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State v. Louisiana Land & Exploration Co.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

December 20, 2017

THE STATE OF LOUISIANA AND THE VERMILION PARISH SCHOOL BOARD
v.
LOUISIANA LAND & EXPLORATION COMPANY, ET AL.

         ON APPLICATION FOR SUPERVISORY WRITS FROM THE FIFTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF VERMILION, NO. 82162 HONORABLE JEROME M. WINSBERG, PRESIDING AD HOC

          Donald T. Carmouche Victor L. Marcello John H. Carmouche William R. Coenen, III Brian T. Carmouche Todd J. Wimberley Ross J. Donnes D. Adele Owen Leah C. Poole Caroline H. Martin Christopher D. Martin Talbot, Carmouche & Marcello FOR PLAINTIFFS/RESPONDENTS: State of Louisiana Vermilion Parish School Board

          Jerold Edward Knoll The Knoll Law Firm, L.L.C. FOR PLAINTIFFS/RESPONDENTS: State of Louisiana Vermilion Parish School Board

          Grady J. Abraham Attorney at Law FOR PLAINTIFFS/RESPONDENTS: State of Louisiana Vermilion Parish School Board

          Calvin E. Woodruff, Jr. Attorney at Law FOR PLAINTIFFS/RESPONDENTS: State of Louisiana Vermilion Parish School Board

          Michael R. Phillips Claire E. Juneau Jeffrey J. Gelpi Kean Miller LLP FOR DEFENDANT/APPLICANT: Union Oil Company of California

          L. Victor Gregoire Alan J. Berteau Kean Miller LLP FOR DEFENDANT/APPLICANT: Union Oil Company of California

          Robert E. Meadows Carol M. Wood Andrew M. Stakelum King & Spaulding LLP FOR DEFENDANT/APPLICANT: Union Oil Company of California

          Court composed of Shannon J. Gremillion, Phyllis M. Keaty, and D. Kent Savoie, Judges.

          SHANNON J. GREMILLION JUDGE

         The defendant-applicant, Union Oil Company of California (UNOCAL), seeks supervisory writs from the trial court's judgment denying its motion to compel discovery. For the following reasons, we deny the writ and affirm the trial court's ruling.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         This case involves an oilfield contamination lawsuit that is governed by 2006 La. Acts No. 312, which enacted La.R.S. 30:29. The plaintiffs, the State of Louisiana (State) and the Vermilion Parish School Board (VPSB), filed suit against UNOCAL and other defendants, alleging that property owned by the State and managed by VPSB was damaged as a result of fifty-five years of oil and gas exploration activities. The plaintiffs' private law claims were tried by a jury in April and May 2015. The jury found UNOCAL liable for environmental damage but found no liability on the part of the other defendants.

         In accordance with the provisions of Act 312, in August 2015, the trial court signed an order referring the case to the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, Office of Conservation (LDNR) to develop a feasible plan for the remediation of the environmental damage on the plaintiffs' property. After conducting a two-week hearing, the LDNR issued a feasible remediation plan, which was subsequently adopted by the trial court. The judgment adopting the LDNR's plan is currently the subject of an appeal lodged with this court on September 13, 2017, docket number 17-830.

         After the judgment was rendered regarding the remediation plan, the plaintiffs sought entry of a judgment on the jury's verdict regarding their private law claims. At a hearing held on April 11, 2017, the trial court denied the plaintiffs' request for the court to sign a "partial final judgment" on their private law claims. The trial court ruled that it would not sign a "final judgment" on the private law claims until after it ruled on the plaintiffs' claims for costs and attorney fees. Instead, on April 26, 2017, the trial court signed a "partial judgment" on the jury's verdict, dismissing various claims and theories of recovery against UNOCAL and its co-defendants and holding UNOCAL strictly liable to the plaintiffs in the amount of $1, 500, 000.00 for restoration of property damage. That judgment also reserves the plaintiffs' claims for costs and attorney fees. The plaintiffs state that their claims for costs and attorney fees will require extensive discovery and a three-day trial.

         In May 2015, after the jury had rendered its verdict, the plaintiffs and UNOCAL each filed a motion for JNOV and new trial. After the trial court signed the judgment of April 26, 2017, the plaintiffs and UNOCAL re-urged their motions for JNOV and new trial. The trial court declined to rule on the motions for JNOV and new trial until after a hearing regarding the plaintiffs' motion for costs and attorney fees was held. The plaintiffs sought supervisory review of the trial court's decision to delay the hearing.

         On July 25, 2017, this court granted the applicants' writ:

WRIT GRANTED AND MADE PEREMPTORY.
The trial court abused its discretion in deciding to conduct a hearing on attorney fees and costs before a final determination on the pending motions for a new trial and JNOV. We hereby vacate the trial court's rulings of April 11, 2017, April 26, 2017, and May 8, 2017. Judicial economy requires a determination on ultimate liability before the assessment of attorney fees and costs. Further, La.Code Civ.P. art. 2551 mandates that theses summary proceedings should be "conducted with rapidity." We remand this case and order the trial court to conduct a hearing on the pending motions for a new trial and JNOV within forty-five (45) days of the finality of this Order.
We grant the relators' [plaintiffs'] Motion to File a Supplemental Brief; we deny the Motion for Leave to File Amicus Curiae Brief filed by the State of Louisiana, through the Office of Conservation.

         On August 31, 2017, a hearing was held on the motions for new trial and JNOV, the outcome of which is not known at this time. A hearing on attorney fees and costs was to be conducted after the trial court ruled on the motions.

         Meanwhile, in response to discovery requests related to the motion for costs and attorney fees, VPSB, the plaintiff/respondent in the instant matter, produced 153 separate spreadsheets totaling 1, 341 pages. UNOCAL complained, however, that VPSB converted the spreadsheets into non-searchable, static image files. Accordingly, UNOCAL filed a motion to compel production of the Microsoft Excel spreadsheets in its original electronic form. The motion was taken up on August 10, 2017, and subsequently denied. UNOCAL is now before this court on writs, seeking review of the trial court's ruling.

         SUPERVISORY RELIEF

         "The proper procedural vehicle to contest an interlocutory judgment that does not cause irreparable harm is an application for supervisory writs. See La. C.C.P. arts. 2087 and 2201." Brown v. Sanders, 06-1171, p. 2 (La.App. 1 Cir. 3/23/07), 960 So.2d 931, 933. But see La.Code Civ.P. art. 2083, comment (b), which provides "Irreparable injury continues to be an important (but not exclusive) ingredient in an application for supervisory writs."

         ON THE MERITS

         The issue herein is one of first impression regarding La.Code Civ.P. arts. 1461 and 1462 and the production of electronically stored information. Neither party included a copy of the discovery request sent by UNOCAL to VPSB. According to UNOCAL, the ...


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