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Landry v. Duplechain

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

November 6, 2019

JEFF LANDRY, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
SARA DUPLECHAIN, ET AL.

          APPEAL FROM THE FIFTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF VERMILION, NO. 104, 728, DIVISION F HONORABLE DAVID MICHAEL SMITH, DISTRICT JUDGE

          Anthony Jerome Fontana, Jr. COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT: Anthony Fontana, Jr.

          Robert Lloyd Hammonds Tyrell T. Manieri, III Hammonds, Sills, Adkins & Guice, LLP COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE: Vermilion Parish School Board

          Carey T. Jones David Jeddie Smith Lauryn Anneliese Sudduth COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE: Jeff Landry, Attorney General of the State of Louisiana

          L. Lane Roy Kelly F. Walsh Brown Sims COUNSEL FOR INTERVENOR/APPELLANT: Jerome Puyau, Superintendent, Vermilion Parish School Board

          Brian F. Blackwell Blackwell And Associates COUNSEL FOR INTERVENOR/APPELLEE: Vermilion Association of Educators, Inc.

          Jonas Mark Robinson COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANTS/APPELLEES: Sara Duplechain Laura LeBeouf Kebbie Pillette

          Jonathan A. Tweedy Brown Sims COUNSEL FOR INTERVENOR/APPELLANT: Jerome Puyau, Superintendent, Vermilion Parish School Board

          Dylan T. Heard Mueller, Merritt & Heard COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANTS/APPELLANTS: Anthony Fontana, Jr. Chris Hebert Stacy Landry Chris Gautreaux

          Justin Merritt COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE: Vermilion Parish School Board

          Court composed of Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux, Chief Judge, Phyllis M. Keaty, and D. Kent Savoie, Judges.

          D. KENT SAVOIE JUDGE.

         Jerome Puyau, the Superintendent for the Vermilion Parish School Board ("School Board"), as well as other individual school board members, appeal a judgment rendered against the School Board. For the following reasons, we dismiss the appeals.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         This action arises out of the January 8, 2018 special meeting of the School Board, which was held solely to discuss and renew Mr. Puyau's contract.

         On March 8, 2018, based upon a citizen's complaint, the Attorney General, Jeff Landry ("Attorney General"), filed a petition seeking to enforce Louisiana's Open Meetings Law[1] against the School Board, Mr. Puyau, and the following individual school board members: Sara Duplechain, Anthony Fontana, Chris Gautreaux, Chris Hebert, Stacy Landry, Laura Lebeouf, J.B. Moreno, and Kibbie Pillette ("Defendants"). The petition alleged that public comment on each agenda item was not permitted as required under the Open Meetings Law. It further alleged that a teacher, Ms. Deyshia Hargrave, was prohibited from commenting on an agenda item, improperly removed from the meeting, and arrested. The petition sought a declaratory judgment finding that Defendants violated the Open Meetings Law, injunctive relief requiring Defendants to abide by the Open Meetings Law, as well as civil penalties under La.R.S. 42:28, [2] attorney fees, and costs. The petition further sought a judgment declaring

all action taken at the January 8, 2018 School Board meeting should be declared null and void and without legal effect, including, but not limited to, declaration that the contract of the parish Superintendent approved at the January 8, 2018 public meeting of the Vermilion Parish School Board is null and void and that any monies paid by way of an increase to the Superintendent's salary thereunder should be reimbursed to the School System.

         On March 12, 2018, the Vermilion Association of Educators, Inc. ("VAE") filed a petition to intervene as a plaintiff, naming as defendants the School Board, Mr. Puyau, Mr. Fontana, Mr. Gautreaux, Mr. Hebert, Mr. Landry, and Mr. Moreno. VAE sought a declaratory judgment finding that these defendants violated the Open Meetings Law and "declaring that all action taken at the January 8, 2018 special meeting of the Vermilion Parish School Board to be null, void and without legal effect." It also sought injunctive relief, civil penalties, attorney fees, and costs.

         On May 21, 2018, Mr. Puyau, along with the other Defendants, filed various exceptions, including an exception of no cause of action, asserting:

[p]laintiff has no cause of action under the Open Meetings Law ("OML") against Jerome Puyau. Plaintiff does not allege that Puyau is a member of the Board and the OML does not provide a cause of action against a person who is a public official and/or employee of the Board, such as the Board's superintendent[.]

         In opposition to Defendants' exceptions, VAE submitted a memorandum to the trial court arguing that Defendants' exception of no cause of action as to Mr. Puyau should be denied because he is required to be joined as a party under La.Code Civ.P. art. 641 given his interest in the claims seeking to void his contract.

         In response, Defendants, including Mr. Puyau, submitted an additional memorandum stating "[t]he Open Meetings Law does not provide a cause of action against a school board employee, such as its Superintendent, Jerome Puyau . . . . Nor is the ...


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