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Bagot v. James Holdings, LLC

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

December 20, 2017

RICHARD BAGOT, JOAN BAGOT, WILSON REVELLE, DARLA REVELLE, MARK GUILLOTE, AND LASHAN GUILLOTE, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED
v.
JAMES HOLDINGS, LLC, VOLKERT, INC., PARISH OF JEFFERSON AND THE STATE OF LOUISIANA THROUGH THE LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION AND DEVELOPMENT

         ON APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-FOURTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF JEFFERSON, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 734-522, DIVISION "O" HONORABLE DANYELLE M. TAYLOR, JUDGE PRESIDING

          COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE, RICHARD BAGOT, JOAN BAGOT, MARK GUILLOTE, AND LASHAN GUILLOTE, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED Scott R. Bickford Lawrence J. Centola, III Neil F. Nazareth Spencer R. Doody Jason Z. Landry

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT, JAMES HOLDING, LLC Thomas G. Buck Brett W. Tweedel

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT, VOLKERT, INC. Daniel J. Caruso Susan M. Caruso

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT, STATE OF LOUISIANA, THROUGH THE LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION AND DEVELOPMENT A. Jacob Culotta, Jr.

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT, LAFARGE NORTH AMERICA, INC. Joseph M. Guillot

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT, THREE C'S PROPERTIES, INC. Robert E. Birtel

          Panel composed of Judges Jude G. Gravois, Robert A. Chaisson, and Stephen J. Windhorst.

          ROBERT A. CHAISSON JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs, who are homeowners on Elizabeth Street in Metairie, brought this action for damages allegedly caused to their homes by heavy trucks using their street during an I-10 construction project in 2013. Homeowners Richard Bagot, Joan Bagot, Mark Guillote and Lashan Guillote brought this suit as putative class representatives against James Holdings, L.L.C., Volkert, Inc., Three C's Properties, State of Louisiana Department of Transportation, and Lefarge North America seeking class certification for all property owners on Elizabeth Street whose properties were similarly damaged. Defendants now appeal a September 1, 2016 judgment of the trial court which granted plaintiffs' motion for class certification. For the following reasons, we vacate the judgment of the trial court and remand this case for further proceedings.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On January 10, 2014, plaintiffs filed a class action petition wherein they alleged that defendants caused them property damage, diminution of property value, mental anguish, and emotional distress due to the constant vibrations and impact of heavy trucks travelling to and from the construction site of an I-10 widening project over the course of approximately nine months in 2013. The petition specifically sets forth causes of action under claims of negligence, inverse condemnation, and negligence per se. Defendants filed their answer to the petition wherein they denied plaintiffs' allegations.

         Following a period of discovery, on August 24 and 25, 2016, the trial court held a hearing on the motion for class certification filed by plaintiffs. At the hearing, the trial court heard testimony from putative class representatives Richard Bagot, Joan Bagot, Mark Guillote, and Lashan Guillote, as well as four engineering experts. Following the hearing, the trial court granted plaintiffs' motion for class certification, which ruling is reflected in its written judgment of September 1, 2016.[1] The trial court assigned as reasons for judgment those statements made from the bench at the end of the hearing on the motion to certify the class, wherein the trial judge made the following particular findings: 39 to 40 potential plaintiffs creates a presumption that joinder would be impractical; testimony at the hearing established adequacy of class representation and definability, particularly in that the class would be limited in geographical area to homeowners with lots on or adjacent to Elizabeth Street between I-10 and Veterans Memorial Boulevard for the period beginning February 1, 2013, and ending December 31, 2013; and there exist common questions of law and fact between all potential plaintiffs in that all of the homes in question sit on the same soil, are of the same construction, and are all of equal distance from the road. The trial court found that plaintiffs met their burden by a preponderance of the evidence, and proceeded to certify the class, noting that certification could change in the future as more facts become known. No findings were made regarding whether the questions of law or fact common to members of the class predominated over any questions affecting only individual members or whether the class action is superior to other available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy.

         In their timely filed appeal, defendants raise the following assignments of error:

1) The trial court erred in finding plaintiffs met their burden of proof regarding threshold requirements of numerosity, commonality, typicality and adequacy of representation as required under La. C.C.P. art. 591(A).
2) The trial court erred in failing to consider the provisions of La. C.C.P. art. 591(B) in determining whether the proposed class meets the requirements for class action certification.

         We consider these assignments of error in our discussion below.

         DISCUSSION

         In reviewing a judgment on class certification, the district court's factual findings are subject to the manifest error standard of review, while the court's ultimate decision regarding whether to certify the class is reviewed under the abuse of discretion standard. Price v. Martin, 11-853 (La. 12/6/11), 79 So.3d 960, 967. Whether the district court applied the correct legal standard in determining whether to certify the class is reviewed de novo. Id.

         The only issue to be considered by the trial court when ruling on class certification, and by an appellate court on review, is whether the case at bar is one in which the procedural device is appropriate. Baker v. PHC-Minden, L.P., 14-2243 (La. 5/05/15), 167 So.3d 528, 537. In determining the propriety of such action, the court is not concerned with whether plaintiffs have stated a cause of action or the likelihood they will ultimately prevail on the merits, but whether the statutory requirements have been met. Id. The requirements for certification of the class are set forth in La. C.C.P. art. 591, which states, in part:

A. One or more members of a class may sue or be sued as representative parties on ...

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