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Webb v. Morella

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

June 21, 2017

BELVA WEBB AND FAITH WEBB
v.
JOSEPH P. MORELLA, CHIEF PATRICK LASALLE, DR. MELVIN G. BOURGEOIS, BOURGEOIS MEDICAL CLINIC, LLC OF MORGAN CITY, DR. ROBERT M. BOURGEOIS, DR. JOHN DOE, MORGAN CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT, OFFICER JOHN DOE OF THE MORGAN CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT, AND ABC INSURANCE

         On Appeal from the Sixteenth Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of St. Mary State of Louisiana No. 127461 Honorable Anthony Thibodeaux, Judge Presiding

          Timothy T. Yazbeck, Gretna Louisiana, Counsel for Plaintiffs/Appellants Belva Webb and Faith Webb

          James L. Pate, Sara R. Buggs Lafayette, Louisiana, Counsel for Defendants/Appellees Joseph P. Morella, Patrick LaSalle and the Patterson Police Department

          Harvey J. Godofsky Counsel for Defendants/Appellees Metairie, Louisiana Bourgeois Medical Clinic, Robert Bourgeois, M.D., and Melvin Bourgeois, M.D.

          BEFORE: WHIPPLE, C.J., GUIDRY, AND McCLENDON, JJ

          McCLENDON, J.

         In this appeal, the plaintiffs contest a judgment that sustained the defendants' peremptory exception raising the objection of res judicata and dismissed their suit with prejudice. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On February 17, 2012, the St. Mary Parish School Board requested that Belva Webb, a St. Mary Parish School District crossing guard, submit to a drug screen test, after being contacted by parents that he appeared "to be unstable while crossing children in the safety zone." On February 23, 2012, Mr. Webb was notified by the school board that the test results showed that Mr. Webb's prescribed medication was "safety sensitive" and that he should not be performing work duties at that time. Based on this information and concerns, Mr. Webb was instructed "not to return to work until further notice effective immediately." An amended letter on February 28, 2012, provided that Mr. Webb was not to return to work until he had written notification from his physician releasing him to perform his crossing guard duties.

         Thereafter, on April 16, 2012, Mr. Webb and his wife, Faith Webb, filed suit in federal court asserting violations of their constitutional rights as well as various state law claims. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants, Joseph P. Morella, the Patterson Chief of Police Patrick LaSalle, the Patterson Police Department (the Morella defendants); the St. Mary Parish School District School Board, Kenneth Lockett and Principal Niki Fryou; the Bourgeois Medical Clinic, LLC, Dr. Melvin Bourgeois, Dr. Robert Bourgeois, and Dr. John Doe (the Bourgeois defendants); and the Morgan City Police Department and Officer John Doe, all conspired to have Mr. Webb fired by the School District. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that at the personal insistence of Police Chief LaSalle, the St. Mary Parish School Board instructed Mr. Webb to go to the Bourgeois Medical Clinic in Morgan City to be drug tested and not return to work until the school board had the results. The plaintiffs further asserted that Mr. Webb anticipated a fabricated drug screening and arranged for an independent drug test before and after the drug test at the Bourgeois Medical Clinic. According to the plaintiffs, the results of the independent drug tests were negative for any drugs. The plaintiffs maintained that the fabricated drug tests at the Bourgeois Medical Clinic resulted in Mr. Webb losing his job, being charged with crimes, being discredited, and otherwise being humiliated with his family in the church and local community.

         In response to the plaintiffs' federal suit, each of the defendants filed a motion to dismiss. In lengthy reasons, the federal district court determined that the plaintiffs' complaint failed to state a plausible claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985 and 1986, and the district court dismissed the plaintiffs' federal law claims with prejudice. Additionally, the court declined to assert supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' remaining state law claims and dismissed those claims without prejudice. On July 24, 2013, the judgment of dismissal was affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and is a final judgment.

         Thereafter, on July 23, 2014, the plaintiffs filed a petition in the Sixteenth Judicial District Court in St. Mary Parish against the same parties, setting forth the same statement of facts, and alleging violations of the federal constitution and the same state law claims raised previously in the federal suit, including violations of the Louisiana constitution, criminal law, and tort law. In response, the Morella defendants and the Bourgeois defendants (the defendants) each filed peremptory exceptions raising the objection of res judicata. After a hearing, the trial court sustained the exceptions, dismissing the plaintiffs' claims against the defendants. The trial court signed a judgment on January 28, 2016, and the plaintiffs appealed, asserting that the trial court erred in finding their state law claims barred by res judicata.

         DISCUSSION

         When a state court is required to determine the preclusive effects of a judgment rendered by a federal court exercising federal question jurisdiction, it is the federal law of res judicata that must be applied. Reeder v. Succession of Palmer,623 So.2d 1268, 1271 (La. 1993); Samour v. Louisiana Casino Cruises, Inc., 01-0831 (La.App. 1 Or. 2/27/02), 818 So.2d 171, 174. Federal law embraces the broad usage of the phrase "res judicata" to include both claim preclusion (res judicata) and issue preclusion (collateral estoppel). Samour, 818 So.2d at 174. Thus, res judicata viewed in this broad sense includes foreclosure of both ...


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