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Appeal Violates Louisiana Statute, Policy for Judicial Effectiveness

“Judgment” may sound very final but not every judgment has such gravitas. Only final judgments are appealable under Louisiana law. When Doug Selman Builders, LLC. appealed the judgment against it in Webster v. Doug Selman Builders, LLC., it violated the legislature’s restriction on appeals.

The defendant was accused of defectively constructing the home that the plaintiffs purchased. At the trial level, the defendant sought and obtained an exception as to consequential damages. The defendant was less successful in responding to the plaintiffs’ claim for mental anguish and mental distress. The parties could not agree whether or not to make the judgment immediately appealable. If they had, the trial court could have certified it as such, though apparently not without incident. In the instant case, defense counsel submitted two versions of the proposed judgment: one with the certification and one without. The judge signed the one with the certification. It would seem that the judgment would have become appealable at this time. This was not the case.

The appellate court ordered the defendant to show why this appeal was not taken from an interlocutory appeal. The defendant’s argument that he was only appealing the ruling on the denial of his exception for mental anguish and non-pecuniary damages. However, the law in this area is clear: a denial of an exception is interlocutory by nature and cannot be designated as immediately appealable. When confronted with this seemingly bizarre result, it behooves us to ask why the incentive structure is set up to obtain it.

Though it may not always be readily apparent, judicial efficiency is an important goal in Louisiana and the United States. The court system does not enjoy hearing repetitive litigation if it can be avoided. The Louisiana statute that barred the defendant’s action in this case serves to make sure that a defendant has actually lost his or her case before taking it before the higher court. The denial of an exception simply causes the defendant to actually have to defend himself on the merits of his case.

Under the scheme set up under this statute the litigation would progress in a logical manner. The plaintiff will file a suit, the defendant will file his answer with his proposed exceptions, he will either win or lose on these, the case will proceed through discovery and to trial, the defendant will either win or lose. Then the defendant will decide whether or not to appeal the final judgment. If the defendant’s argument were to be adopted as the law, litigation would have needlessly circuitous steps. The plaintiff files a complaint, the defendant answers asserting several exceptions, the defendant appeals any denied exceptions, the defendant wins his appeal and the case is remanded for a judgment reflecting this or the defendant loses his appeal and appeals again or lets the case be remanded to the trial court so he can defend himself, win or lose and maybe appeal again. This system is untenable to say the least. If denials of exceptions are appealable, then why not make any lost motion or evidentiary objection appealable? This would make litigation more complicated than it has to be and waste a significant amount of time.

Appeals are only able to be taken from final judgments because final judgments incorporate the compilation of all pre-trial motions and filings as well as the record at trial. This allows appellate courts to have a better picture of the controversy before passing judgment. It also allows the parties to complain about everything they think the trial court did wrong all at once. This system may not be perfect but it is certainly better than the one that the defendant proposes with his argument in the instant case.

If you need help navigating the realm of litigation and appeal, contact the Berniard Law Firm toll-free at 1-866-574-8005.