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Huval v. State Through Department of Public Safety and corrections

Supreme Court of Louisiana

May 3, 2017

TODD HUVAL AND CHAD BOYER
v.
STATE OF LOUISIANA THROUGH THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY AND CORRECTIONS, OFFICE OF STATE POLICE, MASTER TROOPER HAL HUTCHINSON, INDIVIDUALLY, AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS AN EMPLOYEE OF THE OFFICE OF STATE POLICE, LIEUTENANT RHETT TRAHAN, INDIVIDUALLY, AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS AN EMPLOYEE OF THE OFFICE OF STATE POLICE, INVESTIGATOR BUZZY TRAHAN, INDIVIDUALLY, AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS AN EMPLOYEE OF THE OFFICE OF STATE POLICE, LIEUTENANT KEVIN DEVALL, INDIVIDUALLY, AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS AN EMPLOYEE OF THE OFFICE OF STATE POLICE, INVESTIGATOR BART MORRIS, INDIVIDUALLY, AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS AN EMPLOYEE OF THE OFFICE OF STATE POLICE, INVESTIGATOR HAMPTON GUILLORY, INDIVIDUALLY, AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS AN EMPLOYEE OF THE OFFICE OF STATE POLICE, AND LT. COLONEL STANLEY GRIFFIN, INDIVIDUALLY, AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS AN EMPLOYEE OF THE OFFICE OF STATE POLICE

         ON SUPERVISORY WRITS TO THE NINETEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT FOR THE PARISH OF EAST BATON ROUGE.

          GENOVESE, JUSTICE.

         We granted certiorari in this case to determine whether the district court has subject matter jurisdiction over tort claims stemming from a removal or disciplinary action over which the Louisiana State Police Commission (State Police Commission) presided. The lower courts concluded that subject matter jurisdiction is proper in district court. We agree with the decisions of the lower courts.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiffs, Todd Huval and Chad Boyer, are former Louisiana State Troopers employed by the State of Louisiana, Department of Public Safety and Corrections, Office of State Police (State Police). In 2007, they were terminated based on an investigation which exposed alleged violations of employment policy and state law-both were accused of providing confidential information to a third party.[1]

         Plaintiffs appealed their terminations to the State Police Commission.[2] On December 30, 2008, [3] the State Police Commission overturned the terminations and ordered that Mr. Huval be suspended for eight weeks and that Mr. Boyer be suspended for two weeks.[4] The State Police appealed.

         The Court of Appeal, First Circuit, reinstated Mr. Huval's termination and affirmed Mr. Boyer's two-week suspension.[5] Huval v. Dep't of Pub. Safety & Corrs., Office of State Police, 09-699 (La.App. 1 Cir. 10/23/09), 29 So.3d 522; Boyer v. Dep't of Pub. Safety & Corrs., Office of State Police, 09-700 (La.App. 1 Cir. 10/23/09), 24 So.3d 1033 (unpub'd).

         On November 3, 2008, plaintiffs filed an Original Petition for Damages in the 19th Judicial District Court. The petition asserted entitlement to damages for alleged wrongful termination, defamation, malicious prosecution, mental anguish, intentional infliction of emotional distress, as well as all general and equitable relief. Chiefly, the petition alleged that the State Police twice took its "fabricated" investigative findings to the Lafayette Parish District Attorney and requested a grand jury hearing on the matter.

         In 2015, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment and an exception of lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Defendants' exception asserted plaintiffs' lawsuit sought to have the district court review the correctness of the State Police's terminations and sought damages pursuant to said terminations. They argued La.Const. art. X, § 50 vests the State Police Commission with the exclusive jurisdiction to hear any and all cases involving the terminations of employees by the State Police. Thus, the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear plaintiffs' wrongful termination claims, and likewise, it lacks subject matter jurisdiction to award any damages resulting from plaintiffs' terminations including, but not limited to, past, present, future loss of earnings and earning capacity, benefits, and loss of employment.

         Plaintiffs countered, asserting their claims involve more than their removals by the State Police and involve issues of due process, defamation, malicious prosecution, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiffs insisted their claims could not have been addressed by the State Police Commission because it lacks jurisdiction.

         In an oral ruling, without giving reasons, the district court overruled defendants' exception of lack of subject matter jurisdiction.[6] There was no ruling issued on defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         Defendants sought a supervisory writ, wherein they relied upon Reimer v. Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans, 95-2799 (La.App. 4 Cir. 1/29/97), 688 So.2d 165, to argue that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over claims which are inextricably linked to an essentially employment-related dispute, such as removal or disciplinary proceedings. The Court of Appeal, First Circuit, denied defendants' request for supervisory review of the district court's ruling without comment.

         Defendants applied for supervisory review to this court. We granted defendants' writ and remanded the case to the court of appeal for briefing, argument, and full opinion. Huval v. State ex rel., Dep't of Pub. Safety & Corrs., Office of State Police, 15-2099 (La. 2/5/16), 186 So.3d 1170.

         Refuting defendants' supervisory writ, plaintiffs argued district courts have original jurisdiction over all civil matters pursuant to La.Const. art. V, § 16(A)(1).[7] The State Police Commission does not have authority to grant a money judgment for tortious conduct.

         On remand, the appellate court, in a 2-to-1 decision, affirmed the decision of the trial court which overruled defendants' exception. Huval v. State ex rel., Dep't of Pub. Safety & Corrs., Office of State Police, 15-1151 (La.App. 1 Cir. 9/21/16) (unpublished). The majority concluded plaintiffs' claims for damages are claims over which the district court has original jurisdiction pursuant to La.Const. art. V, § 16(A)(1). The majority reasoned plaintiffs seek damages that sound in tort "'as a result' of the claims of defamation, malicious prosecution, [and] intentional infliction of emotional distress stemming from the criminal proceeding, not the disciplinary action of the [State Police] Commission." Id. at 7 (unpub'd). The majority found plaintiffs' claims did not create a situation that would uphold or reverse the State Police Commission's decision.

         The dissent identified the action being challenged as the plaintiffs' removal and perceived plaintiffs' claims as inextricably interwoven with an essentially employment-related dispute. Following the principle of Reimer, 688 So.2d 165, which rejected the argument that the district court is the only proper forum because a money judgment was sought, Judge ...


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