Keaty v. Raspanti

Decision Date04 February 2004
Docket Number No. 2003-CA-1499., No. 2003-CA-1080
PartiesRobert B. KEATY, Thomas S. Keaty and Keaty and Keaty v. Roy A. RASPANTI. Robert B. Keaty, Thomas S. Keaty and Keaty & Keaty v. Roy A. Raspanti.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Louisiana — District of US

John C. Anderson, Fenet & Anderson, Baton Rouge, LA, for Thomas Keaty, Plaintiff/Appellee.

David S. Daly, Allen & Gooch, Metairie, LA, for John S. Keller, Plaintiff/Appellee.

Roy A. Raspanti, and Joseph P. Raspanti, Metairie, LA, and Thomas E. Gibbs, Baton Rouge, LA, for Roy Raspanti, Defendant/Appellant.

(Court composed of Chief Judge JOAN BERNARD ARMSTRONG, Judge PATRICIA RIVET MURRAY, Judge DENNIS R. BAGNERIS, SR., Judge MICHAEL E. KIRBY, and Judge MAX N. TOBIAS, JR.).

MAX N. TOBIAS, JR., Judge.

In these consolidated cases, the appellant, Roy A. Raspanti ("Raspanti"), appeals from the judgment of the trial court, which awarded him the sum of $34,605.08 as sanctions against Thomas S. Keaty ("Thomas Keaty"). (2003-CA-1499).1 In addition, Raspanti appeals from a second judgment that dismissed his motion to fix sanctions against appellee, John S. Keller ("Keller"), attorney for Thomas Keaty. (2003-CA-1080). After a review of the record and applicable law, we amend the judgment and affirm as amended.

The procedural history leading up to this dispute between Robert B. Keaty and Thomas S. Keaty (hereinafter "the Keatys") and Raspanti began in 1985 when Connie Byrd retained the Keatys' services, on a contingency basis, in connection with the severe personal injuries received by her then-minor son, Gregory Byrd.2

Suit was subsequently filed on that claim in the 26th Judicial District Court for the Parish of Bossier against the Bossier School Board ("school board"), Pellerin Milnor Corporation ("Pellerin Milnor"), and Pellerin Laundry Machinery Sales Company, Inc. On 28 March 1987 Pellerin Milnor settled, and the matter proceeded to trial against the school board.

The trial court ruled in favor of the school board and the Keatys filed a notice of appeal. Because of a dispute on the fees owed to the Keatys, the Byrds hired attorney John Litchfield to negotiate with the Keatys. As a result, the Byrds and the Keatys entered into a compromise agreement and Litchfield notified the Keatys, in writing, that they were discharged as attorneys for the Byrds. Raspanti was substituted as the Byrds' attorney, and the Keatys filed an intervention in the Bossier Parish suit seeking additional attorney's fees should the appeal against the school board be successful.

On 10 May 1988, the Second Circuit Court of Appeal reversed the judgment in favor of the school board and remanded the case. The school board subsequently settled, and Raspanti collected his contingency fee on that settlement as per his contract with the Byrds. In July 1991, the trial court dismissed the Keatys' intervention on a motion for summary judgment. The court reasoned that the 3 December 1987 compromise between the Keatys and the Byrds settled all fee disputes, not just those relating to the claim against Pellerin Milnor. That judgment, although appealed, was dismissed as untimely by the Second Circuit and the Supreme Court denied an application for supervisory writs.

In November 1991 and February 1992, the Keatys sued Raspanti in Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans, seeking a portion of the attorney's fees collected by Raspanti. The November suit alleges tortious interference with contract and unjust enrichment, while the February suit seeks an apportionment of the attorney fees on a quantum meruit basis. In response, Raspanti filed exceptions of prescription, no cause of action, res judicata, and a motion for summary judgment. All were denied at the trial level and this court denied an application for supervisory writs to review the trial court judgment.

In May 1996, Raspanti reurged his motion for summary judgment making the additional argument that once the Keatys were denied additional fees from the Byrds by the district court in Bossier Parish, they could not recover additional fees from him. In support, Raspanti pointed to prior admissions made by the Keatys that the source of their claim was the contract with the Byrds and that they had no contract with Raspanti. The trial court framed the issue as "[W]hen does a ruling of another court on a similar issue preclude the Court from deciding it again [?]" The court then granted Raspanti's motion for summary judgment, concluding that the Keatys had compromised their claim to future attorney's fees and that the Bossier Parish district court had already rejected their claim for additional fees, albeit the claim was against the Byrds. Although the Keatys appealed, the judgment of the trial court was affirmed. See Keaty v. Raspanti, 96-2839 (La.App. 4 Cir. 5/28/97), 695 So.2d 1085,

writ denied,

97-1709 (La.10/13/97), 703 So.2d 614.

Thereafter, Raspanti filed a motion for sanctions against Keaty, which the trial court dismissed pursuant to exceptions of res judicata and prescription. This Court reversed and remanded the case to the trial court after finding the following:

We find that the Keatys knew and must have known all along that their claim for tortious interference had prescribed. We find that the Keatys knew that all of their claims against the Byrds were disposed of in the Bossier Parish proceedings. We find that the Keatys did not reasonably rely on Saucier v. Hayes Dairy Products, Inc., 373 So.2d 102 (La.1978), in asserting a claim against Raspanti. We find that the Keatys' answers to Raspanti's request for admissions, in which they denied the non-existence of a contract between them and Raspanti, was disingenuous. We find that the entire proceedings by the Keatys against Raspanti was [sic] knowingly without foundation, crafted for purposes of harassment and carried out in a manner designed to deliberately prolong the proceedings needlessly.

Keaty v. Raspanti, XXXX-XXXX, p. 8 (La. App. 4 Cir. 2/7/01), 781 So.2d 607, 612. Consequently, we remanded the matter to the trial court to determine the amount of sanctions.3

Upon remand, the trial court held an evidentiary hearing and, on 9 June 2003, entered judgment against Thomas Keaty, awarding Raspanti the sum of $34,605.08, together with judicial interest from 27 June 1997, and all costs from 8 November 2002 until the date of judgment. Raspanti contends that the trial court erred and should have awarded him fees and costs in the amount of $132,068.35, with judicial interest from 29 May 1992, the date the first motion for sanctions was filed.4

Article 863 of the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure provides in pertinent part:

A. Every pleading of a party represented by an attorney shall be signed by at least one attorney of record in his individual name, whose address shall be stated. A party who is not represented by an attorney shall sign his pleading and state his address.

B. Pleadings need not be verified or accompanied by affidavit or certificate, except as otherwise provided by law, but the signature of an attorney or party shall constitute a certification by him that he has read the pleading; that to the best of his knowledge, information, and belief formed after reasonable inquiry it is well grounded in fact; that it is warranted by existing law or a good faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law; and that it is not interposed for any improper purpose, such as to harass or to cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation.

* * *

D. If, upon motion of any party or upon its own motion, the court determines that a certification has been made in violation of the provisions of this Article, the court shall impose upon the person who made the certification or the represented party, or both, an appropriate sanction which may include an order to pay to the other party or parties the amount of the reasonable expenses incurred because of the filing of the pleading, including a reasonable attorney's fee.

Once a violation of La. C.C.P. art. 863 is found and sanctions are imposed, the determination of the type and/or the amount of the sanction is reviewed on appeal utilizing the "abuse of discretion" standard. Connelly v. Lee, 96-1213, p. 4 (La.App. 1 Cir. 5/9/97), 699 So.2d 411, 414, writ denied, 97-2825 (La.1/30/98), 709 So.2d 710. Article 863 authorizes an award of "reasonable" and not necessarily actual attorney fees. The goal to be served by imposing sanctions is not wholesale fee shifting, but correction of litigation abuse. Joyner v. Wear, 27,631, p. 14 (La. App. 2 Cir. 12/6/95), 665 So.2d 634, 642, writ denied, 96-0040, 96-0042 (La.2/28/96), 668 So.2d 370.

Four factors have evolved which must be considered in arriving at an appropriate sanction award. They are: (1) What conduct is being punished or is sought to be deterred by the sanction? (2) What expenses or costs were caused by the violation of the rule? (3) Were the costs or expenses "reasonable" as opposed to self-imposed, mitigatable, or the result of delay in seeking court intervention? (4) Was the sanction the least severe sanction adequate to achieve the purpose of the rule under which it was imposed? Butler v. Reeder, 98-484, p. 14 (La.App. 5 Cir. 12/29/98), 728 So.2d 888, 895, writs denied, 99-1026, 99-1035 (La.5/28/99), 743 So.2d 673, 674.

Applying these factors to the case before us, we find that the trial court abused its vast discretion in awarding only $34,605.08 to Raspanti. In reviewing the transcript of the proceedings, we find that the trial court inappropriately considered a factor no longer at issue, namely, whether the Keatys bore all responsibility for the frivolous litigation. The trial court was bound by our findings of fact rendered in Keaty, XXXX-XXXX, and we also reject the trial court's statement that "the system" was in any way at fault for the Keatys' ability to file and maintain spurious and...

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    ... ... fees for his effort in defending against complaint as part of sanction imposed against plaintiff for violation of rule in filing lawsuit); Keaty v. Raspanti , 2003-1080, p. 8 (La. App. Cir. 2/4/04), 866 So. 2d 1045 ("To hold that an attorney who must defend himself or herself cannot recover ... ...
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