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Thiel v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

May 28, 2015

DEADRE THIEL AND GERMAINE DYER
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, DAVID PODEWELL AND BANU GIBSON

ON APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-FOURTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF JEFFERSON, STATE OF LOUISIANA. NO. 714-081, DIVISION " P" . HONORABLE LEE V. FAULKNER, JR., JUDGE PRESIDING.

W. PATRICK KLOTZ, MARK P. GLAGO, ATTORNEYS AT LAW, New Orleans, Louisiana, COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE.

DAVID V. BATT, MATTHEW A. MANG, ATTORNEYS AT LAW, New Orleans, Louisiana, COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANTS/APPELLANTS.

Panel composed of Judges Jude G. Gravois, Marc E. Johnson Robert M. Murphy, Stephen J. Windhorst and Hans J. Liljeberg. JOHNSON, J., DISSENTS WITH REASONS.

OPINION

[14-879 La.App. 5 Cir. 2] STEPHEN J. WINDHORST, J.

Page 376

Appellants/defendants, Banu Gibson, David Podewell, and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, appeal the trial court's judgment awarding sanctions, attorney's fees, and costs to appellee/non-party, Orthopedic Care Center of Louisiana (" OCCL" ), and against appellants. For the reasons that follow, the trial court's judgment is vacated and we grant appellants' exception of no right of action dismissing appellee's motion for sanctions.

Facts and Procedural History

On June 27, 2011, plaintiffs, Deadre Thiel and Germaine Dyer, were involved in a motor vehicle accident. Plaintiffs filed a petition for damages seeking monetary damages for personal injuries suffered. Following the accident, plaintiffs sought treatment with Dr. David Wyatt. Dr. Wyatt's practice is conducted through the medical entity, OCCL. This appeal involves a discovery dispute between appellants and OCCL.

After initially conducting discovery, appellants contend they became aware of evidence that suggested Dr. Wyatt may be influenced by bias and financial [14-879 La.App. 5 Cir. 3]  motive in his treatment of personal injury plaintiffs. As a result, appellants deposed Dr. Wyatt to determine the nature of his " discounting" and whether he maintains contingent financial relationships with law firms, including plaintiffs' counsel, the Womac Law Firm. Based on the testimony of Dr. Wyatt in his deposition, appellants determined that OCCL, a non-party, was the only source to obtain discovery from concerning OCCL's billing process or protocols and any contingency fee relationship with plaintiff's counsel. Appellants then noticed the taking of a La. C.C.P. art. 1442 deposition of OCCL, and issued a subpoena duces tecum. In response, OCCL filed a motion to quash subpoena duces tecum, for issuance of a protective order, and for sanctions.

On November 20, 2013, the trial court granted OCCL's motion to quash and awarded sanctions in favor of OCCL and against appellants. The trial court issued written reasons on December 17, 2013. Appellants filed an application for a supervisory writ to this Court. On February 11, 2014, this Court reversed the trial court's award of La. C.C.P. art. 1420 sanctions.[1]

Page 377

After this Court's reversal of sanctions, OCCL filed a motion to re-set its motion for sanctions to " comply" with this Court's prior writ disposition.[2] The trial court re-set the motion for sanctions after the date for the trial on the merits. The parties subsequently settled the case. On August 5, 2014, the trial court held a hearing on OCCL's motion to re-set motion for sanctions and appellants' motion to compel attorney testimony during motion for sanctions. On [14-879 La.App. 5 Cir. 4]  August 6, 2014, the trial court rendered judgment in favor of OCCL and against appellants awarding OCCL sanctions, attorney's fees, and costs.[3] Appellants filed this timely appeal.

In this appeal, appellants contend that: 1) the trial court was clearly wrong when it awarded discovery sanctions, attorney's fees, and costs to OCCL where appellants were attempting to conduct discovery regarding the potential bias and financial motive and the credibility of plaintiffs' health care providers, grounds for impeachment and cross-examination, and the actual amount of damages that may have been legally recoverable; 2) the trial court was clearly wrong, and abused its discretion, when it awarded discovery sanctions, attorney's fees, and costs and disregarded appellants' demonstration of good cause and a legitimate, good faith justification for the requested discovery; and 3) the trial court was clearly wrong, and abused its discretion, when it found that the sole purpose of appellants' discovery requests was ...


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