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Moore v. CHEVRON USA, Trmi Holdings Inc.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

May 25, 2017


         On Appeal from the 19th Judicial District Court, Parish of East Baton Rouge, State of Louisiana Trial Court No. C574O63, The Honorable Michael Caldwell, Judge Presiding.

          Eroll J. Ware New Orleans, Louisiana Attorney for Plaintiffs/Appellants Gerald P. Moore and GM Enterprises, L.L.C.

          Richard D. McConnell, Jr. Chelsea Gomez Caswell Samuel O. Lumpkin Baton Rouge, Louisiana Attorneys for Defendants/Appellees Chevron Environmental Management Company, Texaco Inc., Star Enterprise, and TRMI Holdings, Inc.

          Michael A. Patterson Mark L. Barbre S. Brooke Barnett-Bernal Baton Rouge, Louisiana Attorneys for Defendant/Appellee, State of Louisiana, Department of Environmental Quality.


          CRAIN, J.

         This is the appeal of a judgment granting summary judgments and dismissing plaintiffs' claims for property damages and redhibition. We affirm.


         On January 7, 2009, Gerald P. Moore[1] instituted this suit for damages arising from the alleged environmental contamination of immovable property he owns in East Baton Rouge Parish. Chevron Environmental Management Company, Texaco Inc., Star Enterprise, TRMI Holdings, Inc., (collectively, "the Chevron defendants"), [2] and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) were included as defendants in the suit. Moore contends the contamination was caused by leaking underground storage tanks and the mishandling of hazardous substances during the operation of a gas station on the property by a previous owner. Moore alleges environmental site assessments performed in 2003, as a requirement for financing to build his own gas station on the property, revealed contamination. Moore alleges both LDEQ and Chevron Environmental Management Company were notified of the site assessment results and investigated the alleged contamination until 2008, when LDEQ issued a report concluding no further action was required.

         In 2016, the Chevron defendants and LDEQ filed motions for summary judgment seeking dismissal of the suit based upon prescription. After a request for a continuance was denied, and evidence submitted by Moore was excluded, the trial court granted summary judgment and dismissed Moore's suit. Moore now appeals.


         After an opportunity for adequate discovery, a motion for summary judgment shall be granted if the motion, memorandum, and supporting documents show there is no genuine issue as to material fact and mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. La. Code Civ. Pro. art. 966A(3). A "material fact" is one that potentially ensures or precludes recovery, affects a litigant's ultimate success, or determines the outcome of the legal dispute. A "genuine issue of material fact" is a material fact about which reasonable people can disagree; if reasonable people can reach only one conclusion, there is no need for trial on that issue and summary judgment is appropriate. Jackson v. City of New Orleans, 12-2742 (La. 1/28/14), 144 So.3d 876, 882. For purposes of summary judgment, the materiality of facts is determined by the substantive law applicable to the case. Jackson, 144 So.3d at 882.

         Liberative prescription is a method of barring actions when there is inaction for a period of time. La. Civ. Code art. 3447. Delictual actions are subject to a liberative prescription of one year, which commences to run on the date the injury or damage is sustained. La. Civ. Code art. 3492. However, "[w]hen damage is caused to immovable property, the one[-]year prescription commences to run from the day the owner of the immovable acquired, or should have acquired, knowledge of the damage." La. Civ. Code art. 3493. Thus, the one-year prescription applicable to claims for damage to immovable property is triggered by actual or constructive knowledge of damage. Hogg v. Chevron USA, Inc., 09-2632 (La. 7/6/10), 45 So.3d 991, 997; Rebstock v. Seismic Exchange, Inc., 13-0540, 2013WL5915140, p.2 (La.App. 1 Cir. 11/1/13).

         Constructive knowledge sufficient to begin prescription is "whatever notice is enough to excite attention and put the injured party on guard or call for inquiry." Hogg, 45 So.3d at 997. Stated another way, it "is the acquisition of sufficient information, which, if pursued, will lead to the true condition of things." Marin v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 09-2368 (La. 10/19/10), 48 So.3d 234, 246 (quoting Young v. International Paper Co., 179 La. 803, 155 So. 231 (La. 1934)). Whether a party had constructive knowledge is ultimately determined by the reasonableness of the party's action or inaction in light of the surrounding circumstances. Hogg, 45 So.3d at 997-998. A plaintiff is deemed to know ...

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