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State v. Louisiana Land & Exploration Co.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

May 15, 2019

STATE OF LOUISIANA AND THE VERMILION PARISH SCHOOL BOARD
v.
LOUISIANA LAND & EXPLORATION CO., ET AL.

          APPEAL FROM THE FIFTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF VERMILION, No. 82162 HONORABLE JEROME M. WINSBERG, DISTRICT JUDGE AD HOC

          Michael R. Phillips Claire E. Juneau Jeffery J. Gelpi Kean Miller LLP, L. Victor Gregoire, Robert E. Meadows Carol M. Wood Andrew M. Stakelum King & Spalding LLP Attorneys for Defendants/Respondents: Union Oil Company of California and Chevron U.S.A., Inc.

          Donald T. Carmouche Victor L. Marcello John H. Carmouche William R. Coenen, III Todd J. Wimberly Ross J. Donnes D. Adele Owen Leah C. Poole Caroline H. Martin Talbot, Carmouche & Marcello, Jerold Edward Knoll The Knoll law Firm, L.L.C., Grady J. Abraham Attorney at Law, Kathy Boudreaux Attorney Attorneys for Plaintiffs/Applicants: Vermilion Parish School Board and the State of Louisiana

          Court composed of Sylvia R. Cooks, John D. Saunders and Billy H. Ezell, Judges. EZELL, J., concurs.

          SYLVIA R. COOKS JUDGE

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The State of Louisiana (the State) and the Vermilion Parish School Board (VPSB) sued various defendants including Union Oil Company of California (UNOCAL) seeking remediation of the Sixteenth Section school lands in Vermilion Parish. The land is owned by the State and is managed by VPSB. UNOCAL admitted it was responsible for environmental damage to the property.

         In May of 2015, a jury returned a multi-million-dollar verdict awarding damages to the plaintiffs in addition to remediation. In accordance with the 2006 version of La.R.S. 30:29, the matter was referred to the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, Office of Conservation (LDNR), for a public hearing. LDNR rejected both parties' plans and structured its own plan identified as the LDNR Most Feasible Plan (the Plan), which was subsequently adopted by the trial court. This court affirmed the trial court ruling[1] and the Louisiana Supreme Court denied writs. LDNR noted the parties agreed that the soil and/or sediment around the areas of Tank Battery A and Battery B, and the groundwater are contaminated by exploration and production waste. They disagreed as to the degree of the contamination and the remedy required. The initial cost estimate for the Plan was $1, 411, 190.00.

         The only remaining issues are Plaintiffs' claim for attorney fees and costs. In pursuit of those claims the State and VPSB propounded discovery to UNOCAL and Chevron[2] on August 20, 2018, seeking information concerning the amount of money expended to date by UNOCAL to implement the Plan, the scope of the work performed, and the identity of all persons and contractors associated with implementing the Plan, along with supporting documents. UNOCAL objected to the interrogatories and request for production of documents asserting they are overly broad, unduly burdensome, and not likely to lead to discoverable information. UNOCAL maintains that because the case is over there should no longer be any discovery in the matter.

         The State and VPSB filed a motion to compel which was denied in open court. No written judgment was issued. They timely filed an application for supervisory writs to this court.

         Analysis

         Under Rivet v. State Department of Transportation & Development, 96-145 (La. 9/5/96), 680 So.2d 1154 (La.1996), three of the important factors in determining the reasonableness of attorney fees are 1) the ultimate result obtained; 2) the responsibility incurred; and 3) the amount of money involved.

Regardless of the language of the statutory authorization for an award of attorney fees or the method employed by a trial court in making an award of attorney fees, courts may inquire as to the reasonableness of attorney fees as part of their prevailing, inherent authority to regulate the practice of law. State, DOTD v. Williamson,597 So.2d 439, 441-42 (La.1992) and cases cited therein. This court has previously noted that factors to be taken into consideration in determining the reasonableness of attorney fees include: (1) the ultimate result obtained; (2) the responsibility incurred; (3) the importance of the litigation; (4) the amount of money involved; (5) the extent and character of the work performed; (6) the legal knowledge, attainment, and skill of ...

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