DAN S. COLLINS AND DAN S. COLLINS, CPL AND ASSOCIATES, INC.
STATE OF LOUISIANA, THROUGH DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES, ROBERT BENOIT, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS ASSISTANT DIRECTOR ATCHAFALAYA BASIN PROGRAM, LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES
FROM THE NINETEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT IN AND FOR THE
PARISH OF EAST BATON ROUGE STATE OF LOUISIANA DOCKET NUMBER
592, 154 HONORABLE WILSON E. FIELDS, JUDGE
L. Craft Crystal G. Bounds Attorneys for Plaintiff/ Appellee
Dan S. Collins and Dan S. Collins, CPL and Associates, Inc.
Landry Stephen J. Oats Robin J. Magee Patrick B. McIntire
Attorneys for Defendant/ Appellant State of Louisiana,
through the Department of Natural Resources
BEFORE: PETTIGREW, McDONALD, AND CALLOWAY, [*] JJ.
an appeal from a jury verdict and a district court judgment
finding that plaintiffs were employees of the State engaged
in an activity protected by La. R.S. 30:2027 (the Louisiana
Environmental Whistleblower Statute), that plaintiffs
suffered an adverse action that occurred as a result of
complaints by the plaintiffs of environmental violations,
that a defendant, the Louisiana Department of Natural
Resources (DNR) was liable to the plaintiffs for violating
La. R.S. 30:2027, and awarding plaintiffs damages. After
review, finding that the plaintiffs were not employees
pursuant to La. R.S. 30:2027, we reverse the jury verdict and
the district court judgment and render judgment in favor of
DNR, dismissing plaintiffs' claims against it under La.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
1997 to 2010, Dan S. Collins (a certified professional
landman) and Dan S. Collins, CPL and Associates, Inc.
(collectively plaintiffs or Collins) provided consulting
services for land, title, and environmental research for DNR,
particularly the Atchafalaya Basin Program and the Coastal
Protection and Restoration Program. Robert Benoit served as
Assistant Director of the Atchafalaya Basin Program.
in 2007, Mr. Collins discovered what he believed were
violations of environmental laws, rules, and regulations
pertaining to the dredged water quality project known as the
Bayou Postillion Water Quality Project and the Big Bayou
Pigeon Water Quality Project. Mr. Collins reported his
findings to DNR, Mr. Benoit, and Scott Angelle, Secretary of
DNR. Both projects were conducted by the Atchafalaya Basin
Program within the basin to improve water quality for
fishermen and crawfishermen. Mr. Collins believed that he
discovered the real purpose of the projects was oil and gas
exploration for the use and benefit of adjacent landowners.
contract with DNR for 2009 ended, and it was not renewed for
2010. Collins filed suit on June 29, 2010, naming as
defendants the State of Louisiana, through DNR, and Mr.
Benoit, individually and in his capacity as Assistant
Director of the Atchafalaya Basin Program at DNR, asserting
that "defendants have refused to employ Petitioners and
denied Petitioners the ability to continue employment with
defendant DNR on account of their whistle-blowing activities
regarding the violations of Federal and State laws, rules,
and regulations." Collins asserted that DNR violated La.
R.S. 30:2027 and La. R.S. 23:967 (the Louisiana Whistleblower
Statute) and that DNR and Mr. Benoit violated La. R.S.
42:1169 (the Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics
Whistleblower Statute). Collins prayed for judgment in their
favor including punitive damages, triple damages as allowed
by law, and attorney fees, as well as all other relief to
which they were entitled, including declaratory and
filed peremptory exceptions raising the objections of no
cause of action as to the claims raised pursuant to La. R.S.
23:967, La. R.S. 30:2027, and La. R.S. 42:1169, which were
sustained by the district court, and the plaintiffs'
claims pursuant to those statutes were dismissed. Collins
v. State ex rel. Dep't of Nat. Res., 2012-1031
(La.App. 1 Cir. 5/30/13), 118 So.3d 43, 45. On appeal, this
court affirmed the district court ruling that plaintiffs had
failed to state a cause of action pursuant to La. R.S.
42:1169 and La. R.S. 23:967. Collins, 118 So.3d at
52. This court reversed the district court ruling that the
plaintiffs had failed to state a cause of action pursuant to
La. R.S. 30:2027, noting that plaintiffs alleged employee
status, that the allegations had to be taken in the light
most favorable to the plaintiffs, and that non-renewal of an
alleged employment agreement could state a cause of action
for retaliation, assuming the plaintiffs met the rest of the
statutory requirements. Collins, 118 So.3d at
48-51. The La. R.S. 30:2027 claims were remanded to the
district court. Collins, 118 So.3d at 52.
DNR filed a motion for summary judgment on February 3, 2014,
based upon plaintiffs' lack of employee status, failure
to pursue administrative remedies, prescription, and lack of
evidence of retaliation. The district court denied the motion
for summary judgment in open court on May 5, 2014, and signed
a judgment in conformity therewith on June 10, 2014.
filed an application for supervisory writs with this court,
which was denied. Dan Collins v. State through Dep't
of Nat. Res., 2014-0819 (La.App. 1 Cir. 8/11/14)
(unpublished writ action). DNR thereafter filed an
application for supervisory and/or remedial writs with the
Louisiana Supreme Court, which was also denied. Dan
Collins v. State through Dep't of Nat. Res.,
2014-1898 (La. 12/8/14), 153 So.3d 442.
case proceeded to trial on the La. R.S. 30:2027 environmental
whistleblower claims. A jury trial was held from December 8
to 11, 2015. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the
plaintiffs and against DNR, finding that plaintiffs were
employees of DNR who reported what they believed to be
environmental violations, and as a result of their reports,
they suffered retaliation from DNR. The jury awarded
plaintiffs $250, 000.00 in lost wages by verdict form dated
December 11, 2015.
district court thereafter signed a judgment on January 26,
2016, in favor of plaintiffs and against DNR, awarding
plaintiffs $750, 000.00 in damages, which included $250,
000.00 for loss of earnings and/or loss of anticipated wages,
plus legal interest on that amount from date of judicial
demand until paid, and $500, 000.00 (to provide triple
damages as provided for in La. R.S. 30:2027(B)(1)), plus
legal interest on that amount from date of judgment until
paid. DNR filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the
verdict (JNOV) and a motion for new trial, which were denied
in open court on April 18, 2016. A judgment to that effect
was signed on May 26, 2016. DNR appealed the jury verdict
form and the January 26, 2016 judgment.
filed a motion to strike statements made on page 25 and pages
29 through 30 of plaintiffs' appellee brief, asserting
that these statements are contrary to the requirements of
Rule 3.3(a)(1) of the Rules of Professional Conduct, which
states that lawyers shall not "knowingly make a false
statement of fact ... to a tribunal." DNR asserts that
these portions of plaintiffs' brief contain testimony
which plaintiffs attributed to Toni Debossier (a former
employee of DNR), which serves to give the false impression
that Ms. Debossier was relieved of her position or
transferred due to complaints about Bayou Postillion. DNR
asserts that the statements attributed to Ms. Debossier by
plaintiffs were, in fact, made by Mr. Collins and that in her
deposition Ms. Debossier explained that Secretary Angelle
hired her to work for DNR after she left the Department of
Agriculture and Forestry, that Secretary Angelle asked her to
look into the project to see if any laws had been broken, and
that she found no violations of law.
opposition to the motion to strike, plaintiffs assert that
DNR's accusations are false and that the jury did, in
fact, hear testimony that Ms. Debossier was a DNR employee,
that she informed Mr. Collins that she had been terminated
because of information that she brought forward, and that she
was told she would be transferred. Plaintiffs maintain that
DNR failed to take advantage of its full and fair opportunity
to cross-examine Mr. Collins' cited testimony ...