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Lambert v. Delcarpio

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

April 24, 2019

COREY LAMBERT, SR.
v.
GLENN DELCARPIO, SHEENA SMITH, DANIEL BAKER, MARIA LANDRY, DENISE CARPENTER, CARL NINI AND DARVELL EDWARDS

          ON APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-FOURTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF JEFFERSON, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 782-893, DIVISION "D" HONORABLE SCOTT U.SCHLEGEL, JUDGE PRESIDING

          COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT, COREY LAMBERT, SR. Willie M. Zanders, Sr.

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE, GLENN DELCARPIO, SHEENA SMITH, DANIEL BAKER, MARIA LANDRY, DENISE CARPENTER, CARL NINI AND DARVELL EDWARDS Michael G. Fanning Glenn D. Price, Jr.

          Panel composed of Judges Jude G. Gravois, Marc E. Johnson, and Stephen J. Windhorst

          JUDE G. GRAVOIS, JUDGE

         Plaintiff/appellant, Corey Lambert, Sr., appeals the trial court's August 21, 2018 judgment which granted defendants' exception of no cause of action and dismissed Mr. Lambert's defamation suit against defendants with prejudice. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On April 18, 2018, Corey Lambert, Sr., former head football coach and assistant principal for discipline at John Ehret High School in Marrero, Louisiana, filed a suit for defamation naming the following members of the Jefferson Parish Public School System as defendants: Glenn Delcarpio, Sheena Smith, Daniel Baker, Maria Landry, Denise Carpenter, Darvell Edwards, and Carl Nini. The following facts and allegations were gleaned from Mr. Lambert's petition.

         On April 18, 2017, Mr. Lambert and Maria Landry, principal of John Ehret, were called to a special conference at the Jefferson Parish School Board's Central Office regarding allegations that Mr. Lambert knowingly played an ineligible student-athlete and participated in sending a falsified document identified by the Louisiana High School Athletic Association. Mr. Lambert was cleared of those allegations, however, and returned to his coaching duties.

         Subsequently, on April 19, 2017, Sheena Smith, John Ehret's Athletic Director, complained to Assistant Principal Glenn Delcarpio that she was concerned that Mr. Lambert might play an ineligible student. In response, Mr. Delcarpio contacted a former John Ehret co-worker, Carl Nini, who was serving as Athletic Director for the Jefferson Parish Public School System. Mr. Delcarpio was told by Mr. Nini to collect "letters of complaint" about Mr. Lambert. Mr. Delcarpio personally contacted John Ehret employees for "statements against Mr. Corey Lambert." On April 20, 2017, ten letters were given to Mr. Nini and Denise Carpenter, Chief of Student Support for the Jefferson Parish Public School System. Soon thereafter, Ms. Carpenter discussed the allegations against Mr. Lambert with Jefferson Parish Schools Superintendent Isaac Joseph. Ms. Carpenter was instructed by Superintendent Joseph to involve Darvell Edwards, the Executive Director of Principal Performance, in the investigation.

         On April 24, 2017, Mr. Lambert met with Ms. Landry and Mr. Delcarpio regarding unapproved purchase orders, allegations of Mr. Lambert harassing teachers, and allegations of football players not being disciplined for serious offenses. Thereafter, Mr. Lambert was suspended from his job. A due process hearing was conducted on June 6, 2017 by the School System's Department of Human Resources regarding the various allegations against Mr. Lambert; it was recommended that Mr. Lambert be terminated. By letter dated August 8, 2017, Superintendent Joseph informed Mr. Lambert that he was being terminated for "willful neglect of duty and dishonesty." Subsequently, a state mandated post-termination hearing took place in October and November 2017 before a hearing officer.

         Mr. Lambert's defamation suit alleges that the false allegations made against him resulted in his termination. Further, he asserts that defendants' false allegations against him were communicated to third parties in several ways. The petition alleges that Mr. Delcarpio, Ms. Carpenter, Ms. Smith and Ms. Landry defamed Mr. Lambert with false and malicious testimony during the public post-termination hearing. Additionally, Mr. Lambert alleged that "[f]alse and malicious letter [sic] written and solicited by Daniel Baker [an English teacher at John Ehret] were communicated to third parties and the media via hearings held October and November 2017." Mr. Lambert contended that the false and defamatory statements solicited by Mr. Delcarpio were introduced to third parties and the media via letters and testimony presented at the public hearing. Finally, Mr. Lambert alleged that defendants injured his reputation and livelihood in violation of La. C.C. art. 2315 and his 14th Amendment liberty interest in his good name and reputation.

         In response to the petition, defendants filed an exception of no cause of action, asserting that their statements and their testimony were protected by an absolute privilege since they were made during a quasi-judicial hearing or to a quasi-judicial officer charged with the duty to ascertain facts relative to the allegations of employee misconduct committed by Mr. Lambert. Specifically, defendants argued that the Jefferson Parish School Board is an administrative agency that has established written policies for its own governing, including a policy on investigations. Considering this, defendants argued that the Jefferson Parish School Board was mandated to investigate Mr. Lambert and was exercising a quasi-judicial function during its investigation.

         Following a hearing on August 21, 2018, the trial court issued a written judgment sustaining defendants' exception of no cause of action and dismissing Mr. ...


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