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Alost v. Lawler

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

May 8, 2019

TERENCE ALOST, M.D.
v.
DANNY LAWLER, DANNY LAWLER ENTERPRISES, L.L.C. AND WILLIS-KNIGHTON MEDICAL CENTER

          Appealed from the 19th Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge State of Louisiana Case No. 665848 The Honorable Richard M. Moore, Judge Presiding

          T. Jordan Alost Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellant

          Ronald J. Miciotto Counsel for Defendant/Appellee Danny Lawler and Danny Lawler Enterprises, LLC

          Lamar P. Pugh Robert G. Pugh, III Counsel for Defendant/Appellee Willis -Knighton Medical Center

          BEFORE: GUIDRY, THERIOT, AND PENZATO, JJ.

          THERIOT, J.

         Terence Alost, M.D. appeals the Nineteenth Judicial District Court's judgment granting Willis-Knighton Medical Center's exceptions of improper cumulation of actions and improper venue, and Danny Lawler and Danny Lawler Enterprises, L.L.C.'s exception of improper venue and motion for forum non conveniens. For the following reasons, we affirm in part as amended, reverse in part, and remand this matter to the Nineteenth Judicial District Court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On October 14, 2017, shortly after 1:OO p.m., Joe Lawler was transported via ambulance to the Willis-Knighton Bossier Emergency Department, located in Shreveport, Louisiana. The Willis-Knighton Bossier Emergency Department is owned and operated by Willis-Knighton Medical Center ("Willis-Knighton"), which also employs the hospital's staff. At this time, Terence Alost, M.D. ("Dr. Alost") was working as a physician in the Willis-Knighton Bossier Emergency Department. Joe Lawler was seen by Dr. Alost shortly after arriving, but was not admitted into the hospital until after 5:00 p.m. Joe Lawler's son, Danny Lawler ("Mr. Lawler"), arrived at the hospital after his father was brought in but before his father was admitted. While waiting with his father, Mr. Lawler created a Facebook post about the poor service his father had allegedly received at the Willis-Knighton Bossier Emergency Department.

         Dr. Alost claims that, on October 19, 2017, his supervisor brought Mr. Lawler's Facebook post to his attention. Subsequently, in the October 20-26, 2017 issue of The Inquisitor, a publication owned and operated by Mr. Lawler, an article written by Mr. Lawler titled "Untold Horror Stories of the ER" was published. In the article, Mr. Lawler alleged that several hours had passed before his father was seen by an emergency room ("ER") doctor. Mr. Lawler also claimed that the nurses at Willis-Knighton told him that Dr. Alost was the "worst" doctor at the hospital. The article included allegations made by others involving their own bad experiences at Willis-Knighton; these allegations seem to have come in part from comments on Mr. Lawler's Facebook post. One of these allegations was that "the ER doctor" had been rude. Another claimed that Dr. Alost had insulted and belittled a patient who feared that she was having a heart attack. The article then reiterated that the service provided by Dr. Alost had been "poor".

         On January 30, 2018, Dr. Alost filed a petition for damages against Mr. Lawler, Danny Lawler Enterprises, L.L.C.[1] (collectively "the Lawler defendants") and Willis-Knighton. In his petition, Dr. Alost claimed that any negative comments about him made by a nurse employed by Willis-Knighton were made with malice, knowledge of the statement's falsity, reckless disregard for the truth, or negligence.[2] Dr. Alost alleged the same of the stories posted in Mr. Lawler's article. Dr. Alost further claimed that his employment with Willis-Knighton was terminated shortly after the article was published. Dr. Alost alleged that, as a result of the publication, he sustained damages in East Baton Rouge Parish and "endured the loss of the public's goodwill, damage to his professional reputation, loss of past and future income, pain and suffering, and emotional distress." This petition was filed in the Nineteenth Judicial District Court in East Baton Rouge Parish.

         On March 16, 2018, Willis-Knighton filed a dilatory exception of improper cumulation of actions and a declinatory exception of venue. Willis-Knighton argued that Dr. Alost failed to name a cause of action anywhere in his lawsuit. Accordingly, Willis-Knighton asserted that the only possible claims Dr. Alost could be attempting to assert would be a breach of contract claim against Willis-Knighton because of his termination, and a defamation lawsuit against the Lawler defendants. Willis-Knighton alleged that Dr. Alost's legal arguments against Willis-Knighton and his legal arguments against the Lawler defendants were independent from one another and based on separate and distinct fact patterns. As such, Willis-Knighton asserted that Dr. Alost had improperly cumulated his action against the Lawler defendants with his action against Willis-Knighton. Willis-Knighton also challenged Dr. Alost's choice of venue, arguing that venue would be more appropriate in Caddo Parish or Bossier Parish rather than in East Baton Rouge Parish.

         On March 23, 2018, the Lawler defendants filed a declinatory exception of improper venue and a motion for forum non conveniens. In a supporting memorandum, the Lawler defendants asserted that the proper venue for Dr. Alost's lawsuit was Caddo Parish, not East Baton Rouge Parish. Alternatively, the Lawler defendants argued that East Baton Rouge Parish is a forum non conveniens, because the majority of the witnesses, parties, and evidence are located in Caddo Parish and Bossier Parish. On March 23, 2018, the Lawler defendants filed a dilatory exception of improper cumulation of actions, asserting essentially the same arguments as Willis-Knighton.

         On May 4, 2018, the trial court signed a judgment that granted Willis-Knighton's exceptions of improper cumulation of actions and improper venue, as well as the Lawler defendants' exception of improper venue and motion for forum non conveniens[3] The trial court dismissed Dr. Alost's action, without prejudice, at his cost. Dr. Alost filed a motion for new trial on May 15, 2018, which was denied. This appeal followed.

         ASSIGNMENT ...


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