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Plaisance v. Jefferson Parish School Board

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

April 12, 2017

DODIE PLAISANCE, AMELIA NOEL, YVETTE GAUTREAUX, GLORIA WILLIS, PATTI WADDELL, JULIE FLATMANN, CHERIE VARISCO AND SIMONE DUHON, RANDI HINDMAN, DIANE NOWIK, JACKIE DANILIDIS AND BILLIE GASSEN
v.
JEFFERSON PARISH SCHOOL BOARD

         ON APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-FOURTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF JEFFERSON, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 721-681, DIVISION "C" HONORABLE JUNE B. DARENSBURG, JUDGE PRESIDING

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE, JEFFERSON PARISH SCHOOL BOARD Eve B. Masinter Joseph R. Hugg E. Fredrick Preis, Jr.

          Panel composed of Susan M. Chehardy, Fredericka Homberg Wicker, and Jude G. Gravois

         FHW

         SMC

         JGG

          FREDERICKA HOMBERG WICKER JUDGE

         In this action for declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and compensatory damages, plaintiffs, former Jefferson Parish public school principals, seek to devolutively appeal the trial court's June 13, 2016 judgment and July 25, 2016 amended judgment, wherein the trial court ruled upon a series of nine "Stipulated Legal Issues."[1]

         For the following reasons, we find this Court lacks appellate jurisdiction as these judgments are not final, appealable judgments. Therefore, we grant appellee Jefferson Parish School Board's motion to dismiss this appeal, although on grounds different from those asserted in appellee's motion, dismiss this appeal without prejudice, and remand the matter to the trial court for further proceedings.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On December 4, 2012, plaintiffs, twelve former principals, filed suit against defendant, the Jefferson Parish School Board, alleging breach of their employment contracts and failure to give proper notice of its intention not to renew plaintiffs' contracts in violation of La. R.S. 17:444(B)(4)(c)(i). Plaintiffs sought reinstatement, or alternatively front pay for five years, a declaration that the School Board policy at issue violates the law, and injunctive relief. On December 11, 2013, plaintiffs filed an amended petition adding an additional plaintiff, alleging that the School Board demoted or terminated plaintiffs without a pre-deprivation hearing as required by Louisiana law.

         On May 7, 2015, the parties filed a "Joint Motion to Set a Status Conference, " in which they represented to the district court that they had "conferred a number of times over the last year and have agreed upon certain legal issues" they wished to present to the Court for briefing and decision. The parties expressed in this joint motion their belief "that the determination of these legal issues will narrow the ultimate issues in the case for depositions and any further written or other discovery and trial, and will streamline the presentation of the case."

         It appears that the district court conducted a status conference on May 28, 2015, during which it set deadlines for the submission of stipulations and briefing in accordance with the intentions expressed in the parties' May 7, 2015 joint motion.[2]

         On January 15, 2016, the parties jointly filed a "Stipulation of Facts, " which they expressly submitted "for the Court's consideration when deciding the Stipulated Legal Issues that the parties agreed to and submitted to the Court."[3] The parties filed their "Stipulated Legal Issues" on February 2, 2016. This document contained nine discrete issues which the parties moved the court to consider and to decide. Nothing in this joint motion suggests that the parties requested or contemplated that the court would resolve the merits of plaintiffs' claims or decide issues other than the nine "Stipulated Legal Issues" presented.

         On January 15, 2016, plaintiffs' filed its brief addressing each of the "Stipulated Legal Issues." According to plaintiffs, the parties were engaged in a "collaborative effort to narrow the issues for trial, " which motivated the agreement between the parties to identify and to brief the nine stipulated issues for resolution prior to trial.

         On the same day, the School Board filed its brief addressing each of the issues to which the parties stipulated. In the introduction of its brief, the School Board expressed its understanding that "[b]y resolving the nine (9) legal issues addressed in this Brief, [the district court] will decide the vast majority of the disputes between the Parties in this lawsuit, and [sic] will assist the Parties to resolve the litigation in an expeditious fashion." Prior to submission of the School Board's brief, there was no indication that the parties contemplated that resolution of these "Stipulated Legal Issues" would involve resolution of any issues to which the parties did not stipulate or any decisions on the merits. Nevertheless, at various points in its brief, the School Board seemed to advocate that the district court make additional factual findings. Ultimately, the School Board ...


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