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Jackson v. Family Dollar Stores of Louisiana Inc.

Supreme Court of Louisiana

June 27, 2018

ANGELA JACKSON
v.
FAMILY DOLLAR STORES OF LOUISIANA INC., S&S JANITORIAL SERVICES, LLC, SMS ASSIST, LLC

          ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEAL, FOURTH CIRCUIT, OFFICE OF WORKERS' COMPENSATION, DISTRICT 8

          PER CURIAM.

         In this workers' compensation case, we are called upon to decide whether the employer's appeal, taken within the devolutive appeal delays but outside of the suspensive appeal delays, is timely under the special provisions of La. R.S. 23:1310.5(C). For the reasons that follow, we find the appeal should be maintained as timely, but because the appeal is devolutive in nature, the judgment awarding benefits is subject to immediate execution.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The facts of this case are largely undisputed. Claimant, Angela Jackson, was injured in the course and scope of her employment with Family Dollar Stores of Louisiana ("Family Dollar"). By judgment dated January 30, 2017, the Office of Workers' Compensation ("OWC") awarded claimant medical expenses, total temporary disability, and supplemental earnings benefits. The OWC also assessed penalties and attorney's fees against Family Dollar. Family Dollar filed a motion for new trial, which the OWC denied on March 22, 2017.

         On May 4, 2017, Family Dollar filed a motion for appeal. Family Dollar did not designate the appeal as a suspensive or a devolutive appeal.

         After the appeal was lodged, claimant filed a motion to dismiss the appeal. Citing La. R.S. 23:1310.5(C), [1] claimant argued that because the statute required the employer to post a bond in connection with a judgment awarding benefits, it followed that any appeal must be suspensive in nature. Because Family Dollar's appeal was filed outside of the suspensive appeal delays, claimant argued it was untimely.

         The court of appeal found La. R.S. 23:1310.5(C) permitted both suspensive and devolutive appeals where the claimant has been awarded benefits, but required a bond in such appeals. It further found the delay for posting the bond does not begin to run until the appellant gets notification of the amount of the bond. Because no bond had yet been set or posted, the court of appeal determined that it could not entertain the appeal, and therefore remanded the case to the OWC for purposes of compliance with La. R.S. 23:1310.5(C). Jackson v. Family Dollar Stores of Louisiana, Inc., 17-0712 (La.App. 4th Cir. 1/5/18), __So.3d__.

         Upon claimant's application, we granted certiorari to consider the correctness of that decision. Jackson v. Family Dollar Stores of Louisiana, Inc., 18-0170 (La. 4/18/18), __So.3d__. The sole issue presented for our consideration is whether Family Dollar's appeal is timely.

         DISCUSSION

         In Pierce Foundations, Inc. v. Jaroy Constr., Inc., 15-0785 (La. 5/3/16), 190 So.3d 298, 303, we summarized the relevant principles of statutory construction as follows:

Legislation is the solemn expression of the legislative will; thus, the interpretation of legislation is primarily the search for the legislative intent. Cat's Meow, Inc. v. City of New Orleans, 98-0601, p. 15 (La. 10/20/98), 720 So.2d 1186, 1198; La. Safety Ass'n of Timbermen Self-Insurers Fund v. La. Ins. Guar. Ass'n, 09-0023, p. 8 (La. 6/26/09), 17 So.3d 350, 355-56. See also La. R.S. 24:177(B)(1). When a law is clear and unambiguous, and its application does not lead to absurd consequences, it shall be applied as written, with no further interpretation made in search of the legislative intent. La. R.S. 1:4. The starting point for interpretation of any statute is the language of the statute itself. See, e.g., Cat's Meow, 98-0601, p. 15, 720 So.2d at 1198; Timbermen, 09-0023, p. 8, 17 So.3d at 356. Additionally, "all laws pertaining to the same subject matter must be interpreted in pari materia, or in reference to each other." See, e.g., State v. Williams, 10-1514 (La. 3/15/11), 60 So.3d 1189, 1191; La. C.C. art. 13. When, on the other hand, a statute is not clear and unambiguous, or its application leads to absurd consequences, we rely on secondary rules of statutory interpretation to discern the meaning of the statute at issue. See Red Stick Studio Dev., L.L.C. v. State ex rel. Dep't of Econ. Dev., 10-0193, p. 10 (La. 1/19/11), 56 So.3d 181, 187-88 (quotation omitted). In such cases, the statute "must be interpreted as having the meaning that best conforms to the purpose of the law. Moreover, when the words of a law are ambiguous, their meaning must be sought by examining the context in which they occur and the text of the law as a whole." Id.

         With these principles in mind, we now turn to an examination of the relevant sections of La. R.S. 23:1310.5, which provides in pertinent part:

B. The decision of the workers' compensation judge shall be final unless an appeal is made to the appropriate circuit court of appeal. An appeal which suspends the effect or execution of an appealable judgment or order must be filed within thirty days. An appeal which does not suspend the effect or execution of an appealable judgment or order must be filed within sixty days. The delay for filing an appeal commences to run on the day after the judgment was signed or on the day after the district office has mailed the notice of judgment as required by Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure Article 1913, whichever is later. Motions for new trial shall be entertained in disputes filed under this Chapter. The delay for filing an appeal when a motion for new trial has been filed shall be governed by the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure.
C. When there has been an award of benefits by the workers' compensation judge, no appeal by an employer shall be entertained by the appellate court unless the employer secures a bond with one or more sureties to be approved by the workers' compensation judge, guaranteeing that the employer will pay the amount of the award rendered therein together with interest thereon as otherwise provided by law, and all costs of the proceeding. The time limits for perfecting the bond shall be as provided in the Code of Civil Procedure, but shall not commence to run against the appellant until the appellant is notified by the workers' compensation judge as to the amount of the bond fixed in accordance with law. [emphasis added].

         While we acknowledge La. R.S. 23:1310.5 is not a model of legislative clarity, some broad conclusions may be drawn from its language. At the outset, we observe La. R.S. 23:1310.5(B) expressly recognizes two types of appeals: (1) an appeal which suspends the effect or execution of an appealable judgment or order and must be filed within thirty days; and (2) an appeal which does not suspend the effect or execution of an appealable judgment or order and must be filed within sixty days. Notably, there is no reference in La. R.S. 23:1310.5(B) to any bond requirement. However, La. R.S. 23:1310.5(C) sets forth a special provision for those cases where the OWC has awarded benefits. In such cases, the statute provides no appeal by an employer shall be "entertained" by the appellate court unless the employer secures a bond guaranteeing that the employer will pay the amount of the award plus interest and costs.

         Nothing in La. R.S. 23:1310.5(C) specifies the time period in which this appeal must be filed. Most significantly, there is no language indicating the appeal under this subsection has the effect of suspending the execution of the judgment. This omission stands in stark contrast to La. Code Civ. P. art. 2123(A), which refers to "an appeal that suspends the effect or the execution of an appealable order or judgment. . . ."

         However, claimant asserts that by referencing a bond, the statute must implicitly limit the employer to a suspensive appeal. We do not find the reference to a bond in La. R.S. 23:1310.5(C) compels the conclusion that the legislature intended for the appeal to be suspensive. We are aware of no principle of law which holds that a bond requirement is exclusive to suspensive appeals. Indeed, it is noteworthy that prior to 1977, bonds were required in both suspensive and devolutive appeals. See Killeen v. Jenkins, 98-2675 (La. 11/5/99), 752 So.2d 146 (explaining that initially "a bond was required for the prosecution of all appeals, whether suspensive or devolutive," but "in 1977, the legislature amended La. Code Civ. P. art. 2124 to provide that no security is required for a devolutive appeal."). Thus, we do not believe the mere reference to a bond in La. R.S. 23:1310.5(C) compels the conclusion that the legislature anticipated the employer's appeal would be limited to a suspensive appeal.

         Moreover, in the absence of any specific statutory language to the contrary, we do not believe there is any basis to find the court of appeal lacks jurisdiction to consider an appeal which has been filed within the devolutive appeal delays. In Baton Rouge Bank & Trust Co. v. Coleman, 582 So.2d 191, 192 (La. 1991), we explained that the failure to file a suspensive appeal timely does not result in a jurisdictional defect which precludes the court from hearing an appeal which has otherwise been filed within the devolutive appeal delays:

Thus, when an appellant fails to file a devolutive appeal from a final judgment timely, the judgment acquires the authority of the thing adjudged, and the court of appeal has no jurisdiction to alter that judgment. However, when an appellant fails to file a suspensive appeal from a final judgment timely, the judgment does not thereby acquire the authority of the thing adjudged, and the court of appeal does have jurisdiction to reverse, revise or modify the judgment (as long as the appeal was filed within the time limit for appealing devolutively). [italics in original; boldfacing added].

         Claimant's argument is contrary to this bedrock principle of appellate law and would incorrectly accord jurisdictional status to a suspensive appeal. The language of La. R.S. 23:1310.5(C) also makes it clear that the statute does not contemplate dismissal of the appeal as a remedy for the employer's failure to file the bond. Rather, the statute provides no appeal by an employer shall be "entertained" unless the employer secures a bond. The word "entertain" is defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as "to receive and take into consideration." Therefore, rather than creating a jurisdictional defect mandating dismissal of the appeal, the failure to file the bond constitutes a procedural defect preventing the court of appeal from considering the appeal until the bond is posted. See Hurst v. Arabi Taxi and Delivery Serv., 96-108, pp. 2-3 (La.App. 5th Cir. 5/28/96), 675 So.2d 1210, 1211 (holding the appeal was "premature" until there has been compliance with the requirements of La. R.S. 23:1310.5(C)).

         Claimant's argument also runs contrary to the well-settled principle that appeals are favored in the law. Unless the ground urged for dismissal is free from doubt, the appeal should be maintained. U.S. Fire Insurance Co. v. Swann, 424 So.2d 240, 244-45 (La.1982). Without specific and explicit legislative authority requiring the appeal to be ...


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