault, breach, or neglect, Louisiana law provides that the person allegedly wronged, the plaintiff, may file a Petition for Damages.  Louisiana does not have a “loser pays” system. For this reason, there is little disincentive to a plaintiff who wants to sue. Once the Petition is filed with the Clerk of Court, the Sheriff serves the defendant with a certified copy of the Petition and the “Citation.”

A defendant has fifteen days to file an Answer or to secure an extension from either the plaintiff attorney or the Judge, by filing a Motion for Extension of Time to File Responsive Pleadings. A failure to respond to a suit or obtain an extension within 15 days of service may result in a default judgment.

Trial by Judge or Jury -The parties advise if they desire a judge or jury trial in the initial filings. There is no right to a jury in cases which do not have a possible value of more than $50,000. If a plaintiff “stipulates” that case value is at or below $50,000, the defendant has no right to demand a jury trial under Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure article 1732.

Exceptions – Defendants have the right to raise “exceptions” to the suit. Common exceptions include a claim that the suit is vague; is filed in the wrong venue (i.e., the wrong location); or is untimely, and therefore “prescribed.” Defendants can use the exception process to challenge the plaintiff’s legal ability to recover. Many exceptions are waived if they are not filed before or with the Answer.

Discovery

  • Written – After the Answer is filed, the discovery process typically begins. Discovery is an information-gathering process done through different methods.  The parties to a lawsuit may issue written Interrogatories, Requests for Admission, and Requests for Production of Documents.
  • Depositions – Depositions are a key component of discovery. A deposition allows the attorneys (or the parties themselves, if unrepresented) to ask questions of witnesses before a court reporter. The testimony is taken under oath and can be used later for certain purposes. For example, if the witness is not available to testify at trial, the deposition testimony can often be introduced in lieu of live testimony. Also, if a witness changes his testimony at trial, the deposition can be used to attack the testimony and credibility of the witness.

Case Deadlines – Typically, the court will establish a scheduling order to establish key dates such as deadlines to identify witnesses, exhibits, and any experts who may testify on behalf of the parties. The court often sets a deadline to file “dispositive” motions, such as motions for summary judgment where the plaintiff or the defendant tries to have the case determined before the trial.

Alternative Dispute Resolution – Frequently, the parties agree to attempt to mediate the case with the assistance of a mediator.  This is a voluntary process. In some cases, the parties will be bound by an agreement to arbitrate which will be conducted outside of the normal court process.

There is no law or statute which sets the time frame for the “pre-trial” process. Depending upon the complexity of the suit, the pre-trial phase of a suit may take months, and often years.

Is Texting While Driving The New Drunk Driving?

Earlier this year, Apple was sued in the California class action of Ceja v. Apple, BC #647057, Superior Ct. of California, County of Los Angeles. In the Ceja suit, it was alleged that Apple is liable for automobile-related injuries and death. The “theory of recovery” against Apple is fairly straight-forward: 1) since 2008, Apple has possessed the “lock-out” ability to prevent texting while driving; and, 2) it is liable because it failed to do so. Whether or not the plaintiffs prevail against Apple, the national trend is toward stricter anti-texting laws and harsher consequences for those who text and drive. While this post does not intend to suppose a moral equivalence between drunk driving and driving while texting, the building momentum against texting while driving is reminiscent of the development of the anti-drunk driving laws and message.

It was not until 1938 when 0.15 became the first commonly-used blood alcohol level for intoxication (nearly two times today’s legal limit).  Today, driving with a .08 will land you in a Louisiana jail. Many states such as Louisiana have enacted punitive damage statutes that allow for substantial money awards against drunk drivers. For instance, under Civil Code Article 2315.4, punitive damages (a.k.a. “exemplary” damages) are available against any driver whose intoxication causes injury. The message has been heard: drunk driving is illegal and may costs you your freedom, your money, or both.

The prohibitions against texting while driving (and even the broader category of “distracted driving”) are expanding. The State of Washington was the first state to ban texting while driving in 2007. Almost every state has since followed suit. Attitudes are also changing, perhaps in response to public service announcements and targeted media campaigns.

While once legal here, Louisiana, at least on paper, now completely bans texting while driving under La. R.S. 32:300.5. This law was later expanded to prohibit driving while accessing, reading, or posting to a “social networking site.”  Last year, related fines and penalties were increased.

The practice of texting while driving has been said to involve three forms of distraction:

           1. Manual distraction- taking your hands away from the wheel;

           2. Visual distraction- diverting your eyes away from the road;

           3. Cognitive distraction- taking your attention away from safely driving.

In the last few years, at least two drivers (one in New Jersey and one in Pennsylvania) have been sued under allegations that they are liable for injury because they sent texts to persons they knew or should have known were driving. Kubert v. Best, 75 A.3d 1214 (2013) and Gallatin v, Gargiulo, #10401 of 2015, Lawrence County, PA.

At some point, auto manufacturers and phone/electronics suppliers may choose or be forced to render texting while driving impossible. Until such a time, the trend against texting while driving continues.

Homeowners Awarded Money Damages Against “Good Faith” Seller of In-Ground Swimming Pool

Anyone who has spent time in the humid South knows why swimming pools are popular. The Hoffmanns, Louisiana residents, tried to purchase an in-ground swimming pool to entertain their grandchildren but found the pool was far from the oasis they imagined. Recently, in Hoffmann v. B & G, Inc., 2016-1001 (La. App. 1 Cir. 2/21/17), 215 So.3d 273, the First Circuit upheld an award in their favor which returned the price of the pool and additional costs related to its installation even though the seller was unaware of the problems with the pool at the time of sale.

The Hoffmanns asserted what is known in Louisiana law as a “redhibition” claim. Redhibition allows purchasers to void a sale if the thing bought has a “vice or defect” that makes it either:

(1) useless, or

(2) so inconvenient that the buyers would not have bought the thing had they known of the problem.

When the Hoffmanns purchased the pool, the seller arranged to have it installed, which was included in the price. The Hoffmanns used the pool for two summers. However, when they uncovered the pool for its third summer of use, they discovered that the pool liner had detached. The Hoffmanns later learned that the manufacturer no longer recommended their specific pool to be installed completely in-ground.

With redhibition, “good faith” sellers (sellers who did not know of the defect) must be given the chance to repair or replace the defective thing. Instead of repairing the pool, the seller of the Hoffmanns’ pool arranged for a new pool to be installed by a third party. Unfortunately, this second “replacement” pool also failed, this time because of an installation issue.  After the second pool failed, the Hoffmanns filed suit.

The pool company argued that the Hoffmanns could not support a redhibition claim because the second pool they provided did not have a defect, but instead failed because of faulty installation. It claimed that it discharged its redhibition duties with respect to the first pool when it replaced the pool. The court disagreed and found that the “object” of the sale was a functioning in-ground swimming pool and that, after all of the efforts to repair and/or replace the original pool, the Hoffmanns still did not have a “defect-free useable in-ground swimming pool.”

The Hoffmanns won, making their summer a little more bearable.

“IME” Killer Bill Put Down

The Louisiana plaintiffs’ bar recently sought to tilt the scales of justice through Senate Bill 185, a bill seeking to complicate a defendant’s efforts to obtain an Independent Medical Examination (“IME”). An IME is an examination of the plaintiff by a physician or medical examiner hired by the defense. IMEs are important in the defense of a case and often act as a catalyst for settlement or to reduce the value of a claim.

Bill 185 was introduced by Senator Jay Luneau (D) and passed with a unanimous 35 – 0 vote in the Senate. The bill proposed amendments to Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure Article 1464 to impose the following conditions upon IMEs:

  • All parties would be barred from referring to an IME as “independent” in the presence of a jury. 
  • A plaintiff could not be ordered to submit to multiple examinations by multiple physicians within the same field of specialty, regardless of the number of defendants. 
  • The party to be examined would have the right to have a person of his or her choosing present during the exam, including the plaintiff’s attorney.
  • The party to be examined would have the right not only to have the entire examination videotaped, but the ability to force the party requesting the examination to pay for all associated costs. 

Were these conditions enforced, many physicians might have chosen not to provide IMEs at all when the process would involve: a potentially adversarial plaintiff’s attorney; a patient room packed with video equipment; and, the spectacle of it all captured on tape. Further, the bill would have stifled the ability to defend injury claims.

We may never know what effect these changes might have brought. On May 16, 2017, the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee, involuntarily deferred on a 4-4 vote. This action effectively killed the bill and saved the IME as currently understood.

 

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

One More Reason: Louisiana’s “Drunk Driving” Immunity

A conviction for DWI brings the consequences you might expect, such as the loss of driving privileges, expensive attorneys’ fees, and public embarrassment. However, there is one additional, less-obvious consequence of which many are unaware; Louisiana provides immunity from claims brought by a drunk driver who was at least 25% at fault in the accident which caused his injuries, no matter how severe the injuries.

Generally stated, if you are driving drunk and are in an accident that is mostly someone else’s fault, you will not be able to recover for the injuries you sustain.  Similarly, if your fault injures a drunk driver, the statute may shield you from liability.  The “drunk driving” immunity is found in La. R.S. 9:2798.4. The statute provides immunity against the claims of a driver with a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher. 

The immunity may even apply to defendants who were not directly involved in the accident. In Stewart v. Daiquiri Affair, Inc., 20 So.3d 1041 (La. App. 1st Cir. 2009), writ denied, 19 So.3d 477 (La. 2009), the immunity was found to apply to claims brought by an 18-year-old employee who consumed alcohol on the premises and was subsequently injured in a motor vehicle accident. Rejecting the argument that immunity should not apply when the employer arguably contributed to the under-age plaintiff’s consumption of alcohol, the appellate court in Stewart concluded that the statute’s language required immunity because the employee was more than 25% at fault and her blood alcohol content was over the legal limit.

Because the “drunk driving” immunity statute is supported by the legislature’s strong and long-standing interest in protecting citizens against drunk driving, it has been upheld and applied in many instances. Although you should not need another reason to not drive drunk, you now have one.

The “Great Flood of 2016”–Update and Resources

flood 3

“Disaster Declaration” Expanded. The list of parishes now declared disaster areas by the federal government has increased to include the following parishes: Acadia, Ascension, East Feliciana, Iberia, Lafayette, Pointe Coupee, St. Landry, and Vermilion.

 

http://gov.louisiana.gov/news/additional-parishes-added-to-federal-disaster-declaration-8-16-16

Potential Tax Implications for Flood Victim. For those insured, it is critical that you document your losses with as much detail as possible; serial numbers, make/model/description—the more detail the better. Keep receipts and credit card statements. Time-dated photos are also important. Even those without flood insurance should do the same as it may assist in obtaining FEMA assistance. However, the same documentation of your losses could also help to reduce your tax exposure. The attached link provides key information and outlines the impact the flooding may have on tax-filing and other deadlines.

 

https://www.irs.gov/uac/tax-relief-for-victims-of-severe-storms-flooding-in-louisiana