FROM THE SIXTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF ST.
MARTIN, NO. 81146 HONORABLE LORI ANN LANDRY, DISTRICT JUDGE
Charles Brandt Brandt & Sherman, L.L.P. COUNSEL FOR:
Plaintiff/Appellee - Alvin Pete
Patrick B. McIntire Oats & Marino COUNSEL FOR:
Defendant/Appellant - Ronald Theriot, Sheriff
composed of Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux, Chief Judge, Phyllis M.
Keaty, and D. Kent Savoie, Judges.
ULYSSES GENE THIBODEAUX CHIEF JUDGE
Alvin Pete, filed suit against Ronald J. Theriot, in his
official capacity as the sheriff of St. Martin Parish
(Sheriff), seeking damages for an injury he sustained to his
left eye while incarcerated in the St. Martin Parish Jail,
Breaux Bridge Substation 2 (jail). The trial court found in
favor of Mr. Pete, awarding him $50, 000.00 in general
damages. Both parties appealed. In this opinion, we have
consolidated the two appeals, 17-1131 and 17-1132. Reviewing
the record, we find that the trial court erred in failing to
apportion comparative fault and that the general damages
award was abusively low. Accordingly, we amend the judgment
to correct these errors and affirm the judgment as amended.
Sheriff entreats us to consider the following issues:
(1) To the extent that the Judgment casts the Sheriff in
liability for damages, the trial court erred by finding the
Sheriff at fault for Plaintiff's injury, including
through a failure to train, by allowing aggregate within the
trustee yard, or by failure to supervise the trustees;
(2) To the extent that the Judgment casts the Sheriff in
liability for damages, the trial court erred in failing to
apportion fault to the trustees who were throwing the rocks;
(3) The trial court erred in overruling the Sheriff's
exception of prematurity for failure to exhaust
administrative remedies, and in failing to reconsider that
ruling at trial when it was clear that the Plaintiff's
testimony had changed.
Pete asks this court to consider if the trial court committed
error in awarding only $50, 000.00 to Alvin Pete for loss of
his eyesight in his left eye.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
February 18, 2013, Mr. Pete was an inmate at the jail located
in St. Martinville, Louisiana. While working in the trustee
yard, Mr. Pete was struck in the left eye with a rock thrown
by another inmate, Freddie Handy. After evaluation of his
injuries at the jail's medical facility, Mr. Pete was
transferred to University Medical Center in Lafayette,
Louisiana, for treatment. Once there, it was determined that
the injury required specialized treatment at the Louisiana
State University Eye Clinic. On the evening of February 18,
2013, doctors performed an eight-hour surgery that resulted
in Mr. Pete losing sight and use of his left eye. Mr. Pete
returned to the jail and, after a short convalescence, he was
transferred to Hunt Correctional Center (Hunt) to serve out
the remainder of his sentence.
Pete filed his petition for damages against the Sheriff,
among other defendants, on February 11, 2014. Therein he
alleged negligence on the part of the Sheriff, "in the
following, non-exclusive particulars:"
1. failure "to properly and adequately supervise the
inmates . . . so as to avoid risk of injury
2. failure "to maintain the trustee yard . . . in a
reasonably safe condition, including having dangerous
instrumentalities present in the yard;"
3. failure "to have in place adequate policies to
protect the physical safety and welfare of inmates;"
4. failure "to adequately enforce policies and
procedures designed to protect the physical safety and
welfare of inmates; and"
5. failure "to have sufficient personnel on hand to
properly and adequately supervise the inmates while in the
response, the Sheriff filed a dilatory exception of
prematurity, alleging that Mr. Pete's claims were
premature because he had not exhausted the available
administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation
Reform Act, La.R.S. 15:1181-1191. Mr. Pete opposed the
exception, arguing that any failure to use the administrative
remedy available was due to the Sheriff's failure to
comply with his office's policy.
testimony at the hearing on the exception revealed that Mr.
Pete was booked into the jail on May 1, 2012, at which time
he received a copy of the St. Martin Parish Correctional
Center Inmate Handbook (handbook). The handbook contained the
policies and administrative remedy procedures (ARP) at issue
herein. Specifically, the handbook allowed thirty days in
which to file an ARP request, unless time was extended by
"extenuating circumstances." While suggesting a
particular form for filing grievances, the handbook did not
include an ARP request form. Major Robley Picard, who served
as the jail's warden at the time of Mr. Pete's
injury, testified that the appropriate forms were available
"on a desktop in the conference room" to which the
trustees had access, but were not in an identifiable area.
completion of an ARP request, the policy allowed for any
employee on duty to accept the form, thus beginning the
process for a complaint. The employee receiving the ARP
request was then required to deliver the form to the
warden's inbox, after which the warden had fifteen days
to respond. Major Picard further testified that there existed
no policy "where whomever received [the request] was
responsible for documenting it anywhere like [in] a log
book." He also did not have a log to document receipt of
requests; rather, he would just answer the request and put it
in the inmate's file.
Pete testified that he was aware of the ARP, which he
followed. He further testified that after asking for an ARP
request form and being told those forms were not available,
he submitted a handwritten request approximately four days
after his release from the hospital. Mr. Pete further
explained that he wrote multiple copies of his request
because he did not have access to a copy machine. He gave the
original to Deputy Ernest Singleton, kept a copy for himself,
and sent the other copies to attorneys in an effort to obtain
representation. Major Picard testified, however, that, while
he was familiar with Deputy Singleton who was employed during
this period and was capable of accepting requests, he himself
did not receive Mr. Pete's original ARP request. Deputy
Singleton was not called to testify.
taking the matter under advisement, the trial court denied
the exception finding that the Sheriff presented no evidence
to refute Mr. Pete's assertion that he followed the ARP
set forth in the handbook. The trial court reasoned:
Simply because the Warden did not receive Mr. Pete's
grievance, does not prove that Plaintiff did not file the
grievance. Additionally, the court found Plaintiff's
testimony credible and corroborated by testimony concerning
"Sergeant Singleton" by Plaintiff and the Warden.
Notwithstanding the written policy which Plaintiff admits he
received, the policy provides no method of tracking receipt
of complaint, or response to a complaint. Although the jail
utilized an employee grievance form during their
investigation of the incident, even it was not signed by the
Plaintiff. As a result of the above, the mover could not
carry the burden of his exception of prematurity and thus his
Dilatory Exception of Prematurity is DENIED.
bench trial on the merits, the unrefuted testimony
established that on the morning of February 18, 2013, Mr.
Pete's left eye was struck by a limestone rock thrown by
Mr. Handy, while Mr. Pete was walking on a pathway in the
trustee yard. The aerial view exhibits admitted into evidence
depicted the trustee yard as a general area of approximately
one acre that housed the trustees, which included three
dormitories and a conference center used by the
administration. The pathway ...