FROM CIVIL DISTRICT COURT, ORLEANS PARISH NO. 2012-11958,
DIVISION "C" Honorable Sidney H. Cates, Judge
C. Betzer THE LAW OFFICE OF BRUCE C. BETZER And Douglas
Hammel THE HAMMEL LAW FIRM COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE,
Paul Andersson Alex P. Tilling LEAKE & ANDERSSON, L.L.P.
COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT, GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES
composed of Judge Terri F. Love, Judge Madeleine M. Landrieu,
Judge Joy Cossich Lobrano.
F. Love Judge.
appeal stems from the denial of an insurance claim for
injuries allegedly sustained in an automobile accident in
June 2011. Government Employees Insurance Company
("GEICO") appeals the trial court's granting of
partial summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff Willie
Jones ("Mr. Jones"). The trial court found GEICO
acted in bad faith in handling Mr. Jones'
uninsured/underinsured motorist ("UM") claim and
denied GEICO's cross-motion for summary judgment on the
to La. R.S. 22:1892(B)(1) and 22:1973(B)(5), we find as a
matter of law GEICO did not act in bad faith and is entitled
to summary judgment in that it was entitled to seek judicial
determination of a cognizable defense to coverage of Mr.
Jones' UM claim. We also find genuine issues of material
fact preclude summary judgment as to whether GEICO knowingly
misrepresented pertinent facts relating to Mr. Jones'
policy in violation of La. R.S. 22:1973(B)(1). We further
find the trial court's judgment lacks necessary decretal
language and does not dispose of all issues in the underlying
suit. Accordingly, we exercise our supervisory discretion and
convert the appeal to a writ; reverse the trial court's
granting of partial summary judgment in favor of Mr. Jones;
grant in part and deny in part GEICO's writ application
on the issue of bad faith; and remand for further proceedings
in line with this opinion.
proceeding to the explanation of our holding, we first
address the trial court's June 23, 2016 judgment.
"We cannot determine the merits of an appeal unless our
jurisdiction is properly invoked by a valid final
judgment." Bd. of Sup'rs of Louisiana
State Univ. & Agric. & Mech. Coll. v. Mid City
Holdings, L.L.C., 14-0506, p. 2 (La. App. 4 Cir.
10/15/14), 151 So. 3d 908');">151 So. 3d 908, 910. "'A valid judgment
must be precise, definite and certain.... The decree alone
indicates the decision.... The result decreed must be spelled
out in lucid, unmistakable language. .... The quality of
definiteness is essential to a proper judgment.'"
Id. (quoting Input/Output Marine Sys., Inc. v.
Wilson Greatbatch, Tech., Inc., 10-477, p. 12-13 (La.
App. 5 Cir. 10/29/10), 52 So. 3d 909');">52 So. 3d 909, 915-16) (emphasis
added). "'A final appealable judgment must contain
decretal language, and it must name the party in favor of
whom the ruling is ordered, the party against whom the ruling
is ordered, and the relief that is granted or
denied.'" Id., 14-0506, p. 2-3, 151 So. 3d
at 910 (quoting Palumbo v. Shapiro, 11–0769,
p. 5 (La. App. 4 Cir. 12/14/11); 81 So. 3d 923, 927).
"Decretal language is defined as the portion of a
court's judgment or order that officially states
('decrees') what the court is ordering and generally
starts with the formula 'It is hereby ordered, adjudged,
and decreed that ...."' Freeman v. Phillips 66
Co., 16-0247, p. 2 (La. App. 4 Cir. 12/21/16), 208 So.
3d 437, 440 (quoting Jones v. Stewart,
16-0329, p. 5 (La. App. 4 Cir. 10/5/16), 203 So. 3d 384');">203 So. 3d 384, 387
(internal quotations omitted)).
judgment's decree states as follows:
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that the
Plaintiffs Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Requesting a
Finding of Bad Faith was GRANTED, with attorney fees and
penalties to be determined at a later date.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that the
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment was DENIED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that the Judgment
shall be deemed final for purposes of writ or appeal, where
the Court finds no reason for delay.
judgment's decree fails to name the party in favor of and
the party against whom each ruling is ordered. Instead, it
states in general terms that "[p]laintiffs [motion] was
GRANTED" and that "[defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment was DENIED." In addition, jurisprudence
requires the judgment state what relief is granted or denied.
Making general reference to the title of the pleading, the
trial court summarily granted plaintiffs partial summary
judgment motion. We find that although the title contains an
all-encompassing request for a finding of bad faith,
recitation of the pleading's title is insufficient to
state what relief is granted.
portion of the judgment that requires special consideration
is the decretal language, which begins with "the formula
'it is hereby ordered, adjudged, and
decreed…." Freeman, 16-0247, p. 2, 208
So. 3d at 440 (quoting Jones, 16-0329, p. 5, 203 So.
3d at 387 (internal citations omitted)). The portion of the
written judgment which names the parties and their respective
counsel appears before the decretal language and indicates
only who was present at the hearing.
importantly, the record does not disclose whether the trial
court found GEICO to be in bad faith because GEICO delayed
making tender while litigating the choice of law issue, GEICO
failed to advise Mr. Jones of the specific release
requirement in his policy prior to his settling with
Allstate, or both.
hallmark of a proper judgment is the quality of definiteness.
Moreover, "[t]he specific relief granted should be
determinable from the judgment without reference to an
extrinsic source such as pleadings or reasons for
judgment." Bd. of Sup'rs, 14-0506, p. 3,
151 So. 3d at 910 (quoting Input/Output Marine,
10-477, p. 13, 52 So. 3d at 916). The decree states that
"[p]laintiff's motion for partial summary judgment
requesting a finding of bad faith was GRANTED." In that
Mr. Jones pled bad faith under La. R.S. 22:1973(B)(1) in his
petition, the definiteness of the decree is essential to
determining what issues remain to be decided at trial. Here,
however, not even reference to the record as a whole
clarifies the specific relief granted. Thus, even
disregarding the other omissions, we find the fact that the
judgment fails to state the specific relief granted and
denied in this case is insufficient to render the judgment
appealable. See La. C.C.P. art. 1841; Bd. of
Supervisors, 14-0506, p. 2-3, 151 So. 3d at 910.
Therefore, in the absence of the necessary decretal language
we decline to invoke our appellate jurisdiction.
again, this Court is authorized to exercise our discretion to
convert this appeal to an application for supervisory review.
Id., 14-0506, p. 3-4, 151 So. 3d at 911 (citing
Stelluto v. Stelluto, 05-0074, p. 7 (La. 6/29/05),
914 So. 2d 34, 39). The motions for appeal in this case were
filed within the thirty-day period allowed for filing an
application for supervisory writs; therefore, we exercise our
discretion and convert GEICO's appeal to an application
for supervisory review. Id., 14-0506, p. 4, 151 So.
3d at 911 (citing Favrot v. Favrot, 10-0986, p. 5-6
(La. App. 4 Cir. 2/9/11), 68 So. 3d 1099, 1104); Uniform
Rules, Courts of Appeal, Rule 4-3.
HISTORY AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
2011, Mr. Jones was involved in an automobile accident in New
Orleans. The other driver was at fault and insured by
Allstate. In June 2012, Mr. Jones settled his claim against
Allstate for the policy limits of $15,000.00. Mr. Jones then
sought to recover from GEICO additional monies under his
policy's UM coverage for the injuries he allegedly
sustained from the accident. GEICO declined coverage claiming
that Mr. Jones failed to obtain GEICO's approval prior to
settling and releasing Allstate, in direct contravention to
Mr. Jones' Georgia issued policy and Georgia statutory
December 2012, Mr. Jones filed a petition for damages against
GEICO as his UM carrier, alleging he was injured in an
automobile accident with an underinsured motorist. GEICO
answered the petition in February 2013. Mr. Jones then filed
a motion for partial summary judgment, seeking a judicial
determination that Louisiana law, and not Georgia law,
applied to his UM claim. The parties litigated the choice of
law issue, and in November ...