Can A Louisiana Court Disregard A Special Master’s Report?


restoration_work_parthenon_facade-1-scaledOne tool courts can use to manage litigation is a Special Master. A Special Master issues reports that a court can consider when ruling on a case. However, what happens if a court disregards the recommendations in a Special Master’s report? This situation raises intriguing questions about the authority and discretion of the court, leaving us to ponder the implications of such actions, as discussed in the case below.

Two attorneys – Patrick Kehoe, Jr. and Michael Rodriguez – entered into an oral fee-sharing agreement. Under the agreement, Rodriguez would receive half of the fees on personal injury cases from Kehoe that were resolved in trial or settled. Kehoe would finance the cases, and Rodriguez performed the required legal work. 

Rodriguez had to go to an inpatient facility because of his alcoholism. When he entered treatment, he had approximately sixteen unresolved cases. Rodriguez never returned to working with Kehoe. Rodriguez sought payment for his work on the sixteen unresolved cases. Kehoe proposed a fee-split agreement where Rodriguez would receive 20% of the collected attorney’s fees. Rodriguez at first rejected the proposal but later agreed to it. However, Rodriguez and Kehoe continued to dispute the fees owed. 

Rodriguez filed a lawsuit against Kehoe seeking 50% of all attorney’s fees, or 20% of the fees under the fee split agreement, or a proportionate amount based on the services he had provided or otherwise reasonably compensated him. There was a settlement conference, and Rodriguez and Kehoe agreed to the court appointing a Special Master under La. R.S. 13:4165. The Special Master issued two reports. Both Kehoe and Rodriguez filed objections to the second report. 

Rodriguez argued the first report should be adopted because Kehoe had not timely objected to it. He also disagreed with some of the substance of the second report. Kehoe argued he had not received proper notice of the first report under La. R.S. 13:4165(C)(2). After a hearing, the district court decided not to adopt either the first or second report. At a trial, the district court granted Kehoe’s motion to dismiss Rodriguez’s request for attorney’s fees, except for two cases where they awarded Rodriguez a percentage of the fees. 

On appeal, Kehoe argued the district court should not have awarded Rodriguez fees for the two cases. The appellate court found that the evidence presented at trial supported the district court’s award of attorney’s fees for the two cases to Rodriguez based on his work. The appellate court explained a district court has great discretion in awarding attorney’s fees. 

Rodriguez argued on appeal the district court erred in not adopting the Special Master’s first report. The appellate court found the district court had determined the report was clearly erroneous. Under La. R.S. 13:4165, a district court can accept, modify, or reject a Special Master’s report. Therefore, the appellate court held the district court did not err in not adopting or considering the Special Master’s report and affirmed the district court’s judgment.

This case sheds light on the intricate dynamics surrounding a court’s treatment of a Special Master’s recommendations. While it may be disheartening to witness the court disregarding recommendations that don’t align with your interests, it’s essential to remember that the court maintains the power to modify or even disregard those recommendations. The court’s discretion plays a pivotal role in shaping the outcome, as demonstrated by the appellate court’s affirmation of the district court’s decision. 

When confronted with such a situation, it becomes crucial to strategize and present compelling evidence to support your case, as the court retains the ultimate authority in rendering its judgment. The story of Kehoe and Rodriguez serves as a reminder of the complexities involved and the significance of a well-prepared legal argument when engaging with a Special Master and navigating the court system.

Additional Sources: Michael L. Rodriguez, Jr. v. Patrick Kehoe, Jr. 

Additional Berniard Law Firm Article on Attorney Fees: Dispute Over Attorney Fees In New Orleans Turns into Volleyball Game Between Courts and Arbitrators

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