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State v. City of New Orleans

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

February 20, 2019

STATE OF LOUISIANA, THROUGH ORLEANS PARISH CRIMINAL DISTRICT COURT, CLERK OF COURT ARTHUR MORRELL
v.
CITY OF NEW ORLEANS, THROUGH ITS MAYOR MITCHELL J. LANDRIEU

          APPEAL FROM CIVIL DISTRICT COURT, ORLEANS PARISH NO. 2018-03398, DIVISION "C" Honorable Sidney H. Cates, Judge.

          MARDO BANDARIES MADRO BANDARIES, P.L.C. P.O. and ARTHUR MORRELL Clerk of Court Criminal District Court, COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT.

          DANIEL T. SMITH ASSISTANT CITY ATTORNEY CORWIN ST. RAYMOND DEPUTY CITY ATTORNEY CHURITA A. HANSELL CHIEF DEPUTY CITY ATTORNEY CHERRELL S. TAPLIN SR. CHIEF CITY ATTORNEY SUNNI J. LEBOUF CITY ATTORNEY, COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE.

          Court composed of Chief Judge James F. McKay III, Judge Edwin A. Lombard, Judge Regina Bartholomew-Woods.

          JAMES F. MCKAY III CHIEF JUDGE

         The plaintiff, State of Louisiana, through Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, Clerk of Court, Arthur Morrell, appeals the trial court's July 10, 2018 judgment in favor of the defendant, the City of New Orleans, through its Mayor, Mitchell J. Landrieu, which denied plaintiff's petition for declaratory judgment. For the reasons that follow, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and grant the declaratory relief sought by the plaintiff.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         By way of background, the City of New Orleans and the Clerk of Criminal District Court have been involved in a dispute over the proper funding of the Clerk's office since 2012. The dispute is contentious and the parties have been before this Court on several occasions.[1]

         After becoming aware that the invoice from his auditors in the amount of $40, 000.00 had not been paid by the City, the Clerk sent a demand to the City requesting that it pay the billing, as had been done in the past. The request provided a March 26, 2018 reply date. The date passed with no reply. Thereafter, the Clerk filed the present lawsuit.

         On April 6, 2018, the Clerk filed a petition for declaratory judgment, arguing that the City unlawfully refused to pay for the Clerk's annual audit for the 2016 fiscal year. The Clerk argued that the City's refusal caused the Clerk's auditor to delay conducting the Clerk's fiscal year 2017 audit, which is required by state law. The Clerk also argued that the City's refusal was unlawful because La. R.S. 13:1381.7 requires the City to pay the Clerk's expenses. Finally, the Clerk claimed that the City was responsible for the audit expense because the City had historically paid for it.

         On April 18, 2018, the City moved to transfer the matter to the same division that had heard the previous litigation regarding the Clerk's budget, while the Clerk opposed such transfer. The district court heard the motion to transfer on June 14, 2018, and granted it on June 25, 2018. At the Clerk's urging, the district court set an expedited hearing on the merits.

         The matter came on for trial on June 27, 2018. Three witnesses were called to testify at trial, all by the Clerk. The witnesses were: Cary Grant, Assistant Chief Administrative Officer for the City of New Orleans; Alisha Brumfield, Judicial Administrator of Criminal District Court; and Arthur Morrell, Clerk of Criminal District Court. Following trial, a judgment was issued on July 10, 2018, "denying the Petition for Declaratory Judgment [of the Clerk] and dismissing these proceedings, with each party to bear its own costs." It is from this judgment that the Clerk appeals.

         DISCUSSION

         On appeal, the plaintiff raises the following assignments of error: 1) the trial court was manifestly in error in its July 10, 2018 judgment denying the Clerk's declaratory judgment based on its finding of fact in its "reasons" that "[t]here was no evidence presented that the City of New Orleans historically pays the expenses for the annual audit of the Clerk of Criminal District Court's office"; and 2) the trial court was manifestly in error in its July 10, 2018 judgment denying the Clerk's declaratory judgment in its findings of fact that "there is nothing in La. R.S. 13:1381.7, or any state ...


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