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Safety National Casualty Corp. v. State

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

August 14, 2019

SAFETY NATIONAL CASUALTY CORPORATION, ACCREDITED SURETY & CASUALTY COMPANY, FINANCIAL CASUALTY & SURETY COMPANY AND ROCHE SURETY & CASUALTY COMPANY, INC. Plaintiffs-Appellees
v.
STATE OF LOUISIANA Defendant-Appellant

          Appealed from the Second Judicial District Court for the Parish of Bienville, Louisiana Trial Court No. 44-045 Honorable Robert W. Kostelka (Ad Hoc), Judge.

          OFFICE OF THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY SECOND JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT By: Benjamin J. Bleich Teresa C. Carroll Assistant District Attorneys Counsel for Appellant, State of Louisiana, Daniel W. Newell, District Attorney

          ELTON B. RICHEY & ASSOCIATES By: Elton B. Richey, Jr. Christina E. Hobbs Counsel for Appellees, Safety National Casualty Corporation, Accredited Surety & Casualty Company, Financial Casualty & Surety Company and Roche Surety & Casualty Company, Inc.

          JEFFREY M. LANDRY Attorney General MICHAEL S. HEIER Assistant Attorney General Counsel for Appellee, State of Louisiana

          Before WILLIAMS, PITMAN, and GARRETT, JJ.

          WILLIAMS, C.J.

         The defendant, State of Louisiana through the Office of the District Attorney for the Second Judicial District Court ("2d JDC"), appeals a judgment granting summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, Safety National Casualty Corporation, Accredited Surety & Casualty Company, Financial Casualty & Surety Company and Roche Surety & Casualty Company, Inc. The district court annulled the judgments of bond forfeiture. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         FACTS

         On September 15, 2015, the district court rendered 19 judgments of bond forfeiture sought by the 2d JDC District Attorney's office. The bonds had been issued for defendants who had failed to appear on various dates from 2007 to 2013. Later in September 2015, notices of the bond forfeiture judgments were mailed to the commercial sureties. In July 2016, the plaintiffs, Safety National Casualty Corporation, Accredited Surety & Casualty Company, Financial Casualty & Surety Company and Roche Surety & Casualty Company, Inc., filed a petition to annul the judgments of bond forfeiture against the defendant, State of Louisiana ("the State"), through the Office of the Louisiana Attorney General and the 2d JDC District Attorney's Office. Plaintiffs alleged that the judgments of bond forfeiture are nullities because the State failed to mail notice of each forfeiture judgment within 60 days of the date of the named defendant's failure to appear in court. The 2d JDC District Attorney filed exceptions of prescription and no cause of action. The Louisiana Attorney General filed exceptions of vagueness, improper joinder and no cause of action. In September 2016, plaintiffs filed an amended petition.

         In December 2016, district judges Clason, Teat and Fallin recused themselves from this matter, stating as reasons the plaintiffs' allegations of ill practices by the 2d JDC District Attorney and "the working relationship" between the district attorney and the above-named 2d JDC judges. In July 2017, Judge Kostelka was appointed to hear this matter. In September 2017, plaintiffs filed a second amended petition to remove a reference to the Bienville Parish Sheriff.

         In November 2017, the district court denied the district attorney's exception of prescription and granted the attorney general's exception of improper joinder, dismissing the Louisiana Attorney General's Office from this action. Thereafter, plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment. After a hearing, the district court found that the bond forfeiture judgments were null because they were not obtained within the statutory time period for such forfeitures. The district court rendered judgment granting plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment. The State appeals the judgment.

         DISCUSSION

         The State contends the trial court erred in denying the State's exception of prescription. The State argues that plaintiffs' action has prescribed because they did not file a summary proceeding objecting to the forfeiture judgments within 60 days of the date that notice of the judgments was mailed.

         The State must strictly comply with the provisions of the statute concerning bond forfeitures before a judgment of forfeiture can be entered. State v. Cook, 616 So.2d 272 (La.App. 2 Cir. 1993). A bond forfeiture is basically a civil proceeding subject to special rules in the Code of Criminal Procedure. State v. Cook, supra. The defendant and his sureties shall be entitled to assert defenses and actions in nullity by use of summary proceedings in the criminal matter before the trial court that issued the judgment of bond forfeiture within 60 days after the date of mailing the notice of the signing of the forfeiture judgment. La. C.Cr.P. art. 349.5(A)(1). Nullity actions pursuant to the Code of ...


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