Appealed from the Twenty-First Judicial District Court In and
for the Parish of St. Helena • State of Louisiana Docket
Number 22, 103 • Division D The Honorable M. Douglas
Hughes, Judge Presiding
J. Carter Greensburg, Louisiana Michael L. Thiel DeVonna
Ponthieu Hammond, Louisiana ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT
Christopher T. Baker Bossier City, Louisiana Horatio G.
Mihet, pro hac vice Daniel J. Schmid, pro hac vice Orlando,
Florida Stephen M. Crampton, pro hac vice Mandi D. Campbell,
pro hac vice Lynchburg, Virginia ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES
DEFENDANTS- Rev. Richard Sandberg and the Moral Alliance of
Before: Welch, Chutz, and Lanier, JJ.
appeals the district court's judgment granting
attorney's fees and costs to the prevailing Defendants on
a special motion to strike. For the reasons that follow, we
vacate and remand.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
appeal arises from a defamation lawsuit. On July 31, 2013,
employing the counsel of Michael Thiel and DeVonna Ponthieu,
Plaintiff Tyrone Butler sued Defendants, Reverend Richard
Sandberg and The Moral Alliance of St. Helena. The petition
alleged that Rev. Sandberg called Mr. Butler a
"schoolyard bully" at a meeting opposing a police
jury resolution that would have exempted Mr. Butler's
business from a law restricting sexually-oriented businesses
in the parish.
September 23, 2013, Defendants filed an answer and
affirmative defenses, and simultaneously filed a special
motion to strike under La. C.C.P. art. 971. The district
court set Defendants' special motion to strike for
hearing on January 24, 2014. Mr. Butler did not file a timely
response, nor did he appear at the January 24, 2014 hearing.
The district court granted Defendants' special motion to
strike in an order signed on February 5, 2014.
February 5, 2014, Mr. Butler filed a motion to reinstate his
petition for damages, blaming his counsel's absence at
the January 24, 2014 hearing on bad weather. Therein, Mr.
Butler's counsel, Ms. Ponthieu, alleged that she informed
the district court of her absence, but that the message was
not communicated to the district court judge. On February 10,
2014, Defendants filed an opposition to Mr. Butler's
motion to reinstate the petition for damages. Thereafter, Mr.
Butler filed an opposition to Defendants' special motion
to strike on April 14, 2014. The district court struck Mr.
Butler's opposition to Defendants' special motion to
strike as "grossly untimely" and reaffirmed its
grant of Defendants' special motion to strike.
September 22, 2016, Defendants filed a motion for
attorney's fees and costs pursuant to La. C.C.P. art.
971(B). On February 9, 2017, Mr. Butler's
counsel, Michael Thiel, was suspended from the practice of
law. On May 19, 2017, Defendants moved to set a hearing on
their motion for attorney's fees and costs. On May 23,
2017, the district court granted Defendants' motion and
set a hearing on Defendants' motion for attorney's
fees and costs for August 25, 2017.
Mr. Butler nor his other attorney, Ms. Ponthieu, appeared at
the hearing on August 25, 2017. The district court granted
Defendants' motion for attorney's fees and costs and
issued a final judgement that same day, ordering Mr. Butler
to pay Defendants $55, 551.85 in attorney's fees and
costs. On September 13, 2017, Mr. Butler filed a motion for a
new trial, alleging lack of proper citation and service of
notice of the August 25, 2017 hearing. The district court
denied Mr. Butler's motion for new trial as untimely. Mr.
Butler has devolutively appealed the August 25, 2017 judgment
granting Defendants motion for attorney's fees and costs.
issue before this court is whether citation and service of
the May 23, 2017 order setting the August 25, 2017 hearing on
Defendants' motion for attorney's fees and costs was
made in accordance with state law. In his first assignment of
error, Mr. Butler contends the district court erred in
granting Defendants' motion for attorney's fees and
costs, arguing a ...