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Bannister v. SFB Companies, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

November 15, 2019

DANIEL E. BANNISTER
v.
SFB COMPANIES, INC. OF DELAWARE, ET AL.

          ON APPLICATION FOR SUPERVISORY REVIEW FROM THE NINETEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT NUMBER 660562, SECTION 24, PARISH OF EAST BATON ROUGE STATE OF LOUISIANA HONORABLE ROBERT D. DOWNING, JUDGE AD HOC

          Matthew C. Clark Frank J. Swarr Mickey P. Landry Philip C. Hoffinan New Orleans, Louisiana Counsel for Respondents -Appellees Patricia Ann Bannister, Shannon Rose Jordan, Daniel E. Bannister, Jr., Dolphus Jacob Bannister, Anna Kay Springer, and Grayson Humble Bannister

          Bruce A. Cranner Patrice W. Oppenheim Molly L. Manieri Mandeville, Louisiana Counsel for Relator -Appellant SYSTRA Engineering, Inc.

          BEFORE: McDONALD, THERIOT, AND CHUTZ, JJ.

          CHUTZ, J.

         Relator-defendant, SYSTRA Engineering, Inc. (SYSTRA), seeks review of the trial court's judgment, overruling its declinatory exception raising the objection of lack of jurisdiction over its person and requiring it to appear in this litigation instituted by decedent, Daniel E. Bannister. We dismiss the appeal, grant the writ, reverse the trial court's judgment, and render judgment.

         BACKGROUND

         Mr. Bannister filed a petition for damages against numerous defendants, alleging tortious exposure to asbestos and subsequent contraction of mesothelioma. After his death, his heirs, respondents-plaintiffs, Patricia Ann Bannister, Shannon Rose Jordan, Daniel E. Bannister, Jr., Dolphus Jacob Bannister, Anna Kay Springer, and Grayson Humble Bannister, were substituted as proper-party plaintiffs.

         SYSTRA was named as a defendant in amending petitions. Without answering the lawsuit, SYSTRA filed a declinatory exception raising the objection of lack of jurisdiction over the person, challenging the propriety of the Louisiana court's jurisdiction over it.

         On September 17, 2018, a hearing was held on the declinatory exception. The matter was submitted, but the trial court left the record open for additional briefing. After another hearing, on December 20, 2018, the trial court denied SYSTRA's exception in open court.

         The trial court signed a judgment on January 9, 2019 to reflect its ruling in open court. SYSTRA both appealed and filed a notice of intent to apply for supervisory writs. Thereafter, on February 12, 2019, the trial court signed an amended judgment certifying its prior judgment, in pertinent part, as follows:

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that this Court finds that this Judgment should be designated as a final judgment pursuant to La. C.C.P. art. 1915 because there is no just reason for delay for the appellate court to determine whether this Court can exercise personal jurisdiction over [SYSTRA] and because irreparable damage will be done if the decision about personal jurisdiction is delayed.

         After both the writ application and the appeal had been lodged, the Bannisters filed a motion to dismiss the appeal, asserting that SYSTRA's only remedy was review of the underlying ruling pursuant to its writ application since the interlocutory judgment rendered by the trial court, overruling the exception of lack of personal jurisdiction, was not appealable. In similar manner, this court issued an order noting that the judgment overruling the exception did not appear to be a final, appealable ruling and directed the parties to show cause why the appeal should not be dismissed. SYSTRA's writ application along with the Bannisters' motion to dismiss and this court's show cause order were referred to this panel for decision. See Bannister v. SFB Companies, 2019-0079 (La.App. 1st Cir. 3/21/19 and 5/28/19) (unpublished orders).

         APPELLATE REVIEW

         Under Louisiana law, a final judgment is one which determines the merits of a controversy, in whole or in part. La. C.C.P. art. 1841. Clearly, the judgment denying the exception in this case does not determine the merits in whole or in part and is not a final judgment. Moreover, it is ...


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