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Plaquemines Parish Government v. Williams

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

December 19, 2018

PLAQUEMINES PARISH GOVERNMENT
v.
BYRON WILLIAMS, ET AL

          APPEAL FROM 25TH JDC, PARISH OF PLAQUEMINES NO. 63-278, DIVISION "B" Honorable Michael D. Clement

          Peter A. Barbee William S. Culver, Jr. PARISH ATTORNEY' OFFICE COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT

          Michael Lawrence Mullin Betty Finley Mullin LAW OFFICES OF MICHAEL L. MULLIN COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANTS/APPELLEES

          Court composed of Judge Edwin A. Lombard, Judge Rosemary Ledet, Judge Tiffany G. Chase

          TIFFANY G. CHASE, JUDGE

         Plaquemines Parish Government (hereinafter "PPG"), seeks review of the trial court's June 18, 2018 judgment granting the motion for summary judgment filed by Byron Williams, Jr., Vernon Williams, Byron Williams, Sr., Vernon Williams Trucking Service, LLC and Byron and Vernon Enterprises, LLC (hereinafter "the defendants"). After consideration of the record before this Court, and the applicable law, we convert PPG's appeal to a writ; grant the writ; deny relief and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         Facts and Procedural History

         PPG filed suit seeking damages, losses and return of public funds on October 25, 2016, and a supplemental and amending petition on November 3, 2016, naming Byron Williams, Jr., Vernon Williams, Byron Williams, Sr., Vernon Williams Trucking Service, LLC and Byron and Vernon Enterprises, LLC as defendants. PPG alleged that Byron Williams, Jr., in his position as public works director, violated the Governmental Employee Code of Ethics by directing parish work to Vernon Williams Trucking, LLC and Byron and Vernon Enterprises, LLC, companies affiliated with the Williams family. As this matter involves an alleged violation of state nepotism laws, a brief recitation of the entities and parties involved is germane. Vernon Williams was the owner of Vernon Williams Trucking, LLC[1], co-owner of Byron and Vernon Enterprises, LLC[2] and uncle of Byron Williams, Jr. Byron Williams, Sr. was the co-owner of Byron and Vernon Enterprises, LLC and father of Byron Williams, Jr.

         PPG argued that Byron Williams, Jr. improperly received parish funds through Byron and Vernon Enterprises, LLC and that he was improperly employed by Vernon Williams Trucking, LLC while still in his position as public works director. In support of its contentions, PPG attached a September 15, 2008 invoice from Byron and Vernon Enterprises, LLC, directed to PPG. It also attached the Louisiana Board of Ethics Disclosure schedule of employment information submitted by Bryon Williams, Jr. during his run for parish president in 2014. The petitions provided that Vernon Williams Trucking Service, LLC and Byron and Vernon Enterprises, LLC were improperly conducting business with PPG from 2007 until 2014, during the tenure of Byron Williams, Jr.[3]

         PPG alleged that all the defendants committed fraud by authorizing and receiving payments in violation of the Plaquemines Parish Charter, Section 7.06(A)[4], La. R.S. 42:1111 and 42:1112. PPG further alleged that Byron Williams, Jr. committed certain acts that perpetuated misuse of public funds for personal gain and that he, along with Vernon Williams Trucking, LLC and Byron and Vernon Enterprises, LLC, improperly received money, goods, material, labor and services from PPG. It also maintained that Byron Williams, Jr. participated in the process to select and approve vendors for PPG, authorized payment to his family businesses, and was improperly employed by Vernon Williams Trucking, LLC during his tenure as public works director.

         On March 6, 2018, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that Byron Williams, Jr. did not violate the Code of Ethics of Government Employees and that the remaining defendants did not improperly receive government funds because they were not prohibited from doing business with PPG.

         In support of its motion for summary judgment, defendants submitted affidavits from Bryon Williams, Jr., Byron Williams, Sr. and Vernon Williams. The affidavit from Byron Williams, Jr. attested that he became employed with Vernon Williams Trucking, LLC after his tenure as public works director. His affidavit also stated that the signature on the September 15, 2008 invoice was not his signature[5] and that he had no knowledge of the transaction described in the invoice. Byron Williams, Sr.'s affidavit provided that he was co-owner of Byron and Vernon Enterprises, LLC, with his brother Vernon Williams. His affidavit also attested that the September 15, 2008 invoice was sent to PPG in error and that Byron and Vernon Enterprises, LLC never did business with or received payment from PPG. Vernon Williams's affidavit explained that he was the sole owner of Vernon Williams Trucking, LLC and co-owner of Byron and Vernon Enterprises, LLC. The affidavit provided that Byron and Vernon Enterprises, LLC never did business with PPG, that the September 15, 2008 invoice was sent to PPG in error, was never paid and that only his signature appears on the invoice. Additionally, the defendants submitted the deposition of Thomas Serpas, chief financial officer of PPG, and the deposition transcript of Brenda Stanifer, director of purchasing for PPG.[6]

         PPG's opposition memorandum and supplemental opposition memorandum to the motion for summary judgment maintained its position outlined in the petition for damages. It submitted various documents in opposition to the motion for summary judgment. Specifically, PPG submitted filing documents from the Louisiana Secretary of State for Vernon Williams Trucking, LLC and Byron and Vernon Enterprises, LLC.; the September 15, 2008 invoice to PPG from Byron and Vernon Enterprises, LLC; the 2014 Louisiana Board of Ethics Disclosure schedule of employment information submitted by Bryon Williams, Jr.; and the administration of operating and capital budgets in the charter for local self-government of Plaquemines Parish. Additionally, PPG provided the affidavit of Jurea LaFrance, former employee of PPG, who attested that she witnessed Byron and Vernon Trucking, LLC trucks working on a levee project while Byron Williams, Jr. was employed with PPG. It also submitted the affidavit of Edward Theriot, former president of PPG, who attested that Byron Williams, Jr. was responsible for reviewing and approving invoices during his time as public works director for PPG.

         The defendants' motion for summary judgment was heard on June 7, 2018. A judgment was issued on June 18, 2018, granting the defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismissing PPG's claim with prejudice. The trial court found that based on the exhibits attached, there was no genuine issue of material fact and defendants were entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. This appeal followed.

         Appellate ...


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