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Bayer v. Starr International Corp.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

August 15, 2017

THOMAS D. BAYER AND LAURA D. KELLEY
v.
STARR INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION, ET AL

         APPEAL FROM CIVIL DISTRICT COURT, ORLEANS PARISH NO. 2015-03806, DIVISION "B" Honorable Melvin C. Zeno, Judge.

          David W. Bernberg THE LAW OFFICE OF DAVID W. BERNBERG, L.L.C. COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT.

          L. Peter Englande Jeffrey E. McDonald Randell E. Treadaway, T.A. ZAUNBRECHER TREADAWAY BOLLINGER, LLC COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE.

          Court composed of Judge Joy Cossich Lobrano, Judge Sandra Cabrina Jenkins, Judge Paula A. Brown.

          SANDRA CABRINA JENKINS JUDGE.

         In this suit for damages, plaintiffs appeal the trial court's judgments granting defendants' motion for summary judgment and denying plaintiffs' motion for new trial. Finding that our appellate jurisdiction has not been properly invoked by a valid final judgment, we dismiss the appeal without prejudice and remand this matter to the trial court.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         This suit arises from a fire that occurred at the property of Thomas Bayer, located at 7418-7422 Maple Street, where he resides with Laura Kelley (collectively, "plaintiffs"). On April 23, 2014, employees of Cimarron Underground, Inc., were performing work on the gas meter on plaintiffs' property when a gas line was cut, a gas explosion occurred, and a resulting fire damaged plaintiffs' house. After the fire was extinguished, plaintiffs arrived at the house and viewed the damage. Thereafter, plaintiffs vacated the property for several weeks while repairs were made to the house.

         On April 22, 2015, plaintiffs filed a petition for damages against Cimarron Underground, Inc., Starr Indemnity & Liability Company, Entergy New Orleans, Inc., Entergy Louisiana, L.L.C., and Entergy Gulf States Louisiana, Inc. (collectively, "defendants"), alleging that defendants' combined acts of negligence preceding the fire caused plaintiffs to sustain emotional and physical injuries, inconvenience, and loss of enjoyment of life.[1]

         On April 27, 2016, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment seeking the dismissal of all of plaintiffs' claims. On August 12, 2016, the trial court held a hearing on defendants' motion for summary judgment, which the trial court orally granted. However, the trial court's August 15, 2016 judgment with incorporated reasons for judgment decreed that "Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment be DENIED."[2]

         On September 26, 2016, the trial court signed an order setting aside and vacating its August 15, 2016 judgment and stating that, "this Court erroneously executed a judgment that was inapposite of the oral ruling and mistakenly identified the prevailing party on the Motion for Summary Judgment as the Plaintiff, as opposed to the Defendants."[3] On that same date, the trial court rendered an "amended" judgment and reasons for judgment, for the stated purpose of "correct[ing] errors contained in this court's original judgment signed on August 15, 2016", which decreed that "Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment be GRANTED."

         On September 29, 2016, plaintiffs filed a motion for new trial as to the trial court's granting defendants' motion for summary judgment. Following a hearing, the trial court rendered judgment on December 6, 2016, denying plaintiffs' motion for new trial. Subsequently, plaintiffs filed a timely notice of appeal of the trial court's December 6, 2016 judgment. This appeal followed.

         JURISDICTION

         Before reaching the merits of an appeal, this Court has a duty to determine, sua sponte, whether our appellate court jurisdiction has been properly invoked by a valid final judgment. Moon v. City of New Orleans, 15-1092, p. 6 (La.App. 4 Cir. 3/16/16), 190 So.3d 422, 425; Tsegaye v. City of New Orleans, 15-0676, p. 3 (La App. 4 Cir. 12/18/15), 183 So.3d 705, 710; Delta Staff Leasing, LLC v. South Coast Solar, LLC, 14-1328 (La.App. 4 Cir. 9/23/15), 176 So.3d 668. "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." Urquhart v. Spencer, 15-1354, p. 3 (La.App. 4 Cir. 12/1/16), 204 So.3d 1074, 1077, quoting Input/Output Marine Sys., Inc. v. Wilson Greatbatch, Tech., Inc., 10-477, p.13 (La.App. 5 Cir. 10/29/10), 52 So.3d 909, 916 (internal citations omitted). A valid final judgment must contain definitive decretal language. Moon, 15-1092, p. 6, 190 So.3d at 425; Bd. of Supervisors of Louisiana State Univ. v. Mid City Holdings, L.L.C., 14-0506, p. 2 (La.App. 4 Cir. 10/15/14), 151 So.3d 908, 910. Our jurisprudence holds that the definitive decretal language necessary for a valid final judgment has three components: (1) it must name the party in favor of whom the ruling is ordered; (2) it must name the party against whom the ruling is ordered; and (3) it must state the specific relief that is granted or denied. Freeman v. Phillips 66 Company, ...


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