Amedee v. Aimbridge Hosp.

Decision Date21 October 2022
Docket Number2021-OC-01906
PartiesSTEPHEN AMEDEE &TANYA AMEDEE v. AIMBRIDGE HOSPITALITY LLC D/B/A EMBASSY SUITES NEW ORLEANS & THE CITY OF NEW ORLEANS (Parish of Orleans Civil)
CourtLouisiana Supreme Court

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STEPHEN AMEDEE &TANYA AMEDEE
v.

AIMBRIDGE HOSPITALITY LLC D/B/A EMBASSY SUITES NEW ORLEANS & THE CITY OF NEW ORLEANS (Parish of Orleans Civil)

No. 2021-OC-01906

Supreme Court of Louisiana

October 21, 2022


On Supervisory Writ to the Orleans Civil District Court, Parish of Orleans Civil

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MCCALLUM, J.

We granted certiorari in this matter to resolve a split among the courts of appeal concerning a specific procedural issue - where multiple defendants are named in a lawsuit and one is dismissed by a summary judgment motion, may another defendant appeal that dismissal if the plaintiff failed to similarly appeal? The appellate court in this case raised this issue sua sponte and determined that, absent an appeal by a plaintiff, a defendant has no right to appeal the dismissal of a co-defendant. Amedee v. Aimbridge Hosp. LLC, 2020-0590 (La.App. 4 Cir. 12/1/21), 332 So.3d 212. It then dismissed the appeal taken by Premium Parking of South Texas, L.L.C. ("Premium Parking") of a summary judgment in favor of the City of New Orleans (the "City"), a co-defendant.

The court of appeal's decision focused largely on La. C.C.P. art. 966 G, which provides that the fault of a party or non-party "shall not be considered in any subsequent allocation of fault," where a finding has been made by summary judgment that the "party or non-party is not negligent, is not at fault, or did not cause in whole or in part the injury or harm alleged." We agree with the court of appeal that Article 966 G prohibits the introduction of evidence at trial of the fault of a party dismissed by summary judgment and further prohibits consideration of that party's fault in the ultimate allocation of fault. Importantly, however, Article 966 addresses

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summary judgments and the summary judgment procedure, exclusively. It neither references nor establishes the rights of any party to appeal a summary judgment. Thus, while Article 966 G must be considered in evaluating the issue presented by this case, we must also consider other codal and jurisprudential authorities concerning appeals, particularly given the effect that the application of Article 966 G has on our comparative fault system and a defendant's right to present its defense.

After reviewing the law and argument of counsel, we hold that a defendant may appeal the summary judgment dismissal of a co-defendant even when the plaintiff chose not to appeal that judgment. Our decision is limited to the narrow issue before us, and we decline to issue an advisory opinion on any other issue raised by the parties in their briefs.[1] See, e.g., Kocher v. Truth in Pol., Inc., 2020-01153, p. 2 (La. 12/22/20), 307 So.3d 182, 184 ("courts should not decide abstract, hypothetical or moot controversies, or render advisory opinions with respect to such controversies.") (Citation omitted). We likewise decline to address the City's argument that its dismissal by summary judgment should be affirmed on the merits because there are no genuine issues of material fact as to its lack of liability; the court of appeal did not reach the merits of that underlying motion.[2]

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FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Stephen Amedee,[3] brought this lawsuit for personal injuries sustained when he tripped and fell on the driveway entrance to the Embassy Suites Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana. The named defendants include Premium Parking, the City, Aimbridge Hospitality L.L.C., d/b/a Embassy Suites New Orleans ("Aimbridge"), Mydatt Services, Inc., d/b/a/ Block by Block ("Block by Block"), and the Downtown Development District ("DDD").

After conducting discovery, a number of the defendants filed motions for summary judgment, several of which were denied. Three of the summary judgment motions were granted, including one in favor of the City, and the plaintiffs' claims against the City were dismissed. Premium Parking had been the only party to oppose the City's summary judgment motion in the trial court and was the only party to appeal the judgment.[4]

After oral argument, the court of appeal raised the issue of whether Premium Parking had a legal right to appeal the trial court's judgment dismissing a codefendant and ordered briefing on the issue. The court then issued its opinion, noting a split among the circuits, and joining those decisions which hold that a defendant has no right to appeal the dismissal of a co-defendant when the plaintiff did not appeal.

In dismissing Premium Parking's appeal, the court of appeal cited this Court's decision in Nunez v. Commercial Union Insurance Company, 2000-3062, p. 1 (La. 2/16/01), 780 So.2d 348, 349, for the principle that "[w]hen a judgment dismisses one of several claims by the plaintiff, the plaintiff must appeal the adverse judgment to obtain affirmative relief." Amedee, 2020-0590, p. 3, 332 So.3d at 214-15.

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(Emphasis in the original). It reasoned that the failure of the plaintiff to appeal a judgment rendered it final and, once "a final judgment acquires the authority of the thing adjudged, no court has jurisdiction to change the judgment, regardless of the magnitude of the final judgment's error." Id., 2020-0590, p. 3, 332 So.3d at 215 (quoting Barrasso Usdin Kupperman Freeman &Darver, L.L.C. v. Burch, 20141020, p. 10 (La.App. 4 Cir. 3/18/15), 163 So.3d 201, 208).

The court of appeal found its decision to be consistent with La. C.C.P. art. 966 G, observing that the article is "clear and unambiguous that once a court grants a motion for summary judgment, the dismissed party 'shall not be considered in any subsequent allocation of fault.'" Amedee, 2020-0590, pp. 9-10, 332 So.3d at 218. Thus, because the trial court determined "that the City is free from fault, the City may not be reintroduced into the litigation pursuant to La. C.C.P. art. 966(G)." Id., 2020-0590, p. 10, 332 So.3d at 218. Although it found Premium Parking's appeal to be "meritless" based on its finding that it could not appeal the City's dismissal, the court made no finding as to the actual merits of the City's summary judgment motion.

Premium Parking thereafter filed a writ application with this Court which was granted. Amedee v. Aimbridge Hosp. LLC, 2021-01906 (La. 4/5/22), 335 So.3d 248.

LAW AND DISCUSSION

Our task in this matter is to examine the question of who may appeal a judgment and, more specifically, whether a defendant has the right to appeal a judgment granting a co-defendant's motion for summary judgment where the plaintiff chose not to appeal that judgment. We recognize competing interests here: (1) a plaintiff's right to choose (and pursue claims against) defendants in a lawsuit (subject, of course, to a defendant's right to urge the fault of others under La. C.C.P. art. 2323, infra, or to file incidental demands), and (2) a defendant's right to put on

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its defense, which, too, implicates its right to establish the comparative fault of others (both named and unnamed) under La. C.C.P. arts. 2323 and 2324.

We start by setting forth the general legal principles implicated by this case which guide our analysis of the issue presented.

Appeals, generally

This Court has recognized that "[a]n appeal is a constitutional right and any doubt as to the right of an appeal must be resolved in favor of the appeal." Harnischfeger Corp. v. C.W. Greeson Co., 53 So.2d 488, 489 (La. 1951); Tennessee Gas Transmission Co. v. Violet Trapping Co., 176 So.2d 425, 431 (1965) ("The right of an appeal in Louisiana is a constitutional right in most instances....").[5] This right, one that "should be construed liberally,"[6] is derived from Article I, §22 of our constitution, which provides that "[a]ll courts shall be open, and every person shall have an adequate remedy by due process of law and justice, administered without denial, partiality, or unreasonable delay, for injury to him in his person, property, reputation, or other rights." We have interpreted this Section to afford "every individual" the "right to an adjudication by some tribunal having original jurisdiction" and "to additionally afford[] the right of appeal." Bienvenu v. Angelle, 223 So.2d 140, 145 (La. 1969), rev'd on other grounds by Gonzales v. Xerox Corp., 320 So.2d 163 (La. 1975) (interpreting the substantively indistinguishable predecessor to Article 1, §22, then-Article I, §6).

The right to an appeal is not unfettered, and our law imposes certain restrictions on this right. The time delays for taking an appeal, for example, vary

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depending on the nature of the judgment appealed and the court from which the judgment was rendered.[7] The only statutory bar to an appeal is found at La. C.C.P. art. 2085, entitled "Limitations on appeals," which precludes an appeal "by a party who confessed judgment in the proceedings in the trial court or who voluntarily and unconditionally acquiesced in a judgment rendered against him."

The right of appeal is so significant that it is even granted to those who are not parties to a lawsuit. See La. C.C.P. art. 2086 ("Right of third person to appeal" - "A person who could have intervened in the trial court may appeal, whether or not any other appeal has been taken."); see also, Rourke v. Est. of Dretar, 2017-672, p. 5 (La.App. 5 Cir. 5/23/18), 248 So.3d 653, 657 (the right to appeal under Article 2086 "is extended not only to the parties to the action in which the judgment is rendered, but also to a third-party when such party is allegedly aggrieved by the judgment.").

An appeal is defined simply as "the exercise of the right of a party to have a judgment of a trial court revised, modified, set aside, or reversed by an appellate court." La. C.C.P. art. 2082. There is no codal or statutory authority that limits the right of appeal to any particular party (or non-party as in the case of an appeal by a third party pursuant to Article 2086). Our statutes only define those judgments for which appeals may be taken. Louisiana Code of Civil...

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