617 So.2d 880 (La. 1993), 92-C-1328, Stobart v. State Through Dept. of Transp. and Development

Docket Nº92-C-1328.
Citation617 So.2d 880
Party NameShirley STOBART & Edward Stobart, Applicants, v. STATE of Louisiana, Through DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION AND DEVELOPMENT, Respondent.
Case DateApril 12, 1993
CourtSupreme Court of Louisiana

Page 880

617 So.2d 880 (La. 1993)

Shirley STOBART & Edward Stobart, Applicants,

v.

STATE of Louisiana, Through DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION AND

DEVELOPMENT, Respondent.

No. 92-C-1328.

Supreme Court of Louisiana.

April 12, 1993

Page 881

James S. Gates, Morrow, Morrow, Ryan & Bassett, Opelousas, for applicant.

Richard P. Ieyoub, Atty. Gen., W. Steven Mannear, Poynter, Mannear & Speer, Baton Rouge, for respondent.

CALOGERO, Chief Justice. [*]

We granted certiorari on plaintiffs' application to decide whether the Court of Appeal applied properly the correct review standard when it found that the trial court was clearly wrong in its conclusion that the roadway contained a defect and that the DOTD had actual or constructive notice of the defect. The court of appeal concluded that the trial court's findings were manifestly erroneous and reversed the trial court's decision, 601 So.2d 33. For the following reasons, we conclude that the court of appeal misapplied the manifest error-clearly wrong standard. Accordingly, we reverse the court of appeal's decision and reinstate the judgment of the trial court.

This case arises out of an one-vehicle accident which befell Shirley Stobart on April 26, 1986 around 8:00 a.m. as she drove a truck to Baton Rouge in preparation for a crawfish boil. The accident occurred on I-10 between Baton Rouge and Lafayette.

While crossing a bridge, Mrs. Stobart proceeded from the right lane to the left lane of the interstate to pass another car. As she exited the bridge, she lost control of the truck. The truck moved onto the grassy median and rolled over several times before coming to a stop. Mrs. Stobart was seriously injured.

Mrs. Stobart along with her husband filed suit against the State through DOTD, claiming that a defect in the road caused her to lose control of her vehicle. The trial judge apportioned fault 50 percent to the state and 50 percent to Mrs. Stobart. Defendants filed a suspensive appeal.

The court of appeal reversed the trial court, finding that the "sole reason for the accident was Stobart's failure to maintain control of her vehicle." The court also found that the plaintiff had failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that DOTD had actual or constructive notice of a defect in the roadway.

It was factual, rather than legal, grounds which prompted the court of appeal to reverse the trial court's findings and judgment. The appellate court concluded that the record did not support two crucial predicates necessary for the plaintiff to recover. 1 First, the appellate court

Page 882

concluded that the evidence did not establish that the roadway contained a defect. Furthermore, the court concluded that even had the plaintiffs' established that the roadway contained a defect, the plaintiffs would be barred from recovery because the plaintiffs had failed to carry their burden of proving that the defendant had actual or constructive notice of the defect.

The trial court's findings that a defect existed in the roadway and that the defendant had actual or constructive notice of the defect are factual findings which should not be reversed on appeal absent manifest error. While the Court of Appeal correctly identified the manifest error-clearly wrong standard as the standard to be applied to appellate review of fact, the appellate court erred in its application of the standard. 2

A court of appeal may not set aside a trial court's or a jury's finding of fact in the absence of "manifest error" or unless it is "clearly wrong." Rosell v. ESCO, 549 So.2d 840 (La.1989). This court has announced a two-part test for the reversal of a factfinder's determinations:

1) The appellate court must find from the record that a reasonable factual basis does not exist for the finding of the trial court, and

2) the appellate court must further determine that the record establishes that the finding is clearly wrong (manifestly erroneous).

See Mart v. Hill, 505 So.2d 1120, 1127 (La.1987).

This test dictates that a reviewing court must do more than simply review the record for some evidence which supports or controverts the trial court's finding. Id. The reviewing court must review the record in its entirety to determine whether the trial court's finding was clearly wrong or manifestly erroneous.

Nevertheless, the issue to be resolved by a reviewing court is not whether the trier of fact was right or wrong, but whether the factfinder's conclusion was a reasonable one. See generally, Cosse v. Allen-Bradley Co., 601 So.2d 1349, 1351 (La.1992); Housley v. Cerise, 579 So.2d 973 (La.1991); Sistler v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., 558 So.2d 1106, 1112 (La.1990). Even though an appellate court may feel its own evaluations and inferences are more reasonable than the factfinder's, reasonable evaluations of credibility and reasonable inferences of fact should not be disturbed upon review where conflict exists in the testimony. Rosell v. Esco, 549 So.2d 840 (La.1989); Arceneaux v. Domingue, 365 So.2d 1330 (La.1978). However, where documents or objective evidence so contradict the witness's story, or the story itself is so internally inconsistent or implausible on its face, that a reasonable factfinder would not credit the witness's story, the court of appeal may find manifest error or clear wrongness even in a finding purportedly based upon a credibility determination. Rosell, 549 So.2d at 844-45. Nonetheless, this Court has emphasized that "the reviewing court must always keep in mind that 'if the trial court or jury's findings are reasonable in light of the record reviewed

Page 883

in its entirety, the court of appeal may not reverse, even if convinced that had it been sitting as the trier of fact, it would have weighed the evidence differently.' " Housley v. Cerise, 579 So.2d 973 (La.1991) (quoting Sistler v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., 558 So.2d 1106, 1112 (La.1990)).

This court has recognized that "[t]he reason for this well-settled principle of review is based not only upon the trial court's better capacity to evaluate live witnesses (as compared with the appellate court's access only to a cold record), but also upon the proper allocation of trial and appellate functions between the respective courts." Canter v. Koehring Co., 283 So.2d 716 (La.1973). Thus, where two permissible views of the evidence exist, the factfinder's choice between them cannot be manifestly erroneous or clearly wrong. Id.

In the present case, we conclude, after review of the record, that the trial judge was presented with two permissible views concerning whether a defect existed in the roadway as well as whether the defendant had actual or constructive notice of the defect. The trial court's findings were not manifestly erroneous.

We first address the trial court's finding that the roadway contained a defect. The appellate court found and the defendants urge that the documentary evidence 3 reveals no defect in the roadway. However, several witnesses testified that the roadway was substandard.

Mrs. Stobart testified that the roadway contained several bumps and a pothole. Larry Horton, the state trooper who investigated the accident, corroborated Mrs. Stobart's testimony.

The accident report prepared by Officer Horton does not refer to a pothole in the roadway. However, Officer Horton testified that several bumps and a pothole did indeed exist in the roadway. And...

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4578 practice notes
  • , 041404 LASC, 03c1734
    • United States
    • 14 Abril 2004
    ...it been sitting as trier of fact, it would have weighed the evidence differently. Id. at 753-54, quoting Stobart v. State Through DOTD, 617 So.2d 880 (La.1993). Nothing in the court of appeal decision in this case indicates that it found that the record does not contain a reasonable factual......
  • , 052504 LASC, 03C0492
    • United States
    • 25 Mayo 2004
    ...absent manifest error or unless clearly wrong. Stobart v. State of Louisiana, through Dep't of Transp. and Dev., 92-1328 (La.4/12/93), 617 So.2d 880. This court has a constitutional duty to review facts. Ambrose v. New Orleans Police Dep't Ambulance Serv., 93-3099, 93-3110, 93-3112 (La.7/5/......
  • 105 So.3d 1048 (La.App. 3 Cir. 2012), 12-77, Magbee v. Federal Exp.
    • United States
    • Louisiana Court of Appeals of Louisiana
    • 12 Diciembre 2012
    ...was a reasonable one. Freeman, supra at 737-38; [2012-77 La.App. 3 Cir. 12] Stobart v. State through Dept. of Transp. and Development, 617 So.2d 880, 882 (La.1993); Mart v. Hill, 505 So.2d 1120, 1127 (La.1987). " In determining whether a [WCJ's] finding that an employee has met his ini......
  • 122 So.3d 570 (La.App. 1 Cir. 2013), 2012 CA 1787, Starkey v. Livingston Parish Council
    • United States
    • Louisiana Court of Appeals of Louisiana
    • 6 Agosto 2013
    ...the trial court's [2012-1787 La.App. 1 Cir. 5] finding was clearly wrong. See Stobart v. State through Dept. of Transp. and Development, 617 So.2d 880, 882 (La.1993). Furthermore, when factual findings are based on determinations regarding the credibility of witnesses, the manifest error st......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
4577 cases
  • , 041404 LASC, 03c1734
    • United States
    • 14 Abril 2004
    ...it been sitting as trier of fact, it would have weighed the evidence differently. Id. at 753-54, quoting Stobart v. State Through DOTD, 617 So.2d 880 (La.1993). Nothing in the court of appeal decision in this case indicates that it found that the record does not contain a reasonable factual......
  • , 052504 LASC, 03C0492
    • United States
    • 25 Mayo 2004
    ...absent manifest error or unless clearly wrong. Stobart v. State of Louisiana, through Dep't of Transp. and Dev., 92-1328 (La.4/12/93), 617 So.2d 880. This court has a constitutional duty to review facts. Ambrose v. New Orleans Police Dep't Ambulance Serv., 93-3099, 93-3110, 93-3112 (La.7/5/......
  • 105 So.3d 1048 (La.App. 3 Cir. 2012), 12-77, Magbee v. Federal Exp.
    • United States
    • Louisiana Court of Appeals of Louisiana
    • 12 Diciembre 2012
    ...was a reasonable one. Freeman, supra at 737-38; [2012-77 La.App. 3 Cir. 12] Stobart v. State through Dept. of Transp. and Development, 617 So.2d 880, 882 (La.1993); Mart v. Hill, 505 So.2d 1120, 1127 (La.1987). " In determining whether a [WCJ's] finding that an employee has met his ini......
  • 122 So.3d 570 (La.App. 1 Cir. 2013), 2012 CA 1787, Starkey v. Livingston Parish Council
    • United States
    • Louisiana Court of Appeals of Louisiana
    • 6 Agosto 2013
    ...the trial court's [2012-1787 La.App. 1 Cir. 5] finding was clearly wrong. See Stobart v. State through Dept. of Transp. and Development, 617 So.2d 880, 882 (La.1993). Furthermore, when factual findings are based on determinations regarding the credibility of witnesses, the manifest error st......
  • Request a trial to view additional results