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Hatcher v. Rouse

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

February 1, 2017

GERALD HATCHER
v.
JEFFREY ROUSE, M.D.

         APPEAL FROM CIVIL DISTRICT COURT, ORLEANS PARISH NO. 2015-07201, DIVISION "B" Honorable Regina H. Woods, Judge

         AFFIRMED

          Gerald Hatcher #89749 PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT/IN PROPER PERSON.

          Benjamin J. Biller C. Wm. Bradley, Jr. BRADLEY MURCHISON KELLY & SHEA LLC COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE.

          Court composed of Judge Daniel L. Dysart, Judge Madeleine M. Landrieu, Judge Marion F. Edwards, Pro Tempore

          DANIEL L. DYSART, JUDGE

         Gerald Hatcher, an inmate at the Avoyelles Correctional Center, appearing herein pro se, appeals the trial court's judgment sustaining a dilatory exception of unauthorized use of a summary proceeding and dismissing his petition for a writ of mandamus. As discussed more fully herein, the trial court correctly dismissed the writ of mandamus filed against the defendant, the coroner for Orleans Parish, Dr. Jeffrey Rouse, M.D. We, therefore, affirm the trial court's judgment.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The limited record before us reflects the following facts.

         On July 28, 2015, Mr. Hatcher filed a "Writ of Mandamus" (hereafter referred to as the "Writ") against Dr. Rouse in which he sought to obtain certain unidentified records or documents. In his Writ, Mr. Hatcher alleges that he was charged by bill of information "based, in part, on the forensic evidence that is/was within the custody and control of [Dr.] Rouse." He then alleges that "[t]he matter was assigned Item Number H3007087[;] thereafter various tests were issued and documents prepared and produced."[1] Mr. Hatcher next alleges that, once his conviction became final, "the records maintained to utilize [his] conviction" became "open to public inspection."

         According to his Writ, on June 15, 2015, Mr. Hatcher made a "second Request" of Dr. Rouse for public records pursuant to La. R.S. 44:32. Because Dr. Rouse did not respond to his written request, Mr. Hatcher filed the instant action. Through this proceeding, Mr. Hatcher sought a finding that Dr. Rouse "has abrogated the provisions of [La. R.S.]44:32, " ordering that he comply with Mr. Hatcher's "request for inspection and production, " and pay the costs for the proceeding and "punitive damages in the amount set-forth in the relevant statute."

         In response to the Writ, Dr. Rouse filed a Dilatory Exception of Unauthorized Use of Summary Proceeding. In his exception, Dr. Rouse argued that he had complied with Mr. Hatcher's request by informing him, by letter dated August 11, 2015, that he had no records relating to the item number Mr. Hatcher provided and, more specifically, that the item number did not correlate to any files contained within the coroner's office.

         A hearing was held on Dr. Rouse's dilatory exception of unauthorized use of a summary proceeding and by judgment dated October 23, 2015, the trial court maintained the exception and also dismissed Mr. Hatcher's Writ. Mr. Hatcher then filed an application with this Court for a writ of supervisory review of the trial court's October 23, 2015 judgment. Finding that the judgment was a final, appealable judgment, on January 26, 2016, this Court transferred the writ application to the trial court and instructed Mr. Hatcher to convert the application to a motion for appeal. Mr. Hatcher then filed a Motion for Appeal on February 5, 2016. This appeal followed.

         DISCUSSION

         While the trial court did not issue reasons for judgment, and none were requested by either party, at the hearing on the exception, the trial court commented that, under the provisions of the Public Records Act, Mr. Hatcher, as a "person in custody following a felony conviction following post appellate procedures, " was required to file his request "in Criminal District Court through… Post-Conviction Relief Application." The trial court did not expressly make a determination that Mr. Hatcher's suit was impermissibly employing a summary proceeding. While we find that the trial court erred in granting the dilatory exception of unauthorized use of a summary proceeding under these circumstances, we find that the trial court's dismissal of the Writ was not an abuse of the trial court's discretion, albeit for reasons other than those assigned by the trial court.[2]

         Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure article 926 A(3) provides for the dilatory exception of unauthorized use of a summary proceeding. Dr. Rouse correctly notes our jurisprudence which indicates that "[t]he proper method of opposing [the] use [of mandamus] is to raise the dilatory exception urging the objection of unauthorized use of a summary proceeding." Martin v. Bonanno, 421 So.2d 359, 362 (La.App. 1 Cir. 1982). However, this exception is only designed to test whether an action should proceed in a summary manner rather than by ordinary proceeding. See, e.g., Cent. Cmty. Sch. Bd. v. E. Baton Rouge Par. Sch. Bd., 08-0036, p. 11 (La.App. 1 Cir. 6/6/08), 991 So.2d 1102, 1110 (the "determination of the issue of the Central Board's rights, if any, to these tax funds is not appropriate in a mandamus proceeding… relief is available through ordinary proceedings"); Judson v. Davis, 04-1699, p. 10 (La.App. 1 Cir. 6/29/05), 916 So.2d 1106, 1114 (in determining whether it was "procedurally improper to assert an action for corporate dissolution in a reconventional demand to a mandamus action, " the court noted that "the mode of procedure for [this] action … is an ordinary proceeding, rather than a summary proceeding); Melancon v. Police Jury of Lafayette, 301 So.2d 715, 719 (La.App. 3d Cir. 1974) (in an action against "Police Jury and the Planning Commission to revoke its approval of the subdivision plat, " the court held that the plaintiff appellant was "not entitled to a writ of mandamus but must seek his relief by ordinary process").

         Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure article 2592 specifically provides that mandamus shall be tried as a summary ...


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