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Duhe v. St. John Baptist Parish Sheriff's Department

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

April 11, 2018

KEVIN DUHE
v.
ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT AND SHERIFF WAYNE JONES

          ON APPEAL FROM THE FORTIETH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 62, 881, DIVISION "C" HONORABLE J. STERLING SNOWDY, PRESIDING JUDGE

          COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT, KEVIN DUHE Robert R. Faucheux, Jr.

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE, ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT AND SHERIFF WAYNE JONES Fred Schroeder, II Craig E. Frosch

          Panel composed of Judges Marc E. Johnson, Hans J. Liljeberg, and Marion F. Edwards, Judge Pro Tempore

          HANS J. LILJEBERG JUDGE.

         Plaintiff appeals a trial court judgment, dismissing his case without prejudice, due to lack of subject matter jurisdiction. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff, Kevin Duhe, filed this lawsuit against the St. John the Baptist Sheriff's Department ("the Department") and Sheriff Mike Tregre[1] for damages he allegedly sustained while in the custody of the Department. On or about February 16, 2011, Mr. Duhe was arrested on charges of domestic abuse and booked at the St. John the Baptist Parish Jail. Mr. Duhe claims that while he was an inmate at the jail, he requested that he be administered his anti-seizure medication, but the "jailer" refused to provide him with his medication and yelled obscenities at him. According to Mr. Duhe, he was brought to the hospital later that evening after he had a seizure and fell to the floor, striking his head. He asserts that he sustained severe personal injuries as a result of the seizure, which he claims was caused by the Department's negligence in failing to provide the necessary medical treatment and medications.

         Defendants answered the lawsuit, generally denying the allegations of the petition and asserting several defenses, including that plaintiff failed to exhaust the available administrative remedies before filing suit.

         A bench trial was held on January 4, 2017. At trial, the trial court heard testimony from Mr. Duhe and Lieutenant Gloria Tassin of the St. John Sheriff's Office. Several exhibits, including depositions and medical records, were also admitted into evidence. At the conclusion of the trial, the parties were granted additional time to submit post-trial memoranda. Thereafter, the trial court took the matter under advisement.

         On March 24, 2017, the trial court issued a judgment, along with reasons, dismissing Mr. Duhe's lawsuit without prejudice on the grounds that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear the case or review any claim or grievance. Mr. Duhe filed a Motion for New Trial, which was denied by the trial court on April 20, 2017. Mr. Duhe now appeals.

         LAW AND DISCUSSION

         On appeal, Mr. Duhe asserts that the trial court erred in determining that the Louisiana Corrections Administrative Remedy Procedure ("CARP"), La. R.S. 15:1171, et seq., divested it of original jurisdiction over his tort suit. He argues that in Pope v. State, 99-2559 (La. 6/29/01), 792 So.2d 713, CARP was deemed unconstitutional insofar as it divested district courts of original jurisdiction over tort claims. Mr. Duhe further contends that in rendering a final judgment in favor of defendants, the trial court ignored the trial testimony and evidence clearly establishing his right to relief.

         Defendants respond that the limited issue with CARP that was identified as problematic in Pope, supra, has been cured since that ruling, and that the provisions of CARP require dismissal of this case for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. They further note that in addition to citing the provisions of CARP in support of its ruling, the trial court also cited the provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), which lead to the same result.

         Jurisdiction is the legal power and authority of a court to hear and determine an action of the parties and to grant the relief to which they are entitled. La. C.C.P. art. 1. Subject matter jurisdiction is the legal power and authority of a court to hear and determine a particular class of actions or proceedings, based upon the object of the demand, the amount in dispute, or the value of the right asserted. La. C.C.P. art. 2. The issue of subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time or at any stage of the proceedings. Dickens v. La. Corr. Inst. For Women, 11-176 (La.App. 1 Cir. 9/14/11), 77 So.3d 70, 73. Moreover, it is the duty of a court to examine subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte, even when the issue is not raised by the litigants. Boudreaux v. Dept. of Transp. and Dev., 01-1329 (La. 2/26/02), 815 So.2d 7, 13.

         Pursuant to the provisions of CARP, the Department of Public Safety and Corrections ("DPSC") and each sheriff may adopt and implement an administrative remedy procedure for receiving, hearing, and disposing of any and all complaints and grievances by offenders against the state, the Department or its employees, or a sheriff or employees, arising while the offender is in custody. La. R.S. 15:1171; Collins v. Vanny, 14-675 (La.App. 1 Cir. 1/15/15), 169 So.3d 405, 406. La. R.S. 15:1174(2) defines "offender" as "an adult or juvenile offender who is in the physical or legal custody of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, a contractor operating a private prison facility, or a sheriff when the basis for the complaint or grievance arises." La. R.S. 15:1174(2) further provides that any subsequent event, including release from custody, shall not affect a person's status as an "offender."

         The procedures adopted by the DPSC or sheriff are the exclusive remedies for handling the complaints and grievances to which they apply. La. R.S. 15:1171; Collins, supra. If an inmate fails to exhaust available administrative remedies, the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to review the claim. Dickens, 77 So.3d at 75; Swanson ...


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